Instagram's Latest Gambit: Unskippable Ad Breaks Might Be In Your Future

Then again, Instagram is a moving target, and the social network’s parent company, Meta, is rolling out a pilot feature in which your leisurely scrolling feed could, from time to time, be forced to come to a complete, uncomfortable stop, so that you can be held captive by ads. As one Instagram user put it: ‘Hell is realizing that the home screen on your phone has taken on a whole new meaning.

What's the Big Move? Unveiling Instagram's Non-Skippable Ad Breaks

Meta’s decision to test non-skippable ads in the Instagram feed signals a major change in its approach to advertising on the platform. As noted in TechCrunch, the initiative – currently in beta with a small subset of users – requires you to watch an advertisement to its conclusion before you can continue mindlessly scrolling. Reddit and X revealed that these ‘ad breaks’ last only a handful of seconds, although it’s worth noting that the length of these ads could be adjusted in the future as Meta perfects its new ad format.

The User Experience: A Forced Pause in the Scroll

To many, it feels like a radical move: social media platforms are seen today as spaces of continuous scrolling and content consumption dictated only by available free time. The introduction of a non-skippable ad would be novel and may affect how users engage with the app. ‘holy moly meta seems to be actually now making us watch ads in the feeds … on Instagram! the app literally just stopped me from scrolling past this ad and that is just a wild as move to me,’ one user reaction to this format reflects the novelty of, and the user pushback against, it.

Comparing Platforms: Instagram vs. The Rest

Previously, non-skippable video ads have been standard on a variety of other platforms such as YouTube, but Instagram had retained the skippable format for ads until this move. This is key because this shift would implement video ads into the primary feed of interaction – the main feed – rather than to Reels or Stories, the homes of most video ads on Instagram, which were already skippable.

The Corporate Angle: Meta's Strategy Behind the Move

Meta’s test for enduring ad breaks is a way of boosting ad engagement Alongside keeping users scrolling, Meta’s experiment with enduring ad breaks is a way of boosting ad engagement. If users are forced to watch the ads in their entirety, advertisers who run the adverts could see that more people who see their ads are actually clicking through and buying something, which would make the platform more appealing for advertising purposes. Meta has been quite cagey about this new feature. After TechCrunch contacted Meta, the company confirmed in a statement that it was testing the longer ad loading times. However, the company hasn’t shared specifics about how widely the test is being tested or any plans for wide implementation. ‘As we test and learn, we will provide updates should this test result in any formal product changes,’ said a Meta spokesperson.

User and Advertiser Impact: Navigating the Ad Breaks

The introduction of un-skippable ads could have both positive and negative takes for Instagram's large user base and for the advertisers. While un-skippable ads might ruin user’s smooth experience on Instagram and make them angry who are not used to ad disruptions, advertisers might be happy about this move, as they could make sure that their ad is definitely shown to viewers, potentially raising the chance of them to take action and engage with it.

Unpacking The Move: A Close Look at Meta's Ad Strategy

When Meta doubled down on its attempt to force users to watch its newly launched non-skippable ad breaks on Instagram this January, one could reasonably infer that forced ad engagement really works. Sure, the move carries the risk of alienating users, but there is a payoff: now that Instagram is positioning itself for advertising, the quality and quantity of ad impressions is the metric that will carry the most weight. Meta’s move might just be a sign of a paradigmatic shift for Instagram, and social media at large – a shift that will likely bring lasting changes to how the user experience of advertising on social media platforms will look and feel in the future.

Understanding 'The Move'

Essentially, Meta’s Instagram move is a manifestation of a strategic trade-off it is now pushing toward in its advertising architecture, for the balance between serving users the type of ad experience they prefer, and extracting the most payment from advertisers and engagement from users. It’s a fine line to walk as this test is made and unfolds. But, what it signals are the broader contours of future digital ad methods and trends in social media consumption – and maybe, for the digital adverse, ways to beat the ad machine.

Jun 06, 2024
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