What is an Instagram ad? Back when the company first announced it would be interrupting everyone's photo feed with ads, Instagram said that brands would have to be "creative and engaging" in their approach. They'd have to fit in seamlessly alongside the never-ending stream of food shots, pet photos, vacation scenes, and newborn babies we all constantly swipe through. In a blog post, Instagram said, "After all, our team doesn’t just build Instagram, we use it each and every day."
And sure enough, the initial batch of advertisers stayed true to Instagram's vision and delivered ads that looked like they belonged on the platform. They were actually photos — often pretty good ones. Instagram even gave the brands special tools that regular users still can't access. Advertisers can make galleries, whereas you and I still have to post every photo individually like buffoons. Brands can also post 30-second videos. But normal humans? We're still limited to half that length. And yet, even with all this special treatment, the quality of ads on Instagram is taking a very noticeable dive.
These are Instagram ads done right. Notice that they're actual photos.
I saw this mind-numbingly boring iPhone 6S ad while browsing my feed yesterday. It stopped me cold in my tracks, and I reacted instantly (and strongly) with disgust. There's nothing special about this ad. There's no style or any real element of photography to it. Zero creativity is involved, and I can't see how anyone could possibly call this engaging. It's just a boring promo graphic of the iPhone on a white background. This is what you'd expect from Google search results; it totally misses the warm and imaginative notes that Instagram says it's aiming for. There's no doubt a balancing act that comes with trying to build a strong ad business that doesn't somehow annoy millions of users. People love Instagram. I love Instagram. It's my favorite of the big three social platforms, despite the fact that I spend far more time on Twitter every day. And for the most part, I haven't really been too bothered by the ads I've seen. That's why this one, and a few others of late, have stuck out so badly. These things aren't supposed to have fine print, Sprint.
If this effortless garbage is an example of where things are headed, Kevin Systrom (who at one point claimed to approve many ads himself) should probably recalibrate and remind Instagram's advertisers that the bar for quality here is higher than some banner ad on a webpage — or at least it's supposed to be. Instagram's doing tremendous work on the consumer end; it's built some great new filters and finally gives users full creative freedom to post photos in any orientation. But there's something to be said for overall experience. Bad ads won't make me stop using Instagram. They'll just make Instagram and its ad partners look, well, pretty lazy.