I Want More Instagram Ads

Instagram completely nailed advertising this holiday season.

Romy Macasieb
Dec 21, 2017 · 6 min read

Just like most people, I’m not the biggest fan of Ads. Do I like that they can help a business? Sure. Do I like seeing them as an actual user? No.

More often than not, they’re poorly designed, come at you when you least expect them, and interfere with the rest of the experience. Up until recently, Instagram Ads have been…OK. I mean, they’re often nicer than Ads you’d see on other networks, but nothing to the point of me wanting to chase what’s on the other end of a click-through.

In comes Black Friday.

Historically, I come into Black Friday knowing what I’m interested in and I hunt for deals myself. I google. I peruse flyers. I leverage Slickdeals.

For the most part, this hasn’t changed but a new form of shopping has entered my life, and its powered by Instagram.

In this world, instead of being the hunter, I’ve become the hunted.

I mean, check out these Ads.

Do I want a red sweatshirt with white cotton sparkly things? Maybe!

Do I want a black hoodie sans a gigantic logo on it!? Well, when you put it that way…

Does my daughter need new shoes!? I didn’t think she did, but…

These are just a hand full of examples that had me tapping “Shop Now”.

And then the mother of all Ads hit me…

This posh looking advertisement for a thick knit blanket. I kept seeing this blanket in my Feed over and over again. And honestly, with each encounter, I was one step closer to buying one. Did I need one? Nope. Did I even know how to translate centimeters to bed size? Uh. Do you?

And yet, there I was, this close…

Till they stopped showing up.

I realized later on in the day that they completely went missing from my Feed. No lie, I was trying to force them back! I scrolled and scrolled…

1 day ago, 2 days ago, 3 days ago….

I thought maybe I had missed it, so I scrolled back, and started again.

And before I knew it…I found myself googling to see if I could find it! What did that Ad do to me!?

How about searching for…

  • thick knit blanket
  • rope knit blanket
  • thick gauge knit blanket
  • rope quilt?
  • plz send halp
  • bueller?

And then I finally found it…voila!

Really should say “Congratulations! You found me”

So how did Instagram Jedi me?

  • Instagram has a simple interface. Despite all the years of adding features, the clean simple design of the main Feed remains intact. I’m confident there’s a strong guiding principal of “the feed is sacred”, and it should remain this way. Because…
  • …brands see this. They scroll through hundreds of Instagram influencers and see nothing but beautiful people and delightful products. So naturally they build their campaigns against similar benchmarks. A byproduct is fewer click-jack Ads and more high touch creatives.
  • I noticed the Ads that caught my attention were more startup than big co — more than usual actually. Perhaps they had limited Q4 marketing budgets and decided to focus all their resources on the holidays. In other words, they bet all their chips on social channels during prime time.
  • And frankly, the simple UX means marketing and design have fewer chances of rushed work and miscommunication. “Wait, are we talking about the text above the photo? Oh. Below the photo? Oh. On the photo? What’s the character limit on mobile again? Sorry, when do these go live again?” The team can focus more on marketing briefs and campaign strategies, versus quarreling about who does what, when…and how.

Okay Romy. So what do you want?

  • I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I want a feed of Ads showcasing products I may be interested in. I wouldn’t even mind testing against a standalone app.
  • Maybe the feed is capped at some small number, say 5–10 at any given time? This will help prevent the list from getting long and disinteresting. More importantly, it’ll force brands to think strategically about what audiences they target/retarget. And there’s some psychology behind wanting more vs scrolling through endless, random, posts.
  • There needs to be some way of keeping the content fresh. Really, the brands fresh, too. I don’t actually think I’d like to see a feed of Nordstrom and Gap Ads for example. I want to see things I didn’t know existed. In other words, an Ad should makes its way to me as part of an acquisition campaign; not from regargetting.
  • I think the products in this feed need to have some discount incentives in order to be sticky. This will also help drive impressions and engagement as folks will likely be willing to share an “Instadeal”.
  • I’m not actually sure if this is possible, but the checkout UX should be reconsidered. In a world where a large percentage of people still buy via Desktop, mobile’s seemingly upside-down navigation could be confusing.

For example:

  • Back, Forward, and Close Tab buttons are expected to be at the top. And when they’re not, you have moments of “uhhh..how do I go back?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked X thinking it was going to close a modal or go back a page, only to myself back in the main app.
  • Related, it’d be cool if clicking a “Show Now” button took me back to where I last left off
  • Auto-fill during checkout is either missing or hard to find. Need to figure out a way to surface up Safari Auto-Fill, or support tools like LastPass
  • And, of course, supporting payment methods like Apple Pay, PayPal, etc, can only help
  • Note: I’m aware some of the above could be limits set by iOS/Safari

I don’t think any other service can pull this off — not even Facebook. The simplicity and design of Instagram sets it apart. And the information Instagram knows about your “likes” is the catalyst to making this engaging.

News apps have tried this before with First Time User Experiences that ask you to choose things you like before using the app. Social services have tried getting you to follow people/posts that will help seed their ML against your identity. But those things fail time and time again. I don’t want different news sources talking about the same technology stories. I don’t want to be spammed with a bunch of comedians that start play out comedic themes.

Perhaps it’s because those things aren’t really me. Instagram is inherently people first — the food porn, doggy pics, and fitness Stories…they all tie back to your interests, and more often than not, they’re fueled by what you like. Not what you hate.

And that is the magic of Instagram.

Romy Macasieb

Written by

VP Product @walkercobrands (makers of @bevel @formbeauty). Head of Product @thislife (acq by @shutterfly).

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