Instagram Is Testing Non-Skippable Ads: What Does This Mean for Marketers?

Explore the implications of Instagram's new non-skippable ads, or "ad breaks," which require users to watch ads before continuing their feed. This major shift aims to ensure advertisers that their ads are seen, potentially increasing Instagram's ad revenue and impacting user engagement.

Updated: June 19, 2024
instagram ad breaks

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In recent years, the prevalence of advertisements on social media has become increasingly dominant. 

Social media platforms continually seek ways to optimize ad delivery, ensuring that advertisers achieve maximum return on investment (ROI)

At the same time, one of the key metrics that social networks consistently pursue is user screen time. 

This metric is crucial because the longer the screen time, the more ads are viewed, and it is closely linked to the user experience on the platform. 

In this context, Instagram is testing a new way to display ads: non-skippable ads. This innovation promises to significantly impact both users and advertisers.

    The New Era of Instagram Ads 

    Instagram’s “ad breaks,” as they are being called, are mandatory pauses during feed scrolling, where users must watch an ad lasting 3 to 10 seconds before they can continue scrolling. 

    This type of ad closely resembles YouTube‘s non-skippable ads, a well-established reality on the video platform.

    The testing of this feature was confirmed by Matthew Tye, a spokesperson for Instagram, in an interview with The Verge

    According to Tye, Instagram is constantly testing new formats that can add value for advertisers, and this new strategy is a clear example of such efforts. 

    Unlike traditional ads, which can be easily ignored, “ad breaks” ensure that users watch the advertisement fully before returning to their desired content.

    The Logic Behind “Ad Breaks”

    The introduction of “ad breaks” aims to address one of the biggest challenges faced by advertisers: ensuring that their ads are actually being seen. 

    Currently, although Instagram can deliver ads to a massive audience, there is no guarantee that users are truly paying attention to them, as most can simply ignore these ads. 

    With “ad breaks,” the platform offers a guarantee to advertisers, increasing the likelihood of engagement.

    This new functionality not only enhances the perceived value for advertisers but could also lead to a significant increase in Instagram’s advertising revenue. 

    Since 2021, Instagram has managed to surpass YouTube’s revenue, establishing itself as one of the main revenue drivers within the Meta ecosystem.

    Engagement: A Challenge and an Opportunity

    Yes, engagement is a crucial metric for any social media platform. However, the introduction of non-skippable ads can pose challenges in this regard. 

    A study by TikTok revealed that over 70% of viewers would engage more with an ad experience if they had the option to skip it. 

    This suggests that forcing users to watch an ad may, paradoxically, lead to decreased engagement.

    On the other hand, non-skippable ads can increase the visibility and impact of advertising campaigns, leading to greater brand recognition and potentially more conversions. 

    The key will be finding a balance between keeping users engaged and maximizing returns for advertisers.

    YouTube Ads vs. Instagram Ads

    Comparing YouTube ads to Instagram ads is inevitable. 

    Who hasn’t had the experience of being forced to watch an ad (often completely irrelevant) right at the climax of their favorite song?

    On YouTube, non-skippable ads are common. They appear before and during videos, and recently, the platform extended these 30-second ads to its TV app. 

    The goal, of course, is to capture the viewers’ attention for a short period and increase video views as well as campaign success.

    Instagram, on the other hand, has always adopted a more integrated and less intrusive approach with its ads. 

    However, it has chosen to increase the available ad space, showing a larger number of ads to users. 

    Nonetheless, the introduction of “ad breaks” marks a significant shift in this approach, making the ads much more intrusive and impossible to ignore. 

    This change can be seen as Instagram’s attempt to directly compete with YouTube in terms of advertising effectiveness. 

    Despite YouTube having a larger audience (2.5 billion users compared to Instagram’s 2 billion), Instagram’s advertising revenue is significantly higher. 

    Last year, it is estimated that Instagram generated $39 billion in ad revenue, surpassing YouTube’s $31 billion.

    Impact of “Ad Breaks” on User Experience

    The introduction of non-skippable ads will inevitably affect the user experience on Instagram. 

    Many users may feel frustrated by being forced to watch ads, which could lead to a negative perception of the platform. 

    However, it’s important to remember that Instagram, like any other social network, needs to balance user satisfaction with the need to generate revenue.

    The users’ response to “ad breaks” will be crucial in determining the success of this new feature. 

    If users accept this change well, Instagram could further solidify its position as a leader in advertising revenue. 

    Otherwise, the platform may face significant backlash, which could negatively impact its engagement and, eventually, its revenue.

    New Intrusive Ad Formats in Instagram Stories

    In addition to non-skippable ads, Instagram appears to be testing new ad formats that are also more intrusive for users. 

    The platform has begun testing pop-ups that would appear over Stories.

    So far, ads have only been seen for the “Super Rumble” game from Horizon Worlds, Meta’s virtual reality platform. 

    It seems that the issue is a technical error, possibly stemming from Meta’s attempt to promote the “Super Rumble” game, released in 2023 for the Meta Quest. 

    It’s also possible that the ad was triggered by mistake on Instagram accounts. However, some users fear it might be a virus or an error within the Instagram app itself.

    Considering this development with Instagram’s non-skippable ads, the outlook is not very favorable for the social network. 

    If implemented and not just a mistake, the introduction of pop-ups in Stories certainly represents a new challenge for Instagram. 

    Users access Stories to see quick and engaging updates from friends and brands they follow.

    This overlay of ads can be seen as an unwelcome interruption, reducing the fluidity of the experience.

    The Future of Ads on Instagram

    The response to these new advertising strategies will be an important indicator of the future of ads on Instagram. 

    The platform must closely monitor the reactions of both users and advertisers to adjust its approaches as needed. 

    If the “ad breaks” and pop-ups in Stories result in a significant drop in user engagement, Instagram may be forced to reconsider or modify these strategies.

    The Role of User Feedback

    User feedback will be crucial for Instagram during this experimental phase. 

    The platform must be attentive to users’ opinions and feelings to ensure that it does not alienate its user base. 

    Implementing clear channels to receive and act on feedback can help Instagram balance the need to generate revenue with maintaining a positive user experience.

    Final Thoughts

    The introduction of “ad breaks” on Instagram marks a significant shift in how the platform handles advertising. 

    While this new feature may offer clear benefits to advertisers by ensuring their ads are seen, it also presents challenges in terms of user engagement and perception of the platform. 

    Personally, I believe that the introduction of non-skippable ads is a double-edged sword. 

    On one hand, they provide an effective way to ensure ads are viewed, which is extremely valuable for advertisers. 

    On the other hand, forcing users to watch ads can lead to a negative user experience, which could be detrimental in the long run.

    The success of this new strategy will be closely tied to how Instagram balances these conflicting needs. 

    If the platform can implement “ad breaks” in a way that does not alienate users, it may not only maintain but also increase its engagement and advertising revenue. 

    Otherwise, the negative reaction from users could outweigh the potential benefits of this new feature.

    We must wait and see, as the response to this new advertising approach will only be known over time and by observing reactions from both users and advertisers. 

    Until then, the introduction of “ad breaks” on Instagram will be a topic of great interest and debate in the digital marketing community.

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