Instagram has been tiptoeing into the world of mobile advertising since 2013, wary of rocking the boat and upsetting its 300 million users and counting. But today, Instagram announced a major change to its advertising strategy with the introduction of slideshow ads.
The new ad format, which the company calls “carousel,” will allow advertisers to post several photos at once for users to flick through. But perhaps more critically, these ads will also allow advertisers to link to websites outside of Instagram where users can learn more about their brands. This is something that brands, hoping to translate “likes” into real world purchases, have always craved but never had access to on Instagram. Now they do. And for Instagram, it makes it much easier to demonstrate the effectiveness of its ads to other potential advertisers.
“One way to look at it is carousel ads bring the potential of multi-page print campaigns to mobile phones—with the added benefit of taking people to a website to learn more,” the company wrote in a blog post.
Facebook is looking for more ways to coax money out of the brands that use, and increasingly rely on, its platforms.
At the same time, the question remains whether this product could make it more difficult for brands that use Instagram but don’t buy ads on it, to get noticed. A similar tension arose when Facebook, Instagram’s parent company began tweaking its News Feed algorithms in a way that seemed to prioritize advertisements over regular posts from brands and businesses. It’s a change that left many companies with no choice but to begin buying access to their own followers through ads or risk watching their so-called “organic” reach continue to slide.
Now, it seems, Facebook is looking for more ways to coax money out of the brands that use, and increasingly rely on, its platforms. Instagram, of course, is still in the early stages of this transformation. Carousel ads will roll out slowly over the coming weeks to a limited number of advertisers, and brands will still show up in their followers’ feeds, even if they don’t buy ads.
But if slideshows are successful, it’s hard to see how brands that don’t advertise won’t find themselves at a disadvantage. If all goes according to Facebook’s plan, they’ll find themselves with little choice but to become paying customers, whether they “like” the idea or not. In the meantime, Instagram hasn’t said whether slideshows will ever be an option for regular users. But if the company is trying to sell the new format to advertisers as a premium option, chances are they won’t be available to the rest of us anytime soon.”