How Far Is Too Far? Instagram Tests “Unskippable” Ads

Instagram inserts ad breaks but users hear “app breaks,” closing the app instead of supporting their ad frenzy.

Instagram is testing unskippable ads and no one is surprised at the unpleasant move by the corporate powers that rule us. Users have turned to Reddit and Twitter/X to discuss Meta’s Instagram ads test which presents them with an advertisement on a timer that stops them from scrolling until it’s done. The rollout of the feature hasn’t happened on a large scale which means the company is just testing it out, yet it’s difficult to see how there could be a scenario where users would respond to this favorably.

The Instagram ads break is perhaps less about whether users will complain or not considering it’s obvious they will. Instead, the test will likely check just how upset users are before we go back to using the app as usual. The Instagram ads test is a strange choice for a company that already makes millions via its advertisements, but if one company can get away with it, why not everyone else?

Instagram’s Unskippable Ads Are Just as Annoying as They Sound

Instagram ads are nothing new—we’re plagued by them on the platform just as we are on every other app and website. It’s not uncommon to Google a product or search for it on Amazon only to come back and find every alternate reel on Instagram featuring an ad for similar products. It’s invasive, sure, but a majority of us have come to make peace with it. At least we can continue our mindless scrolling by just moving on to the next reel, hardly sparing a thought for the ad unless we’re tempted to make a purchase. The Instagram ads test suggests that might be changing soon.

Users have complained that Instagram has presented them with unskippable ads that they need to watch to continue using the app. The Instagram ad breaks don’t appear to be very long from the examples we’ve seen so far, but you do have to wait for the timer to count down before you can continue to scroll. People have seen a number countdown with a circular indicator around it to depict how close they are to the end. The ads also feature an “i” information button that can be clicked. This brings up the message, “Ad breaks are a new way of seeing ads on Instagram. Sometimes you may need to view an ad before you can keep browsing.”

While we pay for other apps and services, social media platforms have tended to remain free for users who want to connect with friends and family. The growth of “influencers” has commodified the platform a little further and made it more lucrative for individuals to use the platform, but these pages have largely been built on advertising power. The upcoming Instagram ads update suggests that CEO Zuckerberg would like to see just how much their users are willing to put up with. If Google can get away with it on YouTube then why shouldn’t he capitalize on the fun? If something is free, remember, you might be the commodity.

Users Are Not Impressed by the Instagram Ads Test

As expected, the reactions to Instagram’s unskippable ads have been negative as users have all begun berating the platform for testing such a feature. Some have stated that this was just the push they needed to stop using the app, while others have wondered whether we’ll soon witness “Instagram Plus” come to life, a paid version for an ad-free experience.

Meta hasn’t indicated it has any such plans just yet, but for now, it’s unlikely the company will spend resources on setting up a new payment plan when they could just throw ads out and make a killing that way. Users have already complained about the number of ads increasing significantly so this progress to forced ads was inevitable.

On the positive side, the ad break pauses might be your sign to close the app and focus your attention on something else or even give your eyes some much-needed rest after hours of scrolling. But do we want Instagram to insert an ad instead of just giving us a “take a break” reminder? Perhaps not. Blaming Instagram’s new feature ads is the easiest course of action right now but considering the advertising climate that’s unfolding, we also need to consider where the advertising market is headed overall.

The Instagram Ads Update Is Not the Only Push Towards Excessive Advertising

YouTube has made multiple dedicated attempts to fight ad blockers and those still using them or alternate ad-free platforms can no longer use the service like they used to—the video just skips to the end. Earlier this year, Microsoft also renewed its ad tests to see how ads on the Start Menu would fare. Reddit recently announced changes to its advertising strategy, introducing ads that look similar to posts made by users on the platform. This increased the quality of ad integration into the content on the platform but also made it harder to distinguish when users were interacting with an ad, other than the “promoted” tag. The company has also partnered with OpenAI to bring its content to the AI platform, accepting OpenAI as an advertising partner. What this means we’ve yet to see, but it’s an interesting update all the same.

Spotify already has ad-free plans that many use, but there are an equal number of users who still use the ad-supported free version. Instead of giving users a reason to switch to the paid version by enticing them with premium features, the company has explored ways to ruin the free experience by taking away basic features from its users. In addition to making their app unusable, the company is also raising the price of the paid plan for users in the U.S., for the second time in the year. The Premium plan is going up from the already-hiked price of $10.99 USD per month to $11.99 USD a month.

Instagram’s unskippable ads are just one part of the problem as we move towards a future where ads become inescapable. Considering the feature is just being tested with a limited number of users, we may still see Meta shut down the Instagram ad test after it gathers sufficient feedback. A few months ago, Wired found over 29,000 ads for explicit AI girlfriends primarily on Facebook and Instagram, hinting at Meta’s struggle with filtering its advertisements correctly. It seems that concern has taken a backseat in favor of pushing more ads to its users.


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