Instagram ads put app’s popularity at risk

I love Instagram. I love being able to scroll through an uninterrupted flow of beautiful images that let me see snapshots of my friends’ lives. The photos allow me to see so many captured memories that I would have never experienced otherwise. Of course, there is that occasional picture that makes me wonder, “Why would you Instagram that?” But for the most part, I look forward to viewing the compilation of images on my newsfeed.

Unfortunately, my satisfaction with the app could soon dissipate for one simple reason: advertisements.

On Oct. 3, Instagram announced in a blog post that advertisements would eventually be making an appearance in users’ newsfeeds. The post explained that Instagram, as a growing and sustainable business, would soon be posting brand advertisements. These ads, according to Instagram will be disguised as “beautiful, high-quality photos and videos.”

“Seeing photos and videos from brands you don’t follow will be new, so we’ll start slow,” a blogger for Instagram wrote. “Our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands.”

Despite the company’s attempts to reassure users that the Instagram experience will not be damaged, I’m not convinced.

I have a hard time believing that the advertisements will be as seamless and unobtrusive as the blog posts suggests. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that this makes me nervous about the future of Instagram, mostly because of how its parent company, Facebook, has handled its advertising strategy.

When Facebook first started posting ads on the right-hand side panel, the ads were tolerable. They did not interrupt my experience or take me away from the reason I was actually on Facebook — for social interaction. I understand the motives for integrating advertisements: Facebook needed a way to financially benefit from its users, and advertising was the easiest way to do it.

Today, however, advertising on Facebook has made the site an entirely different experience. Ads have become conspicuous, annoying and a little creepy. For example, after considering a pair of shoes on Nordstroms’ website, a picture of those very same shoes popped up in an ad on my newsfeed with a message from Nordstroms to “Go for it!” Rather than convincing me to make the purchase, however, the ad made me feel pressured and uncomfortable. These tailored ads are creepy, weird and way too personal.

Unfortunately, these ads are also profitable. Research firm eMarketer has revealed that spending in the mobile ad space has more than doubled to $8.8 billion in the past year alone.

For Instagram, currently one of the most popular mobile apps, to now open up to advertising, that number will only continue to skyrocket. But at what cost to its users?

Instagram wrote that it will start slow, but we all know that the ads will eventually become more frequent. And these ads could begin to bury the pictures that I actually want to see. The company said that users will have control over what ads they want to see and the ability to hide ads they don’t like, but what if we don’t like ads in general?

I look at Instagram to enjoy the pictures of beautiful, rosy-red sunsets, to view the mouthwatering meals that just look too good to not share. I log on to see moments that can only be explained with a picture, for the images of people and things that I care about. The random advertisements squished awkwardly in between the pictures in my newsfeed will look out of place and harshly interrupt the app’s aesthetic feel. It could even ruin the experience.

For our sake — and Instagram’s — let’s hope that it doesn’t. Let’s hope that we can continue to focus on the pictures that make us happy and try to ignore the ads that probably won’t. If we can do this, perhaps Instagram can remain a positive experience.


Cecilia Callas is a junior majoring print and digital journalism. Her column “Tech Talk” runs Wednesdays.