Instagram Blur: Ad Genius or Ad Gimmick?


Driving consumer action.” This is the core of Instagram’s advertising strategy. And it’s this mantra that has advertisers everywhere paying extra attention to the platform’s Action Overlays, launched earlier in March 2016. Recent data supports the notion that media on the platform can aid in perception, awareness, and ad recall (2.8x higher than Nielsen’s norms for online advertising). But will this new overlay feature improve these already impressive metrics? Or is this a roadblock that will put users off in the long run?

The rationale behind these “Action Overlays” is straightforward: they take advantage of the tapping behavior users are already accustomed to on the platform. One tap to turn the volume on a video, two taps to heart and scroll on, etc. This week, Instagram added more information to the overlay, which previously only supported “go to website” or “go to app store.” It will now provide the advertiser’s Facebook Page name and the display or destination website URL selected at set up.

How It Works

According to Instagram, “if you’re running action-based ads, the updated overlay helps drive valuable traffic to your website or app. The overlay is automatically included on all photo and carousel ads, so there’s no action needed to include the overlay in your ads. You can go into Ads Manager and manually edit your campaigns to include a specific display URL. If there’s no display URL listed, it will automatically default to the ad’s destination URL.”

Similar to organic content where a single tap on a photo displays additional information, a single tap on ads helps consumers better understand what action they’re supposed to take from the ad. For advertisers, the overlay confirms a user’s intent to drive offsite—ensuring high-quality traffic is going to your website, mobile app or the app store. Another plus? Instagram doesn’t charge for the initial tap on the ad that reveals the blurry overlay, only the tap on the URL that takes people to your site.

What’s in it For Brands?

Because the feature is relatively new, the jury is still out on how consumers are perceiving the blur. Early Instagram data suggests higher rates of overall engagement, but the impact on ROI is still unproven. However we remain positive for one simple reason. When users are able to more clearly see where they’re headed upon click, advertisers are eliminating accidental click-throughs and decreasing their Cost Per Acquisition, Cost Per Download, or other ‘cost per’ metric.

An added bonus: If you do happen to be running a brand study on the platform, this overlay branding could actually end up aiding your brand recall/awareness metrics as well. The more times a user is able to see your brand’s name (even if it’s with a URL), the more likely they are to remember it down the line.

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