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Ranking Instagram ads, from awesome to annoying

Instagram’s new ads are a smashing success for companies. But how about for users?


Molly McHugh


According to Instagram, those ads we were lucky enough to avoid for the first few years of its existence are working—incredibly well, as fate would have it. Today, six weeks after launching its advertising platform, Instagram released the results of four of the initial campaigns. 

Instagram says these four featured brands that were part of the first go at advertising—Ben & Jerry’s, Levi’s, Lexus, and General Electric—were able to get major eyeballs without posting frequently. Levi’s in particular reached 7.4 million U.S. users over nine days; Ben & Jerry’s reached 9.8 million over eight days. 

The announcement goes on to describe in very heavy marketing lingo that, basically, these brands’ ads are killing it and that Instagram ads are boosting awareness. One example in plain-speak: “17 percent of people who saw a single ad for Ben & Jerry’s Scotchy Scotch Scotch-flavored ice cream not only became aware of the new flavor, they also associated it with the brand. 

But just because ads are working doesn’t mean we love them all. Now that we’ve been exposed to the stuff for awhile, it’s time to take a quick look back and see what ads were able to “natively” sneak into our feeds, and which just didn’t quite cut it. 

1) Ben & Jerry’s wasn’t randomly chosen to be featured in Instagram’s post about its results—the ice cream makers seriously killed it, adapting their photos easily into the Sponsored category. The images were fun and food-based, so this ad (and many of their others) was a winner. 

2) Levi’s ads could have been posted by any one of our well-traveled, snap-happy friends. Sure, there are plenty of denim close-ups, but this photo in particular blends into much of what we’re used to seeing on Instagram: the great outdoors and our attractive friends enjoying them. 

3) General Electric’s ads could have been really boring; instead they all look like someone had access to a behind-the-scenes tour with NASA. Wise choice to focus on the jets and not the dryers, guys. 

4) Lexus’ ads weren’t obnoxious because they looked like they belonged on a billboard (they don’t), but because they took the humblebrag to the extreme. We get it, people who buy Lexus’ are rich and privileged and likely beautiful. They also looked like they were ripped straight from a magazine page; the amateur and vintage element that makes Instagram what it is… is missing. 

5) Michael Kors wasn’t part of Instagram’s analysis, but it was behind the first ever ad to hit the network. And what an ad it was! This thing was dripping with excess; it was gaudy to the core. Are those macaron crumpets? Goodness. Talk about overkill: If we’re used to seeing our regular friends’ mugs, their puppies, and coffee art hitting the feed, this monstrosity—and its overly professional quality—did not quite fit in. 

Screengrab via Ben & Jerry’s/Instagram

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The Daily Dot