Just over a year ago, Instagram opened its photo feed to advertisers large and small. Now, more ads are coming to the free app — this time through Instagram Stories, a successful feature it introduced in August.
The company, which is owned by Facebook, said 150 million accounts a day were now using Instagram Stories, which made waves for its mimicry of Snapchat Stories. That is half of Instagram’s 300 million users a day.
While people might post carefully filtered photos of their new dogs to Instagram’s regular mobile feed, the Stories feature enables them to showcase a more spontaneous collection of photos and short videos, which disappear after 24 hours — say, a clip of tug of war and images of a dog’s snout and eyes with silly captions and emojis.
Ads will now show up between some Stories, which take up the full phone screen and otherwise seamlessly transition from one account to the next. (Snapchat, which has 150 million daily users over all, runs similar ads.) Instagram will soon begin with ads from more than 30 companies — including General Motors, Netflix, Airbnb and Capital One — before expanding to all advertisers in coming weeks. It will monitor feedback to determine how often the ads will appear, said James Quarles, vice president of monetization at Instagram.
“We’ll watch it closely, but I think we’ll introduce it and over time it will be expected just like on home feed — you see the sponsored logo and know ads are just a part of the experience,” Mr. Quarles said. He expressed optimism about how users would respond, adding, “This is going to be another great part of the experience, and I do think you’ll hear people say, ‘I discovered this from this business because of this story.’”
Instagram has been balancing the imperatives of making itself more attractive to advertisers and trying not to annoy its relatively young audience. Although Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, the photo-sharing company opened its feed to all advertisers only in the second half of 2015.
The changes have come quickly since then. Last year, Instagram stopped displaying posts chronologically, angering some users. It instead ranks images by what its data suggests people want to see or click. It also introduced tools for businesses to promote posts, for a price, and to analyze followers.
“As a user, you might be feeling it on Instagram, because it’s gone from basically nothing to something in maybe a year’s time,” said David Cohen, president of North America at Magna Global, a major ad-buying firm. Still, he added, “I don’t think they’ve stepped over the line as far as I can tell.”
When asked about the possibility of selling subscriptions to users who may want to avoid ads and regain the chronological timeline, Mr. Quarles said that the company had “certainly looked at it,” but that advertising “really fits the product.”
“When you get into subscriptions and haves and have-nots, it just changes the experience,” he said.
Instagram Stories offer a unique advertising opportunity to companies, Mr. Quarles said, because they are more immersive than in-feed ads and play with sound 70 percent of the time.
“We have been really thoughtful and we are seeing this great momentum there,” he said. “We absolutely don’t want this to at all change the experience that people have.”