Ad Overload? YouTube and Instagram Test Unskippable Ads 

Are Instagram and YouTube on the verge of losing relevance?

According to a PRWeek poll on LinkedIn, 51% of the 525 respondents said that they would delete Instagram if the plan to introduce unskippable ads is solidified. What’s more, only 7% of respondents voted saying that they would pay to make the ads go away while 41% would persevere through the unwanted changes. 

A spokesperson from Meta stated that as we test and learn, we will provide updates should this test result in any formal product changes’. Yet, some users have already taken to Reddit and X to vent their frustrations over the potential permanence of this feature. 

Tweet suggesting user dissatisfaction over Instagram ads feature

On Instagram, the feature would appear as an ‘ad break’, preventing users from being able to scroll their feed until the timer is up. These forced breaks are reported to be around 10 seconds long. 

how an ad break would appear as part of a user's Instagram feed

Ads on the platform are not new as users have been long accustomed to encountering them during their browsing experience but this feature would be the first time users will be made to take an unwanted break until the timer ends. 

Instagram taking an aggressive approach

Over the last year, Instagram has tested and implemented a lot of changers to their platform, most of which have improved the user experience. These include: 

  • Instagram Reveals: a feature that blurs your Instagram story so it’s only revealed if your followers DM you to see the full picture. 
  • Instagram Stories Cutout: these are stickers you can make from your pictures to add to your Reels and Stories. 
  • Instagram Stories Frames: create a digital polaroid for your Stories. 
  • Instagram DM’s: you can now edit sent messages and disable read receipts. 

There has also been an increased emphasis on Instagram Reels over regular posts in hopes of helping the platform draw in a younger demographic and compete with TikTok. Moreover, Meta has given users the opportunity to restrict AI from using their posts for training purposes (though only in Europe for now). 

So why do ad breaks feel like a major flop for Instagram? Simply put, it’s frustrating. 

Let’s admit it, we’re all addicted to our phones and after a long day, sometimes all we want to do is unwind by doom-scrolling through endless social media feeds. And now, the right to do that has been taken away from us. 

Doom-scrolling meme

YouTube is about to get worse

If you’ve been using an ad blocker to skip watching ads on YouTube, be prepared for it to become redundant.

A Google spokesperson stated that ‘YouTube is improving its performance and reliability in serving both organic and ad video content. This update may result in sub-optimal viewing experiences for viewers with ad blockers installed’. 

Ad blockers allegedly ‘violate YouTube’s Terms of Service’ and YouTube has been urging users to ‘support their favorite creators and allow ads on YouTube or try YouTube Premium for an ad-free experience’. 

While YouTube claims that ads will help support creators, users have taken to Reddit stating that they’ve been receiving 90 second unskippable ads before every video leading to users feeling like the platform is prioritizing revenue over user experience. 

The implementation of these server-side ads are said to disable video playback controls. This means users cannot skip forward or pause videos during these extended ad interruptions. 

Tweet on X about server side ads destroying the functionality of ad blockers

This breaks ad blockers as the ads are already implemented within the video before it reaches your mobile or desktop app. If you have an ad blocker installed, it potentially could prevent you from watching the video all together.

Users are not happy with unskippable ads 

Changes like this are met with widespread dissatisfaction among users, highlighting significant concerns about their impact on the overall viewing experience and user freedom. 

Users have taken to Reddit about how the feature has reminded them about the other things they could be doing with their time instead of scrolling through the platforms. In the long run, this will directly impact engagement times and retention rates. 

For digital marketers, this new feature requires a reevaluation of past strategies to navigate the associated costs and improve user experience. These could include: 

  • Ad strategy adjustments: Marketers will have to prioritize creating increasingly engaging and memorable ads that will justify the unskippable format. There should be greater emphasis on targeted campaigns to reach the right audience to minimize negative reactions to the ads and maximize relevance. 
  • Enhanced collaboration: Marketers should consider working closely with platforms testing unskippable ads to further optimize ad placements and formats for better performance. 
  • A holistic approach: Consider integrated campaigns such as combining unskippable ads with other advertising strategies (influencer marketing, ephemeral content, etc) to create a balanced marketing mix. 

As a marketer, losing engagement will be your biggest nightmare. Hence, strategies to mitigate the negative effects of such changes are paramount for maintaining audience interest and maximizing campaign effectiveness. 

Judgement on ad blockers is still up in the air

So far, only a small number of users have reported having experienced the wrath of unskippable ads on both YouTube and Instagram.

At the moment, YouTube Premium offers users a way out of watching ads (for the small price of 32.99 AUD a month) but Instagram is yet to do so. 

For now, the feature is just a test but to users, it’s already starting to demonstrate the platform’s prioritization of ad dollars over the app’s core functionality and experience. 

We don’t know when the feature will roll out for everyone or if it even will with all the backlash it has received, but don’t be surprised if you’re next on the test list.