Product Design: Creating Better Ads

Back in 2013, Instagram launched its very first advertisement – a major innovation for the platform’s product design. In the years since, the advertising business for Instagram continues to evolve. However, many early lessons have contributed to its current success. For example, our advertising partners would send all assets to us prior to launch. From there, our team would upload the content and schedule the time that the ad would run. Simply put, we followed a very manual process that would not be instantly scalable.

While this may seem counterintuitive, we made this decision in order to understand how our community would respond to ad content. In addition, our goal is to provide quality content that resonates with our users. There’s a popular rumor that our CEO (Kevin Systrom) would personally review every ad that we posted in the early days. I can confirm that this is absolutely true.

That said, we can’t do that anymore with more than 2 million advertisers on Instagram. However, the early principles that we established for ad content are in operation today. The key to maintaining user engagement at scale is to drive relevance. For example, we learned a great deal from McDonald’s ads that used beautiful photography that didn’t look anything like a fast-food brand. The problem is that the photos were not relevant to their target audience. In the end, relevance drives performance.

Most importantly, the introduction of ads forced us to reconsider one of our signature features – square formatting. From its earliest days, this format has been a “sacred cow” for Instagram. However, very little ad content uses this format. In addition, we found that 20 percent of our media in 2014 was formatted with some form of letter-boxing to make it work on Instagram.

Ultimately, new display options should not only be available to advertisers. Fortunately, our users showed us that one of our perceived “sacred features” was already being hacked. In the end, our product design is adaptable for usage that applies to people and advertisers.

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About the speaker
Vishal Shah Instagram, VP of Product Management Member

As Director of Product Management at Instagram, Vishal Shah is responsible for building products that help people discover and connect with their interests on Instagram. He leads consumer, business, and revenue products including Search, Explore, Ads, IGTV, and Shopping. Vishal was most recently named #9 on Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business 2018. Before his role at Instagram, Vishal spent 10 years at Turn, pioneering programmatic advertising and marketing technology in roles across engineering and product. Before Turn, Vishal was with Accenture’s Technology Labs. Vishal holds degrees in Computer Science and Business from the University of California, Berkeley and resides in the Bay Area with his wife Reena and their two young Instagrammers.

About the host
Randhir Vieira

Randhir Vieira is the VP of Product at Headspace - leading the product team to achieve the organization’s mission of improving health and happiness around the world. Prior to Headspace, Randhir was the Chief Customer Officer at Mindflash, a leading cloud-based Learning Management System. He was also the VP of Product and Customer Care at Eyefi - and Senior Product Director at Yahoo.

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