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TIL: Facebook Instant Experiences

Written by: Erik Mansur, VP, Product and Engineering

This is the latest post in our “TIL (today I learned)” blog series that spotlights specific digital advertising technologies and strategies. Today we give you the lowdown on Facebook’s Instant Experience ads.

Wait, WTF are Instant Experiences?

Instant Experiences (formerly known as “Canvas ads” and “Collections ads”) are a way for advertisers to expose target audiences to a more immersive brand experience, directly within the Facebook or Instagram mobile apps. After clicking on what appears to be a standard link ad, the user is taken to a full-screen environment complete with full-screen images, video, and carousel elements, feed-driven product information, and more.

Once inside the Instant Experience, the user can freely interact with these elements. Ideally, they’ll click to leave the in-app surroundings and be sent to the advertiser’s website or mobile app to progress further down the marketing funnel.

What problems do they solve?

One word: engagement. A big hurdle for online marketers is keeping their audience’s attention long enough to increase brand awareness or customer lifetime value. Instant Experience ads, with their full-screen, off-channel feel, are the next logical step in Facebook’s expanding suite of creative products designed to keep users engaged.

Over the past few years, Facebook has armed marketers with ad format options that have made it easier and more appealing for users to engage with ads. For example: Carousel ads are more engaging than static image ads. Video ads are more engaging than carousels. Stories ads appear in-between a friend’s Stories posts, so they have even more of a seamless flow than video ads in a feed-like environment. And this list goes on.


BarkBox’s Canvas ad is designed with conversions in mind. No matter what part of the ad the audiences are viewing, a consistent CTA inviting them to sign up for BarkBox is visible.

Instant Experiences allow a marketer to deliver a full-screen advertising message (just like a Stories ad), but with interactive elements (similar to Playable ads) that can mimic the touchpoints that a user would find when browsing a brand’s website or mobile app. And this entire “Instant Experience” occurs within the Facebook or Instagram app itself. The user isn’t forced to open a new browser tab or switch to a separate mobile app.

What are the best ways for me to use Instant Experiences to make my advertising campaigns successful?

Depending on your vertical or business, adding Instant Experience ads to your marketing mix could be a no-brainer.

If you’re a new company looking to disrupt an existing industry or if you have a value proposition that requires a deeper explanation than a newsfeed ad can handle, the Canvas variety of Instant Experiences are a perfect way to build your brand. Through full-motion video, bold images, and clickable carousel content, you can extol your company’s virtues and provide a more in-depth look at your products.

Ecommerce advertisers — especially those with a product catalog and tens, hundreds, or even thousands of SKUs — have had great success with the Collections varietal of Instant Experience ads. This full-screen format and shoppable content give users the feeling that they’re browsing for products to buy right from within the Facebook or Instagram app. Notably, these are items that they’ve either already seen (in the retargeting, dynamic ads sense) or have been algorithmically chosen for them (in either the cross-sell/up-sell or prospecting sense).

But regardless of your vertical, Instant Experiences help keep a user engaged, which is the most important task in the early stages of user acquisition. Playable ads — a format that’s similar to Canvas and Collections — allow app advertisers to accomplish the same goal with a similar user experience. Think about it: a user clicks on an “ad” in their news feed, which immediately puts them into an immersive experience playing a sample of a mobile game. It’s completely unlike anything from a user’s stream of posts and pictures, and they never had to leave the Facebook app.

“Immersive experience”? This seems like the so-called future of the internet.

It sure does, but the roots of the Instant Experience actually lie in the not-too-distant past. Back in the early days of the world wide web, nearly everyone I knew gained access via the America Online app on their desktop computer. You’d open AOL, dial in to the phone number, and once online, you’d have access to a wide array of options.

You could build an online profile with your personal information and interests. You could seek out broader communities and interact with friends — all from within the AOL app. If that sounds familiar, it should: Facebook — and to some extent Instagram — offers you a similar experience, updated to today’s Web 2.0 world.

"Instant Experience ads, with their full-screen, off-channel feel, are the next logical step in Facebook’s expanding suite of creative products designed to keep users engaged."

AOL also offered the initial version of what we now take for granted: a marketplace for shopping online. AOL Games was one of their biggest early successes, and continued to be the reason why many users still accessed the portal up until its demise a few years ago. And like profiles, chat rooms, communities, shopping and gaming all happened inside the AOL framework.

I’m not insinuating that Facebook is patterning its product offerings on what America Online built in the ‘90s. But it’s clear that one of the biggest drivers of AOL’s success was its ability to deliver diverse experiences to its users while keeping them in the owned and operated AOL environment. Facebook is doing something similar with Instant Experiences and Playables, but leaving it up to advertisers to provide the content and drive the user retention within their app.

More than any other ad format, Instant Experiences seem to be a win-win for everyone because the key performance metric is “user engagement”, something every advertiser craves. Advertisers can keep their potential customers moving towards a purchase or conversion, and Facebook can keep its users from leaving its ecosystem until it’s absolutely necessary.

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