Ad buyers complain Instagram ad approvals are taking longer

As Instagram usage soars and the platform tightens content controls, agencies report frustrations at the length of the ad approval process and communication of updated policy guidelines.

Agencies point to problems with specific Instagram ads or post that don’t get approved due to sometimes unclear copyright infringement claims, that take a long time to reach approval or are taken down after going live for breaching terms of service or community guidelines.

Over the past year, Havas Group Media agency Arena Media has noticed roughly a threefold growth in the length of time it takes to get ads approved because of the increase in ad volume. For a pharmaceutical client, a category which has additional rounds of approval, it can take two days to resolve interpretation of the rules, said Sarah Treliving, managing director at Arena Media, (an issue also felt by creators monetizing their videos through Facebook Watch).

“They are deliberately vague on the length of time it will take if it’s not approved and gone under review,” she said. “Which is a challenge; the beauty of social is being reactive. But we empathize and want to work with them on the challenges. It’s taking decisive action about what it pulls down, it’s not always going to make the right call.”

Now, when planning for a social campaign that reacts to an event, Arena Media will create assets that react to both outcomes and get them both pre-approved on Instagram, so there are no time delays when the campaign goes live.

More quality control checks, as well as an increase in the volume of ads, are contributing factors. Part of the issue also stems from Facebook’s move to integrate Instagram advertising with Facebook’s ad system over the past year and a half. Advertisers can opt to let Facebook decide whether a campaign runs across Facebook, Messenger Instagram or Audience Network depending on where the audience is. From a consumer point of view, Facebook has kept Instagram fairly protected from many accusations levied at the blue app.

Facebook and Instagram use a combination of machine learning and manual processes to weed out content that violates its terms of service. Instagram’s rapid growth means that it’s erring on the side of caution and currently this is a blunt tool for a nuanced problem.

“Facebook is inconsistent,” said Deborah King, head of paid social for EMEA at GroupM agency Essence. “There have always been inconsistencies with what has and hasn’t been approved. A brand picture advertising healthy lifestyle where someone has cleavage would get disapproved, but an entertainment campaign or a perfume ad with someone in a bikini gets through.”

In order to speed up the approval process, King said Instagram has pushed ads live for them, only to subsequently disapprove and disable them, which can be awkward to explain to a client. However, this is often resolved in 48 hours since Instagram added a feature to request a manual review. Other agencies say they have to involve agency reps to resolve to the issue, resolving issues means involving platform reps, which is fine for big agencies with deeper relationships.

Agency Social Chain has also found the ad approval process takes around three times as long over the last 12 months, although Oliver Yonchev, U.S. managing director at agency Social Chain said it’s not affected the agency’s ability to run campaigns that react quickly to events. The agency has seen a small percentage increase in the number of ads that don’t get approved, mostly relating to music or text or policy infringement.

The issues are rattling nerves at agencies with Black Friday approaching.

“Big events tied to specific days always add a bit of pressure,” said Kieley Taylor, global head of social at GroupM. “Anything that doesn’t go live on an opening weekend is an issue.”

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