Those creepy Facebook ads that know what you’ve looked at online are coming to Instagram

They know just what you’re looking for, literally.
They know just what you’re looking for, literally.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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Here’s a familiar experience for Facebook users: You do a little shopping online, maybe check out some sneakers you want to buy. Perhaps you add them to your cart, but then leave them there for another time. And later, when you check your Facebook feed, there’s an ad for those same sneakers.

Better get used to the idea. These “dynamic ads,” which have been a feature of Facebook since February 2015, will soon be coming to your Instagram feed.

That means as long as you’re logged into Instagram, which Facebook acquired for $1 billion in 2012, the browsing you do on your phone may determine which ads you see in your feed. If you’re eyeing up some Nikes, for instance, you could get an ad for those or a related product, while your friend who wants a pair of those popular old-school Adidas shoes may see those instead.

Companies have to opt in for their products to show up, but there’s good reason to believe many will. Facebook says retailers already have uploaded more than 2.5 billion unique products for use in dynamic ads on Facebook. Those product pages include markers that the brands can use to target their advertising.

The opportunity may be especially ripe for fashion brands. Instagram is so important to the industry that it’s begun to drive brands’ internal decisions, including the way clothing is designed and showcased. About 96% of US fashion brands are on Instagram, which shows the highest user-engagement of any social network.

What’s more: users engage most with product posts, by a wide margin. According to a report by research firm L2, 60% of brands’ posts with the greatest engagement were products, beating lifestyle posts, which came in second at about 20%. Now imagine that a product post is targeted based on the Instagram user having already shown interest in the product itself or something similar.

Jewlr's dynamic ad on Instagram
Jewlr’s dynamic ad on Instagram.
Image: Facebook

Dynamic ads may weird users out a bit since they’re a reminder that your every step is tracked. But according to Facebook, the Instagram ads already are showing early success in testing. Jewlr, a Canadian jewelry retailer, was one of the first businesses to try them out, focusing a campaign on people in the US who viewed or added a product to their cart on its website but didn’t actually purchase. Facebook says the return on the dynamic ads has been more than three times their cost for Jewlr.

Facebook is also offering dynamic ads for travel companies that would let them target Instagram users who’ve shown an interest in traveling to a specific destination or on specific dates.