Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 | 9 min read
Snapchat is big news. Attempted buyouts by Facebook and Google, a $10 billion valuation, leaked photos, and innovative new ad products. But do brands, the ad industry, or even the press truly understand Snapchat?
We read again and again about the “ephemeral app for generation Y.” Everyone knows that kids use it to send silly images to each other that disappear after viewing, but like other platforms before it, Snapchat is evolving into something more.
With Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the vast majority of marketers were using the platforms well before the ad products that we now use were launched. As users, understanding them was more straightforward. Most marketers don’t use Snapchat, so its intricacies are alien.
This quote from Brandon Berger, chief digital officer at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide nicely sums up the situation:
“I think the challenge with Snapchat, unlike Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other platforms, is that marketers are still trying to understand the platform.”
To understand the potential for Snapchat ads, marketers need to understand how the app works and how advertising fits in with the way people use the app.
If you already know how Snapchat and Snapchat Stories work, read on for the lowdown on the new ad placements. If you still need to get acquainted, read our quick guide to Snapchat first.
Just like regular user “Stories,” Snapchat ads are displayed in the Recent Updates feed in the My Friends sections of the app. The first ad, which ran as a test to users in the US in late October, is for the horror film Ouija.
Holding your finger on the icon plays the ad. It’s the same format as a Story, in that you must hold your finger down to view it, and the time remaining ticks down in the top right corner. This unique method of holding to play could be important for advertisers as they could know exactly the point where viewers stopped watching. Just like a Story, the ad vanishes from your feed after 24 hours if you choose not to watch it.
The obvious difference between this and a regular Story is that Ouija’s sponsored Story was edited from the fully produced trailer and has high production values compared to the normal Stories that are usually shot on a phone. This makes it very easy for brands that want to advertise on Snapchat with existing video collateral. This also highlights the fact that a brand can effectively launch a campaign on Snapchat without any following or history and target the entire user base. It’s also worth pointing out that video is cropped to a portrait aspect ratio — the way that user-created video is shot and viewed on Snapchat, so scenes had to be specially selected for the format.
It has been widely reported that ads on Snapchat are opt-in, but this is misleading. They aren’t opt-in, in the sense that you can turn off a radio button in your settings and you won’t see any ads. They are opt-in in the sense that everything on Snapchat is opt-in. You see it in your feed, and you hold your finger on it to watch it. If you don’t, it will go away within 24 hours.
At the beginning of the month, AdAge reported that Snapchat wanted to sell sponsorship of Our Stories to brands. The idea being that advertisers could mesh their branded content with user-generated content. The example they used is Home Depot, current sponsors of ESPN’s college football preview show. Home Depot could sponsor a college football Our Story by adding their logo and including video of fans barbecuing on grills (a home depot product) outside the stadium before the game. Home Depot would then pay to broadcast this Story to a wider audience.
Last week, Samsung became the first brand to sponsor one of these Our Stories during the American Music Awards. Throughout the event, user photos where intermixed with Snaps marked with “Powered by Samsung Galaxy.”
Brands could sandwich their own product-based Snaps within a related Our Story. In the same way that Taco Bell might advertise on TV during the Super Bowl, they could pay to put one of their taco Snaps within the Super Bowl’s Our Story.
It’s also easy to imagine ads for TV shows working well in the sponsored Stories format, giving users a sneak peek of the next episode or joke highlights from a sitcom. Stories could also be used to create mini cliffhangers that entice the viewer to watch the show or summarize the previous week’s episode.
Faced with the challenge of making their platforms stickier, Facebook and Twitter courted news outlets to give people something to do on the platforms after they had checked all of their friends’ updates. WSJ reports that Snapchat is thinking about a similar move and is talking to outlets including CNN, Buzzfeed and Time.
This tactic was hugely successful for Facebook and Twitter, changing the platforms’ use from communication to discovery and greatly extending the time that users spend on the platforms — making them more desirable to advertisers. An expiring daily news bulletin would be perfect for Snapchat, creating urgency to view each day’s content before it vanishes.
Although Snapchat got into trouble for making false claims about privacy, the absence of tracking, “creepy” targeting or any kind of permanent record of a user’s Snaps is really the USP of Snapchat, which CEO Evan Spiegel has been very vocal about. Commentators have suggested that this will be Snapchat’s downfall when it comes to monetization, as without this data, advertisers can’t accurately target users.
Emily White, formerly in charge of bringing ads to Instagram has been employed by Snapchat to help address these problems. Instagram does track user data, but it shares Snapchat’s lack of a click-through, making it much harder to track the effectiveness of campaigns. This means it’s likely that, just like Instagram, advertising on Snapchat will be limited to branding and awareness campaigns and use surveys to gauge brand uplift and ad recall.
So how will ads be targeted on Snapchat if there is no user data? It makes it tricky, but not impossible. Ads are still targeted on TV based on the demographics of those who watch certain shows, and this could be applied to Stories. In the Home Depot example above they would be targeting college sports fans in exactly the same way on TV and Snapchat.
Both ads were only shown to users in the US, which means that Snapchat ads will almost certainly be targetable by country, and somewhere down the line to states and cities (as Facebook and Twitter did). We know that Snapchat is comfortable with using location and time to push out Stories, so it follows that they could make this available for ad targeting.
Snapchat isn’t a fully-developed ad platform yet —but it has big plans. It’s just starting the journey to becoming such a platform. For advertisers, it’s interesting that it’s possible to advertise on Snapchat while the platform develops. And because of the nature of the platform, it looks as though it will be possible for brands to just jump straight to advertising without the need to first build a following.
Snapchat has promised that there is “incredible new stuff” on the way, so now, armed with a better understanding of the network, you can start to think about how Snapchat can work as a marketing channel for your brand.
About the Author: Jamie O’Brien is part of the Sprinklr content team and is based in Singapore. In a previous life, he was a digital art director in London. He likes to get away from the city as often as is humanly possible to snowboard, dive or hike.