Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 | 9 min read
Snapchat is paving the way for exciting new developments in social and mobile advertising with Discover, a unique media distribution platform that all brands should keep their eye on. Whereas on most social platforms publishers, brands, and users all vie for attention within the same space, Discover takes a different approach, putting content providers – and the brands that advertise with them – front and center. This makes Discover a genuinely exciting prospect for advertisers that could change the way we approach social mobile advertising.
Discover debuted a little over a year after Snapchat Stories, which is now the app’s most popular feature (even more so than its core messaging feature). Stories allows users to string together a collection of photos and videos into longer-form Snaps that are available to view for a full 24 hours (normal Snaps are only available from one to 10 seconds).
Whereas Stories represents a mix of user-generated and brand-generated content, Discover showcases curated material from a select group of media publishers, acting like an interactive news magazine inside the Snapchat app. Users can browse content from up to 12 channels (depending on their location): CNN, Cartoon Network, the Daily Mail, Vice, Cosmo, MTV, Bleacher Report, ESPN, the Food Network, NatGeo, People, Yahoo!, Warner, Fusion, and Snapchat’s own channel.
Each outlet releases a daily bulletin that contains three to five pieces of content. Users can swipe up on an animated teaser to view a full piece of content or swipe left to skip over to the next.
Here’s Snapchat’s official video that explains how Discover works:
In a blog post announcing the launch of Discover, Snapchat explains how their new feature stands out from other social platforms’ content initiatives:
“It’s the result of collaboration with world-class leaders in media to build a storytelling format that puts the narrative first. This is not social media.
Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important.”
In other words, Snapchat believes that content curation by a select group of tastemakers is a better way to deliver quality, relevant information to users than by employing a complex algorithm.
Snapchat also states that Discover is built to showcase visual storytelling, including images, video, long-form content, and “gorgeous” ads. This isn’t just launch hyperbole – advertising on Discover genuinely feels like nothing else out there. Full-screen images and video complemented with music and text overlays make Snapchat Discover a truly immersive experience. In contrast, other mobile-first newsreader apps (like Facebook Paper) that employ static images and text suddenly feel old fashioned.
Without much room for artistry, it’s difficult for mobile advertising to visually captivate consumers in the same way that fully animated display advertising can. Discover, on the other hand, is a return to ads that take full advantage of graphics, animation, sound, and full-screen interactivity.
Another major draw for brands is that they don’t have to pay the $750,000 price tag associated with Snapchat’s current ad products, and they’re free to bypass negotiations with Snapchat and arrange advertising deals directly with media outlets like CNN or the Daily Mail (with whom they may already have relationships).
The rates for Discover ads are still high in comparison to advertising on other social channels, but $50k for a campaign on Discover (which is what the CEO of one Discover publisher cited as an acceptable budget) is much more accessible than $750k per day for a Stories ad.
Snapchat’s userbase is also one of the app’s biggest assets when it comes to attracting advertisers. After all, the app provides access to the millennial demographic, particularly the younger sect, on a platform where they are already highly engaged.
Lastly, mobile advertising is expected to outstrip desktop advertising by 2018 – social is mobile, and Snapchat Discover ads could be the homepage takeover of the mobile era: big, creative, high-impact, brand-led, one-day placements that are the showpiece of digital campaigns.
So far, most advertising within Discover has taken the form of channel sponsorships (which include a logo and a “Sponsored by” note on the channel’s opening screen) or video ads that appear between publisher content as the user scrolls through. Many advertisers recycle their preexisting TV ads and simply adapt them to Snapchat’s portrait layout, but some, such as T-Mobile, go the extra mile and make original video ad campaigns specifically imagined for the platform.
BMW recently ran their TV commercial for the i3 car on CNN’s Discover channel, which looked like this:
And here’s T-Mobile’s original ad campaign for Snapchat, as seen on the Daily Mail Channel (click through the image link to watch on Vimeo):
But this is just the beginning for advertising on Snapchat Discover; we expect that brands will get more creative as they try out different kinds of ads on the highly-visual platform.
In addition to video ads and branded channel sponsorships, will we also one day see brands’ normal Snaps sandwiched between Discover content? For example, it’s easy to imagine one of Taco Bell’s Snaps on MTV’s Discover channel.
MTV’s Discover content (above), Taco Bell Snapchat content (below)
If Snapchat allows brands to insert their Snaps into Discover in this way, it could open the door to programmatic ad buying. This means that, rather than having to manually arrange each ad deal with Discover publishers, advertisers could use automated ad management software to buy and place ads on Snapchat (if Snapchat releases an ads API). Then brands could promote their normal snaps between a Discover news bulletin, with the price based on the daily readership of each channel.
Snapchat could also allow brands to bid for placements based on demand, time of day, day of the week, or keywords in the associated content. It would then be possible for Snapchat to sell ads based on total exposures rather than a flat daily rate.
Many interpreted Snapchat’s statement that Discover is not social media as a jab at the way social giants like Facebook and Twitter do business and approach content distribution. And this isn’t without precedent; the messaging app’s CEO Evan Spiegel has has been outspoken about Facebook’s inevitable decline.
However, in some ways Snapchat is actually following a path similar to the one trodden by Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms: first build a communication tool, then add a content platform, then focus on increasing time spent on the platform, and, finally, sell ad space.
But Snapchat has always liked to do things differently, and Discover is no exception. Facebook and Twitter have had their problems along the path to monetization, and brands and media outlets haven’t always been happy with the way things have progressed. The popularity of content marketing on Facebook and Twitter has blurred the lines between news organizations and brands, and many critics say it has devalued the quality of the content that appears in users’ feeds.
Of course, it’s not easy being first, but Snapchat has an opportunity to position itself as the mobile ad platform that is truly built with the needs of content providers, advertisers, and consumers in mind.
Additionally, users, brands, and media outlets all fight for the same space in the newsfeeds and timelines of popular social channels. With Discover, on the other hand, Snapchat revisits a more traditional advertising model: media outlets providing content and brands placing their ads alongside it. Users can’t post, share, comment, or make things go viral – the power is back in the hands of publisher.
Snapchat Discover might seem like simply an example of yet another social platform trying to find a way to monetize, but in reality it is an exciting new touchpoint that brands can leverage to connect with consumers.
Over to you: what do you think about the advertising opportunities on Snapchat?
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.