Snapchat might be the next big thing in advertising, with video views rivalling Facebook and its number of daily users reportedly surpassing that of Twitter. A whopping 22 per cent of senior ad buyers in the US plan to begin advertising on Snapchat this year, according to a survey by investment bank Cowen and Company.
But how did a platform based on the concept of disappearing videos and images, mostly known for enabling traceless teenage sexting, achieve this level of success?
Its chief executive, Evan Spiegel, only began monetising the app in January last year with the introduction of the Discover function, which brings the Snapchat channels of 20 featured publications, including National Geographic and Vice, to the attention of users.
Later the same year, Snapchat also rolled out new brand customisation functions, such as geofilters – static image add-ons available in specific locations. So, for example, McDonalds was one of the first brands to make use of this, allowing customers in their stores to adorn their photos with a burger and chips. Then there are sponsored lenses, which add animations to snaps such as the by now infamous rainbow vomit.
Up until June this year, all this custom content had to be created strictly in collaboration with Snapchat itself. Now, with the introduction of Snapchat Partners, which outsources client acquisition to software companies and creative content agencies, the platform should be able to accommodate an unprecedented number of ads.
The reason why there is such a high demand to advertise on the app is its characteristic functionality, explains Paul Marcum, president of the content marketing company Truffle Pig, one of Snapchat’s creative partners.
“Unlike most other platforms, Snapchat is mobile unique,” he says. “It has a whole new navigation schema, inventory and experience. The primary content that is shared is on the platform itself, you are not surrounded by links to other websites. There is this ‘joy in the moment’ element which you don’t necessarily see everywhere else. You’re capturing and sharing a moment and enjoying the other moments being shared.”
In addition, Snapchat allows brands to appear more personal to the consumer. “It is a very intimate platform where people can pick and choose what they send and receive,” says Ellie Moore, account manager at creative agency Don’t Panic London. “It doesn’t feel like a public platform like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. This is likely due to a combination of factors: it is contained within mobile so it seems ‘safer’ than the internet, and users’ content isn’t sent off into the ether for eternity.”
As a result, directly interacting with a brand through using its geofilter or lens is a lot easier, quicker and less permanent than engagement via other applications. This is evidenced for example in the widely successful custom Cinco de Mayo lens of American fast food chain Taco Bell, which turned snappers’ heads into oversized taco shells. The campaign perfectly captured the particular humour and preferences of the platform’s millennial user base and drew on its inconsequential shareability to garner 224 million views in a single day, smashing Snapchat records.
A major drawback for advertisers has been the amount of time and money invested in content customisation on Snapchat’s disparate interface compared with other social media platforms – not least the creation of lenses and filters. On a more basic level, even videos must be specifically created or altered for use in the app, as its format is based on 3V or vertical video views. Simply put, this means Snapchat footage is almost exclusively viewed with the phone upright as opposed to horizontally, unlike the videos shown for example on YouTube.
But Truffle Pig’s Paul Marcum says the added effort should not deter advertisers. Rather, it forces them to be more innovative and creative with their approach. “You need the skills of an illustrator, the eye of a filmmaker and the brain of a storyteller. You don’t want to make it look like you’re trying too hard, but it needs to be both on-brand and on-platform. It can take a lot of work sometimes but it also allows you to do something completely out of the box.”
Of course Snapchat is still a young platform with much to learn. Initial criticism of the platform by the industry ranged from its inability to efficiently drive traffic to other social channels to its lack of tools to measure campaign impact. Granted, it has adapted fast, adding a new swipe-up feature to video ads, which allows users to watch a longer-form video, download an app or visit a mobile website. In an attempt to woo marketers with improved transparency, two new tools, Moat and DoubleClick, were added in June and Snapchat now has measurement-tool partnerships with 11 external stakeholders.
There is a risk however, that the company has gone too far in catering to the big bosses rather than listening to the preferences of its users. Alongside Snapchat Partners, this June also saw the introduction of video ads between Stories – people’s collections of snaps throughout a day. Up until now, promotional content has always been separated from user-generated content, so that snappers can pick and choose what videos and images to view. This lack of direct advertising incidentally was the basis of the app’s allure for the ad-shy millennial user.
“At the moment, I think they’ve got the balance just right,” explains Moore. “There are only about ten selected partners, so seeing the ads is quite rare and they have remained non-intrusive. I think this is the main point of difference from other social platforms, and as soon as they start opening this up more, Snapchat will lose it unique appeal as a novel marketing tool.”