The popular social media app may be the 'coolest', but it should reconsider its aversion to data if it is to compete with Facebook and Twitter for advertising.
This post is by Ed Kitchingman, MEC.
Snapchat has been making its big pitch for advertising's pounds and dollars in recent months. A tour of agencies and brands by its co-founder Evan Spiegel was followed by an interview with Bloomberg News, where the Snapchat Ceo talked about how he aims to make advertising a rewarding part of the social media experience: "a lot of people look at internet advertising as a tax on the system. That's sort of discouraging if you care about making new products, and especially discouraging if you feel like you can solve problems."
So far, so good. However, more tangible to brands than words and statements of intent is the US and UK youth audience Snapchat can attract.
Vodafone CEO, Vittorio Colao, caused a stir in a recent earnings call when he revealed that in the UK, of all the messaging apps, including Facebook and Whatsapp, Snapchat is responsible for 75% of all mobile messaging data. It seems images that 'self-destruct' could be compelling motivation for people to use the app more frequently. Whatever the reasoning, traffic is largely thought to be from teens: a recent study from GlobalWebIndex found that teens are 3.5 times more likely than average to be on Snapchat (GWI).
It's also popular and 'cool': the coolest messenger app, according to 16- to 18-yearolds in the UK and the US surveyed by GWI.
Snapchat's planned ad policy of inserting vertical 10 seconds of video into feeds on its stories format from cities, colleges, or its media channels, also corresponds with how people are increasingly consuming media. Mary Meeker's 2015 Internet trends highlighted just how much time in the US is spent looking at (vertical) mobile screens: 2.8 hours, compared to just 0.4 hours in 2010. "People just don't rotate their phones," believes Spiegel.
Popular, cool and part of the zeitgeist: surely a winning combination for advertisers? except it isn't, at least not yet.
Spiegel's dislike of targeted advertising, and belief that advertising is too invasive if it appears in a private one-to-one message between users has meant Snapchat's advertising capabilities currently relies on users being interested in other parts of its platform, beyond the core messaging product. So far, arguably, it hasn't found an advertising solution that can marry both.
Take Snapchat's discover feature as an example: launched in January, amid much fanfare, it enabled selected media publishers to post daily editions of images and videos. Buzz, however, didn't translate into longevity and unique views declined as much as 50% by April for some publishers. There's a couple of ways we can look at that: either some of the publishers on there weren't right for the platform, or content wasn't strong enough to sustain interest, or perhaps users want to Snapchat their friends directly and do little else beyond that.
If it is the latter, Snapchat's live stories faces the same problem. Will users move beyond direct messaging to look at this feature? While it's easy to imagine it working for big events such as a festival or a sporting contest, it'll be interesting to see its impact for more niche events.
The possible drawbacks to Snapchat's ad offering is partly down to Spiegel's aversion to data: "there's a sort of weird obsession with the idea that data can solve anything." Indeed, it can't solve everything, but it is data that helps demonstrate transparency and the impact of any advertising. While Snapchat can tell marketers completion rates and how many unique viewers and total views their ads received, any brand with an ongoing presence on Snapchat must ask the app's reps how many followers they have, making it more suitable for tactical campaigns.
The wider problem for Snapchat is that it's swimming against the tide of what Facebook, twitter and Instagram are offering advertisers, and particularly what Facebook (and by extension Instagram) and twitter can provide in terms of their treasure troves of audience insight, data and ad targeting options.
Snapchat can of course exist as part of the social advertising mix. Alongside these and other social channels, brands don't have to choose just one or the other. It's just that with a myriad of platforms and limited budget, Snapchat might be relegated to more adventurous campaigns, until it can demonstrate sustained user interest in its features beyond messaging, and recognise that data isn't merely 'a weird obsession', but vital to providing transparency. Sometimes being popular is just not enough.