Thinking About Snapchat Advertising? Snap Out of It

Brands Should Think Twice Before Snapping

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McDonalds's, Taco Bell and even GE are just a few of the brands rushing to Snapchat in an attempt to stake their claim on 10 seconds of millennial mindshare. And Snapchat is now reportedly working on a service called Snapchat Discovery that will make it easier to get ads in front of Snapchat users.

But if you are a brand marketer thinking, "I'd better get on this Snapchat train before it leaves the station," please slow down a second and make sure you know what you're getting into. With news of Snapchat's $10 billion valuation, it's easy to come down with a case of "Shiny Object Syndrome." But it's important to have a clear picture of where you're putting your brand -- after all, there's a reason brands pay a premium to be adjacent to quality content. You are the company you keep.

When Snapchat came onto the scene, it was perceived as little more than a tool for sexting. The reality is that it's a much more robust platform that's used for all kinds of visual communication. The content problem, however, is the other advertisers you will be associating your brand with.

I conducted an experiment and changed my settings to allow anyone to send me snaps on Snapchat. Sure enough, the ads started rolling in. An ad for a fake Rolex was the tamest of the bunch. Ads for penis enlargement pills and "fine big booty girls" were gems.

If you are advertising Gorditas to stoners (or giant wind turbines to multinational corporations?), perhaps placing your brand in this crowd makes perfect sense. To the rest of us, not so much.

Snapchat is reportedly making the rounds with brands and agencies. In its pitch deck, Snapchat boldy declares to marketers, "Now it's your turn," and goes on to advise, "We recommend experimentation." Most of the examples are in entertainment -- MTV, "Girls" on HBO and the New Orleans Saints seem to fit in because they're part of popular culture -- but Snapchat boasts that "McDonalds built excitement the day before they snapped from a commercial shoot." Did they really?

We all want to innovate. But too often in this business, we confuse innovation with latching onto something new for the sake of its newness. People want to "start looking like a playa" to quote my fake Rolex ad. To me, innovation is about using creativity and logic to find a way to something better.

Yes, this involves trying experimentation. But if we look to scientific methodology, we see that successful experiments begin with a hypothesis -- an educated guess. Make sure you're educated.

Alibaba has reportedly considered investing in Snapchat because in China there has been enormous success integrating commerce with communication. Perhaps that success will provide opportunities for brands down the road.

But if you're thinking about putting your brand on Snapchat today, snap out of it.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this op-ed said Alibaba had already invested in Snapchat. Talks had been reported but no actual investment has been confirmed.

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