Exciting as Snapchat's effort to reinvent the publishing portal may be, the ads in Snapchat's Discover section have not been. Generally they have been vertically cropped versions of brands' TV and YouTube spots. Encountering these zoomed-in ads while swiping through publishers' custom-designed articles and videos is like coming across an old-school, standard-definition commercial on your big-screen TV. But that's starting to change.
Since late July, Snapchat has added a number of publishers like BuzzFeed, Mashable, Refinery29 and Tastemade that not only sell ads but also make them, spurring brands like Coca-Cola, Dunkin' Donuts and TV network Pivot to opt for ads that are more native to the mobile app's vertically oriented environment.
Of the early ads on Discover, "a lot of them felt really jury-rigged for this platform," said Jeff Petriello, who heads Mashable's emerging media group Mashable Collective. "We're starting to see Coca-Cola ads on Tastemade that I really like and some other stuff since the new round of publishers have come out that feels like somebody thought about Snapchat Discover when they were making this."
Tastemade's Head of Production Jay Holzer had little else to think about when creating that ad for Coca-Cola in late August. It was three days before the food-focused digital video network's Discover channel was set to debut and Coca-Cola's creative guidelines were pretty minimal: make something that would resonate with Snapchat's audience of primarily teenagers and twenty-somethings that are disillusioned by traditional advertising. In other words, no repurposing of existing ads.
"One of the things we wanted to do was make sure we took advantage of the vertical framing," Mr. Holzer said.
Mr. Holzer and Tastemade's team brainstormed concepts that would "build up" from the bottom of the screen to the top and incorporate the Coke bottle, which would serve as a vertical anchor. They came up with the idea of pairing the drink with foods whose ingredients were layered atop one another, such as sandwiches and tacos. They shot and edited one -- starring a turkey sandwich and a Coke bottle -- from a couch in Tastemade's Santa Monica, Calif. studio, "in like an hour, and we got it back to them, and they were like, 'Yes, this is great,'" Mr. Holzer said. "Then we shot five more of them that same day." A Coca-Cola spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
"The visual creative has to make sense for that medium. And I think that's why you see those ads just inherently feel better than the stuff that looked like it was cut from a normal widescreen video but just formatted for vertical," Mr. Holzer said.
However, asking a brand to pony up to produce custom ads for a new medium can be a tricky proposition, particularly since a vertical video ad can't easily be reused outside of Snapchat. As a result, brands are looking at ways to splice their existing videos with native touches, and publishers are shooting videos for themselves and brands through an all-purpose lens.
To promote its sitcom about twentysomethings "Please Like Me," TV network Pivot took clips from the show and remixed them with new creative elements to create eleven 10-second-long video ads for BuzzFeed's Discover channel. "We knew that we need to create multiple versions of the creative to keep it fresh and make sure this young, engaged audience didn't tire of seeing the same creatives rotating through," said Pivot's VP-Marketing Tracy Klein.
Dunkin' Donuts adopted a similar strategy for a recent campaign with ESPN. After shooting a series of spots with internet celebrity Brandon Armstrong (aka BdotAdot5) to promote the food chain to football fans, Dunkin' and ESPN picked the clips that would work best on Snapchat, which meant the ones that focused "less on specific Dunkin' Donuts products, and more on engaging the audience through fun, playful shorts," said Scott Hudler, VP-global consumer engagement at Dunkin' Brands, in an email.
"Through our partnership with ESPN, we have the more traditional polished television advertising spots, but we also have a chance to make the social content feel more relatable, especially to a younger audience," Mr. Hudler said. "Our social content particularly on Snapchat, tends to be much shorter and straight to the point, while still feeling authentic."
"With Snapchat you're dealing in a space where people are coming in when they're bored and looking to browse for content," said Mr. Petriello from Mashable. "So you have to create content that fits within that frame of mind. You have to have a playfulness and a feeling of immediacy with an ad that you might not have when it's on a movie screen or a TV screen."
Publishers like BuzzFeed and Refinery29 are exploring ways they can shoot videos that can play across different screens without viewers feeling like they're missing something going on outside their viewports.
BuzzFeed has taken a series of branded videos it had already produced for Google Photos and reformatted them for the vertical framing, said BuzzFeed's Senior VP of West Coast Sales Jennifer Klawin. That meant doing things like taking a horizontal shot of two people sitting next to each other and cropping it in half for two vertical shots. Ms. Klawin said the urgency of getting ads up and running on BuzzFeed's Discover channel has led the publisher to work with brand's existing assets for its early ads, but now BuzzFeed is incorporating Snapchat when it is producing content for brands to run on Discover and elsewhere. "If we're already creating a co-branded video, we can ensure that the director, writer or producer is capturing content specifically for Snapchat," she said.
Meanwhile Refinery29 is finding freedom in the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio traditionally used for high-def TV. By taking care with how people and objects are laid out within the wider frame, its editors can crop the clips for smaller, square or vertical aspect ratios without the video feeling out of focus. It's like someone cooking a turkey dinner that can be reapportioned into many different meals. "In this development process, we look at everything and think before we shoot 'How do we want to go through the execution process with this so we can utilize it elsewhere?" said Refinery29's Exec VP-Programming Amy Emmerich.
Snapchat declined to comment for this article.