Snapchat's First Advertiser: Messaging Service Is Like TV

First Ad Is a 20-Second Exclusive Movie Trailer for 'Ouija'

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Snapchat's first ad appeared in users' feeds on Saturday to promote the film
Snapchat's first ad appeared in users' feeds on Saturday to promote the film

Snapchat's first ad was creepy after all, but not in the way you might expect.

The first ad to run on the ephemeral messaging service debuted on Saturday and promoted Universal Pictures' upcoming horror film "Ouija," which is based on the spooky board game. Snapchat had announced Friday that the service's first ad would appear in users' feeds over the weekend.

The ad -- which can be viewed below as an animated GIF -- appeared under the "Recent Updates" tab in Snapchat users' friends list and carried a "sponsored" label. To watch the ad, people needed to click the entry and hold their finger on their phones' screen for the duration, as with viewing any other content on Snapchat.

Snapchat didn't go the so-called "native" route by having its first ad resemble something a normal person might post on the service -- commonly referred to as "snaps" -- like a photo overlaid with illustration or a series of video snaps collected into a so-called "Snapchat Story." Instead, the ad is a 20-second movie trailer that could just as easily be run as a YouTube pre-roll or a Facebook auto-play video.

Universal Studios did edit the trailer specifically for Snapchat so that the scenes look like a stitched-together "Snapchat Story," according to Doug Neil, Universal Pictures executive VP of digital marketing. But the brand had to also make sure the ad was video-based, as Snapchat requested.

Snapchat -- which hadn't made any money until now -- may see advertisers' video budgets as a fast track to a revenue stream that can justify its reported $10 billion valuation. U.S. advertisers are projected to spend $6 billion on digital video ads this year and up that outlay to $12.7 billion in 2018, according to eMarketer estimates.

A Snapchat spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment .

Snapchat described its preference for the type of ads its service will run in a blog post on Friday announcing the now-released ad.

In an interview Saturday evening, Mr. Neil discussed why Universal Pictures and its agency Maxus opted to pioneer advertising on Snapchat and how advertising on the service is similar to advertising on TV. Mr. Neil declined to say how much Universal Pictures paid for the ad on Snapchat but said the price was "certainly competitive."

Advertising Age: Why did you decide to advertise on Snapchat and then to be the first advertiser?

Doug Neil: We like to select media platforms that are appropriate for our audience. We've been closely following Snapchat and its adoption. It seems to be right in the core of our target audience for the movie "Ouija." So we were glad there was an opportunity to run an ad within Snapchat.

Ad Age: How did this come about?

Mr. Neil: I think Snapchat has been talking to all the studios and entertainment companies and brands for a long time. They just haven't had opportunities previously. We've been having conversations with them for a while and just waiting for when would be the right opportunity. In the interim, we have created Snapchat accounts for our films. We actually have a very active Snapchat base for the movie "Pitch Perfect 2," which is coming out next May. It's all organic and started while we were in production.

Ad Age: So you had the organic accounts, but to put money into advertising on Snapchat -- is this something that was a tough sell to your bosses to say "We're going to pay to show this ad to hopefully a bunch of people on this really popular service. But they can't share it with their friends, and after they exit the app, the ad will disappear forever"?

Mr. Neil: You say it that way and it sounds like a horrible decision. I think we look at it as a lean-in engagement. They're only seeing the ad if they're actually touching the screen to watch and absorb the video that's being played. It's not a passive experience. It's actually an active experience. We don't know what the metrics are going to be. Snapchat had some internal numbers they were estimating, but we won't know what its actual performance is until the 24-hour period is done. It's not much different than a traditional linear-viewing experience when you think about it. We put an ad in a primetime TV show; when the ad's over, you don't see it again. It's not like you can share or comment or like or push it out to anybody. It's certainly very similar to experiences that are a core part of our campaign.

Ad Age: Did you ask Snapchat if there was a way to keep the ad up for longer, like for those who did see it and then exited Snapchat but might want to show it to their friends later?

Mr. Neil: Those are the kinds of things that you learn from being one of the early adopters. You should probably have a conversation with the Snapchat team about how they structured it. We knew going in there were going to be some limitations relative to that kind of functionality, but we liked the potential reach we were going to have and that kind of overrode any of those concerns. Those are the types of developments that happen over time.

Ad Age: There's extra attention for your ad by nature of being the first advertiser on Snapchat, but was there any concern about being the frontline for advertisers coming to Snapchat?

Mr. Neil: We knew we were going to be one of the first. We didn't necessarily know we were going to be the first based on their product and scheduling was rolling out. Again, it was the right target audience for us. I think if the ad opportunity hadn't been available for another week, obviously the movie would have come out and we wouldn't be one of the ones using their platform. It's really kind of serendipity and just timing for the film and being the right target audience.

Ad Age: How did you decide to run a movie trailer in the slot as opposed to doing something more Snapchat-y like a picture with some sort of illustration or a collection of video clips into a Snapchat Story?

Mr. Neil: We followed Snapchat's guidelines for the ad. They provided the parameters they wanted to have the ad be, and we adhered to that.

Ad Age: What were those guidelines?

Mr. Neil: They wanted it to be a video-based ad. It's something we went back and forth on with them. That's probably a good question for them. They just asked that it would be a video ad.

Ad Age: How did you pick out this video ad in particular, this 20-second trailer, as opposed to doing another kind of video or even a trailer of a different length?

Mr. Neil: We actually cut this special for Snapchat. The way that piece was created was to tell a story using small video bursts the way a Snapchat Story would have been created. It's a unique spot just for Snapchat, but it was intended to introduce a broad audience to the themes of the movie.

Ad Age: Why do films seem to so often be the first advertisers for a service, like last year with Facebook's first auto-play video ad and now Snapchat?

Mr. Neil: Part of it is making sure we always want to be relevant to where our audiences are. But there's always movies coming out as well, so there's always opportunity to be part of a marketing plan because every week there's a few more movies that are coming out. I think studios like the chance to present their materials in these new platforms to test them out. And I think -- and this would be a question for Snapchat -- I think the platforms like them because frankly movies are entertainment as well as advertisers. So it's an easier way to transition a user base into an advertising product to some extent because it's selling a movie, which people are searching for anyway.