Snapchat has worked out a deal with publishers that finally allows them to publish branded content to the app.
Until now, publishers couldn't create the ads they ran between the articles and videos they post in the app's Discover section for professional media partners such as BuzzFeed, Hearst, NBC Universal, Scripps Networks Interactive and Vice.
The branded content ads will be worked out directly between the publishers and advertisers, with whatever videos and articles they create together designed resemble the rest of the media on offer in the app.
Snapchat Discover generated more than $100 million for its media partners in 2017, the company said in its fourth-quarter earnings report, but the platform continues to have a reputation as a place where ads struggle to hold users' eyes for more than a second before they tap the screen to reach the next video.
The company has other ad formats that interest consumers for longer, such as the augmented reality filters that brands can buy. Snapchat says those average 20 seconds of engagement. But they don't help publishers in the Discover section.
So publishers have been negotiating with Snapchat for years to introduce branded content, which will let them craft messages for the sponsors, make the ads look more like the rest of their channels and perhaps drive up value for their services on the platform.
"Starting now Discover publishers are allowed to distribute branded content within the Snap Ads that run in their Publisher Stories," a Snapchat spokesman said in an emailed statement. "Snap Ads are familiar to users as ads, and are clearly marked to distinguish them from editorial content. In the Snap Ad context, Snap also believes branded content can make for compelling ads users will enjoy."
Other social platforms offer similar "branded content" ads. Facebook, for example, has programs that let publishers and internet personalities create videos on behalf of brands so long as they mark the posts clearly as "sponsored." Twitter's new video programs, such as its 24-hour news channel from Bloomberg, offers ways to integrate brands into the content, too.
Of course, the line between what's considered ad-supported can get murky, and many publishers have distributed ads under the table through their Discover channels, although Snapchat prohibits these types of arrangements.
Snapchat is trying to open new ways for media partners and power users known as influencers to capitalize on its platform. For now theses new ads are only open to the professional media partners like BuzzFeed.
Snapchat also recently redesigned its app, separating the Discover section from the personal messaging section. The idea was to make Discover more friendly for publishers and brands, driving more views to their content. The redesign created a backlash among users, as often happens to social platform that dramatically change their design, but it could be too soon to tell how it has impacted traffic overall.