Marketers, Welcome to the World of Disappearing Media

Snapchat's Model Gets Viewers to Focus and Act Fast -- Before the Content Vanishes Forever

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Yesterday we talked about why Snapchat in particular should never carry ads. Today let's look at what would happen if all media functioned like Snapchat, disappearing a few seconds after someone viewed it. It's an important question for marketers. With Snapchat, messages are privately sent to select recipients, and then they vanish.

The press gets hung up on sharing horror stories about teens using Snapchat for sexting, but doesn't devote enough attention to how and why most of the app's tens of millions of users engage with it. Snapchat should be disconcerting for marketers because it's a place where hundreds of millions of posts are shared daily, but they're invisible. They can't be tracked, measured and analyzed. There's no buzz monitoring report for what's trending in Snapchat, and if Snapchat offered such a service, its audience would flee en masse.

The way most people think about social media is that anything worth sharing is worth saving. Facebook added a corollary: Anything worth sharing is worth sharing publicly. Twitter added its own corollary: Anything shared publicly is worthy of saving for posterity. How else can one explain that Americans' public tweets are saved in the Library of Congress?

Snapchat posits that anything worth sharing is worth consuming only immediately after it's shared, and only by the select people who are most likely to appreciate it. Memories can last forever, but the documentation of those memories is fleeting. Social media are more meaningful to the sharer and the receiver when both know it will soon self-destruct.

To understand why Snapchat is so popular, consider two other kinds of media that function in a similar way. First, think about how notes were passed in school -- a quick message or doodle on scrap paper which the recipient read and quickly threw away. The most effective such notes were those that left behind no evidence of their existence. This was replaced to some degree by text messages, which could be saved but are often promptly deleted so that they're not discovered.

The other precedent for Snapchat is advertising itself. Most TV, radio, digital out of home, mobile and online ads disappear. That's why frequency remains such a persistent metric: ads are so fleeting and forgettable that one must be exposed to them a certain optimal number of times if they are to have any chance of being remembered.

What if marketers embraced the fleeting nature of their advertising, and even of the content that they're sharing? What if, when a marketer deploys its 30-second spot of a car going down the highway, it has decided that this ad will never be seen again? What if the frequency is always designed to be one, even as the reach varies? What if this were true not just for the 30-second spot but for the Facebook post, the tweet, even the so-called viral video hosted on YouTube? And what if all of this was taken a step further so that the only way this ad or other promotional content could last longer was if the recipient shared it? Otherwise it would vanish.

This would have profound implications for the marketer and the consumer.

The consumer would be more inclined to lean forward. Even if the consumer didn't care about the ad, he would need to pay attention just in case it was interesting. And then he would have to make two rapid decisions: whether to act on the ad's call to action, and whether to share it so it could last longer and be seen by more people. Most people still wouldn't act on or share the ad most of the time, but they would be trained to pay more attention.

The marketer in turn would have to gauge all of its activity by three criteria: Is the ad memorable? Is there a clear and appealing call to action? Is it sharable? Practically the only way for advertising to work in such a world would be for the ads to meet all three measures.

The scenario may be hypothetical, for now. But it's based on the world we live and market in. Most ads are fleeting and forgettable. Marketers need to value their own work so highly that they expect consumers to remember and share it -- even at a frequency of one. If marketers start respecting their own work, consumer respect will follow.

David Berkowitz is CMO at MRY.
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