Strides and Stumbles for Snapchat Advertising

The Social Network Has Overcome Hurdles, But Still Has More

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Two years ago, I told you to snap out of it with regard to Snapchat advertising.

At the time, Snapchat's nascent platform was rife with hobbled-together placards for fake Rolex watches, penis enlargement pills and even "big booty girls." Not the company most brands like to keep. My advice at the time? Look before you leap.

Snapchat has made huge strides as both a social platform and a marketing channel since then. There have also been some big stumbles along the way.

The parent-proof platform

Young people have fled Facebook in droves because their parents went there. Now, more and more curious older-somethings are joining Snapchat, but Snapchat gets this, and it has created an interface that is non-intuitive by design to make its app parent-proof. It takes a bit of commitment to figure out how to find your way around.

For a generation that has grown up watching YouTube videos to figure out how to play Minecraft, the "no instructions" mentality is not an obstacle. To mom and dad, it's a huge barrier to entry. That may seem like bad UX to professional designers who champion established best practices -- but for Snapchat, it's a chance to stem the tide.

Content that gets seen

Twitter has flopped as the personal broadcasting platform du jour for the "influencer" set. Sure, NBA stars and Beyonce still tweet to their fans, but many others now realize their tweets are just shouts in the wind. They are heard by no one, except customer service departments frantically hopping from complaint to complaint.

Influencers are flocking to Snapchat because it's also poser-proof. You can't just set a bot to tweet articles you've "curated" and build a "following," like on Twitter. Content actually needs to be created -- and it needs to be interesting -- or people won't follow you.

What does this mean for brands? Simply that content you produce is more likely to be seen by the people who choose to follow you than on competing social channels.

"Ads" people like

Snapchat has stumbled upon a couple of paid ad formats that people seem to genuinely like. At a time when ad blockers pose an existential threat to digital, marketers will swoon. Snappers regularly seek out, play with, and share daily "lenses" that transform selfie videos into funny animations, and "geofilters" that mark Snaps with an illustrated overlay.

My agency, Traction, celebrated its 15th anniversary last week. The sponsored geofilter we bought for our party on Snapchat's self-service platform was used by scores of people, and viewed by hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of their followers. The cost was $28 for the night. If your business has a physical presence, geofilters could be a terrific way to help people share your brand experience.

Of course, marketers want scale. According to Snapchat, the platform reaches 41% of all 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. every day, and a national sponsored geofilter reaches about half of that audience.

Not just a snap

While unconfirmed reports boast that Snapchat has 150 million daily active users, Snapchat will need to tread carefully if it hopes to live up to its $20 billion valuation. The road to actualization is rife with potholes. Targeting is limited. Measurement is deficient (you may have noticed, I don't actually know how many people saw our geofilter). Attribution is a shot in the dark.

More importantly, as Walgreens' digital wunderkind, Adam Kmiec, pointed out in a recent post, "Chasing cheddar ruins the experience."

This latter concern is the gravest danger Snapchat faces. All the Snap-hoopla in the industry press last week was about the introduction of Snapchat Memories. But, a quick search for "Snapchat ads" on Twitter shows a litany of gripes about a quieter introduction -- that of 10-second vertical video Snap ads in between users' stories, like this one from @Kaylzz:

"Why on earth have @Snapchat started putting ads in between stories?? #deleted"

So, marketers should still be thoughtful about whether this is the right channel for them, and if so, how they should use it.

Fortunately, the end is not nigh for Snapchat. It can still take a page from the Zuckerberg playbook: Just say "we heard you users," reverse course, and try something new in a few months.

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