It’s one of the hardest confessions, I’ve ever had to make, but let me be honest: earlier this year, feeling overconfident, I predicted what would happen in 2014 concerning a number of social platforms. Of Snapchat, I wrote: “ … it’s hard to see this turning into an advertising platform -- in 2014, or any other year -- both because its content almost always goes away, and because when it doesn’t, it’s not a good thing.”
Since that time -- sob -- as if to defy the mighty Social Media Insider, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Heineken and Juicy Couture have all used Snapchat to market themselves; and now, Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel has gone public with the fact that the platform will soon have ads, which he discussed at yet another conference I wasn’t invited to: the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit.
How did I get it so wrong?
Essentially, by ignoring a cardinal rule of advertisers: that they will leave no social platform untrammeled, especially ones like Snapchat, which has more than doubled the minutes spent on it in the last year, to 5.5 billion of them.
Who cares if, according to Spiegel, the ads will be opt-in and untargeted? Targeting is so 2013!
Still, one has to wonder if there’s a hidden virtue in a platform that doesn’t target. The whole idea has a touch of back-to-the-future about it. No muss, no fuss -- just like in the days when the fact that major advertisers needed to buy time on popular TV shows barely warranted analysis. Just reach everyone, indiscriminately! Those were the days!
But then there’s this whole opt-in thing, and that’s where what I dreamed about above falls apart. On the one hand, some users do friend advertiser accounts -- that’s how all marketing to date on Snapchat has happened. But I’d argue that it’s one thing to follow or friend a brand, and another to willfully accept its paid advertising. If that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t see so much buzz about Ello, or WhatsApp, or any number of other young communications platforms that have yet to accept advertising -- or, in the case of the two mentioned here, have said they never want to accept any advertising, ever.
So, if anyone thinks that Snapchat ads will reach the masses, they’d also better find a whole new monetization model, in which a cut of the advertising expenditures goes straight into the pockets of users who opt in. You could call it a bribe.
Which brings me to the second reason I got my prediction so wrong. I ignored another cardinal rule: Social platforms will almost always think that advertising is the way they should make money.
What a fool am I!