Snapchat Ads Could Change Everything

I've never been a big believer in Snapchat, and I dislike almost everything about the app and the company. More than that, I find its $10bn valuation beyond optimistic, and I find the promise of advertising in the context of our most personal, private and dubious messages to be worrisome.

We massively overestimate the importance of reaching the young -- the least loyal customers on the planet with the smallest wallets. But say what you will -- their new advertising vehicle is fascinating and much more profound than it may first appear. 

We have long made assumptions in digital advertising, and we have made them so quickly and so unconsciously that they have become automatic. What Snapchat's new advertising play has done for me is to challenge these assumptions and get me excited about how we can redefine a new canvas.

It's about time too -- by far the biggest and least stated problem in the entire world of advertising is that we're spending more and more time on screens that have demonstrably shown themselves to be increasingly less effective for advertising. We go to smaller screens that we can make less money from, but we don't seem to be worrying about it? 



We have this curious tension between incredible optimism for the future of online and mobile advertising, massive growth in the money flowing into this space and performance that started off poor only to become worse. One day we will look past the emotion and realize this is a problem on an overwhelming scale. But for the moment we're too busy being excited by the flow of money and the pace of change to look at these awkward findings.

The curious and profound thing about Snapchat advertising is how the tiny things they've done to craft an advertising platform have resulted in interesting questions about the future of online advertising.

1. Broadcast

We have always assumed the beauty of online is the incredible targeting, especially on mobile. For years, we've celebrated the fact that we can target by demographic, by device, by behavior, by recent search and even by exact location. We assumed that mobile would be the narrowest of narrow-casted ads. They seemed destined to become performance ads for the lower funnel, not brand ads for awareness to a broad audience.

What Snapchat has done is to provide a platform that can't target. What if we considered this a good thing? What if we reveled in the opportunity to make brand ads online? 

2. Optional

We say that the age of interruption is dead and the age of engagement is here, but it doesn't really look like this. The last year has seen online display ads become larger and harder to ignore; we have seen video ads become unskippable and auto play. As banner ads continually fail to work, we have found ways to ensure they get in your way.

What Snapchat has done is brave -- it has made ads separate to your stream and entirely optional. Anyone viewing your ad is doing so entirely of their own accord.

3. Custom Creative

Virtually all online ads are not custom made, but merely TV ads that are cut down. Snapchat, to my knowledge, is the first mobile advertising unit for which brands are expected to make ads' purpose fit for that context -- a courageous move that Facebook was trying that should elevate the quality of creative. 

4. Not social

We have always assumed that ads online were social -- that in this age of engagement we'd be there to comment on ads and to share with friends. Snapchat ads -- hosted on the most social platform imaginable -- are simple. No sharing, no comments, no clicking.

5. No clicking

The whole point of ads online is that you are there to click to find out more, to bookmark, to buy, to save for later. What Snapchat has done is change that assumption. 

6. No time length 

TV ads are 30 seconds, right? Because that’s what we can afford. But what if we paid for ads by the unit, and our job was to keep viewers' attention for as long as we wanted to?

Sometimes what creativity needs is limitations. It’s at the edges of life where culture and ideas emerge, creativity needs problems to work against, and open spaces are too much to design around. In this case, it’s the fragile nature of the Snapchat audience and the dearth of user data that have made Snapchats ads unique -- and possibly brilliant.

Snapchat ads give us an entirely new problem. We now need to make ads that people want to see, and we can make them any length, but they can’t be shared, commented on and  can’t lead anywhere. They will disappear within seconds -- and if as an industry combined we make terrible ads, people won’t ever click on them again.

I like the idea of this challenge -- Snapchat just made online ads interesting and new.

1 comment about "Snapchat Ads Could Change Everything".
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  1. Brittney T from ASU, October 27, 2014 at 12:12 a.m.

    As a snapchat user for about 4 years now I have personally seen the evolution of the app. When I first used the app it was only a picture and caption sent to your friend for a one time look for no more than 10 seconds. Then you were able to add filters, videos, and then the popular 24-hour clips of a users “mystory, ” and now filters that pertain to your location, and snapchat’s my story for special events. I am a fan of the app and it has been improving. One sentence that stood out to me in the article is that “What Snapchat has done is brave – it has made ads separate to your stream and entirely optional. Anyone viewing your ad is doing so entirely of their own accord.” That is right, I have the option to stay away from ads. Every other site and app I go to there is no choice but to see or watch some type of advertisement, and I have no choice but to look at things on my feed that the social media sites want to show me. But with Snapchat I am able to take a break from the ads and choose which of my friends I want to talk to or look at their MyStory. I remember during the worldcup, I had the option to watch what Snapchat uploaded under that tab. I watched them often on my behalf. Although this article is very negative about the ad choices snapchat has made, I am for having the option to choose if I want to see what ad SnapChat has uploaded.

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