Different Ghosts For Different Folks: Why Snapchat's New Advertising Strategy is Smarter Than It Looks

Last week, photo- and video-sharing app Snapchat released an ad for Universal Pictures’ film “Ouija,” marking the first foray into ad monetization for the company, recently valued at $10 billion. But unlike its competitors, Snapchat is not targeting its new ads to specific users. Instead, the company is taking a one-ad-fits-all approach.

To many following the evolution of advertising on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, this announcement was befuddling:

“The best advertisements tell you more about stuff that actually interests you. Some companies spend a lot of time and collect a lot of data about you to figure that out. The product we’re releasing today is a lot simpler. An advertisement will appear in your Recent Updates from time to time, and you can choose if you want to watch it,” wrote Snapchat in a company blog post.



This was strange to the advertising community, because Snapchat was admitting that contextual advertising is better -- while also announcing that it wasn’t doing it.

The targeted advertising opportunities many other social networks are offering to brands and agencies are red-hot right now. Why? Because they, “tell you more about stuff that actually interests you.” Advertisers with a wide range of goals are finding value in the massive and accurate targeting available in those channels. Just two weeks ago, I wrote about how Facebook is unlocking newfound ad relevance for digital advertisers through data.

Consumers generally appreciate the more personalized experience they’re getting on these channels, too. According to analysis by Accenture, 75% of U.S. consumers appreciate brands that customize their messaging and offers to make them more relevant.

Another report by real-time research company Qriously revealed that 54% of survey respondents prefer “relevant” ads to “irrelevant” ones. Interestingly, the same report revealed that only 48% of respondents preferred “targeted” ads over “non-targeted ones.”

Herein lies the intelligent approach Snapchat is taking to monetize its platform. Targeting is a relatively new concept for consumers to grapple with. While most would prefer to receive more relevant ads, some consumers still feel uneasy about the idea of ads targeted through personal data.

Snapchat’s user base has historically had an ad-free experience. Launching its advertising program without creating uproar required a very gentle touch. Explaining that its advertising was being delivered without analyzing personal data was a way to avoid striking a nerve and opening a conversation about privacy on the ultra-private platform.

This is only the first page in what I’m sure Snapchat hopes will be a long and deliberate monetization story.

Perhaps even more importantly, of the 100 million people using Snapchat today, roughly half of them are between 13 and 17 years old, says Snapchat. This means that any ads the company delivers are going to land on the phones of 50 million young people, a demographic that’s notoriously hard to reach in digital channels.

It might not be entirely accurate, but advertising to “everyone” on Snapchat is actually a reasonably well-targeted way to reach a large portion of this critical demo.

Of course, if Snapchat’s user base continues to expand, other, more nuanced demographics will emerge in its user data. When that happens, we’ll certainly see a more nuanced approach to ad relevance from the company. But until then, there’s no need to talk about targeting.

Snapchat knows the one-ad-fits-all approach is dying. The context available through digital is too powerful to deny. But until it’s ready, willing and able to deliver a more contextual experience, Snapchat has the luxury of being the kind of platform that isn’t the least bit scary -- even if its logo is a ghost.

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