Snapchat Goes All iAd On Us

Remember a year or so ago, when most people still thought that messaging apps were anathema to hard-core advertising? Is inserting advertising into a personal chat or one-to-one information exchange environment akin to inserting an ad into an audio phone call -- or just plastering a brand on the public phone booth?

Well, the question was always moot anyway. The historic press of commercialization made ads in messaging apps inevitable.  While some apps were embracing the model from the get-go, others, most notably Snapchat, seemed to waffle and dither its way to a model.

Now that advertising on Snapchat has begun, the company is not a bit shy about stomping into the market rattling some pretty big balls. Per a report this week., the company is coming to market with an non-negotiable asking price of $750,000 per disappearing campaign. Yeah you heard that right. For the privilege of running a short video spot in the Recent Updates section of the app, be ready to kiss $750k away. And what will you have to show for it? Not much, by way of metrics. According to the first buyers, Snapchat can’t even deliver basic gender demos on who saw the ad, let alone age ranges.

Some agency execs are balking at the price tag and predicting the same retreat famously marched by Apple when its iAd units asked for a $1 million minimum campaign investment.

To be fair, there is a novelty to the Snapchat ads. After all, much like Vine, Instagram and other visually oriented social media, people simply enjoy revealing surprising content on these platforms. Pressing a circle in the Snapchat app offers that little sense of opening a Cracker Jack prize.

But in this context it is still an ad, with a clear purpose to influence behavior. And at these prices, no sane marketer would go into it without clear business goals attached to it. And then there is the whole disappearing thing. It is hard enough to convince advertisers that their ads are actually getting aired. Here they evaporate by design, even though that at least registers it has been seen.

Snapchat suffers some of the same hubris Apple did with iAds. It insists that its positioning of the spots in the Recent Updates section of the app rather than the conversations section makes it something less than the “native advertising” it eschews. OK, I’ll play. Sure, it's elective for the user to engage the video, but it still sits there in an area of the app much as a banner ad would. This strikes me a bit like Steve Jobs’  proclamation that iAds would bring a more TV-like experiences to mobile and revolutionize digital advertising. In fact, the big problem with iAds has been that whatever wonderful experience Apple or partners build for the marketer, it all still relies on the same tepid, diminutive, clutter: a banner.

I still maintain that mobility represents the clearest break yet from a previous century of mass communication. Older technologies and formats lent themselves to interruptive broadcast advertising. Mobile does not. It demands a deeper rethink than figuring out new ways to package a TV spot or drive someone to a Web site in an app.

Please don’t wake me for the next revolution. 

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