Does Snapchat have the answer? | M&M Global

Does Snapchat have the answer?

Models of advertising have become either to pile it high or pay a premium for targeting. Snapchat appears to be trying to offer something different, writes Sue Elms.

Sue Elms Millward Brown

One of the many benefits of having a 17-year-old daughter is that I’m fully connected to the media behaviours of the latest generation of digital consumers.

Hope’s wired into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Spotify, Netflix, 4od, BBC iPlayer and WhatsApp.

Catch-up services are taking over her video viewing and she raves about the advert-free Netflix – conceding that a limited number of short, concise adverts could be acceptable.

The platform on which she’s more welcoming of advertising is Snapchat, which was in Cannes at the end of last month promoting its ad offering.

For an ad-phobic teen, both Instagram and Snapchat get a pretty good review, certainly far better than Facebook and Twitter. So why could Snapchat thrive when others fail the test of Hope’s generation?

Volume of advertising

She readily cites her receptivity to advertising higher when platforms keep the frequency or rather intensity low. The volume of Facebook advertising ruins her experience and turns her off Facebook completely, whereas Instagram doesn’t bother her so often.

She highly rates what is best described as “Topic” Targeting – how cool it was to get new things on the general topic of interest that she likes and might have flagged up in her behaviours.

This appears to be an acceptable level for the use of personal data. Others need to back off the targeting a bit. Facebook advertising is “way too often” and the targeting is “too creepy”. Letting on that you – or your algorithm – have been looking at her feed too closely, feels like an intrusion of privacy. All her friends know Facebook are doing it.

But there’s more to it than that.

After 30 years in and around media research I was beginning to think everything was becoming based around two ideas; either pile it high and sell it cheap or pay more for evermore clever and tighter, premium targeting. Snapchat looks like it’s trying to find a third – user centric – way.


Snapchat has its own preferred format (vertical video), its own editors, its own creatives and a consumer friendly stance to data and targeting. Perhaps the latter is down to current technical limitations, but the overall result is an apparent consumer-centric quality control in the advertising offer.

Maybe this is something different. A study done with the help of Millward Brown showed users enjoyed the app’s first round of ads.

Personally, I like the Snapchat Vertical video format – it’s perfectly designed for Snapchat audiences and it is full screen and not subject to contextual distractions (which ticks a big box for brands).

I like the idea that they create a native environment that is friendly to the advertising. I also like the idea they want to actually make the ads themselves in order to ensure they create stuff their users want to see.

It’s clearly a work in progress and they need to adhere to a frequency control and provide some good audience data.

But what’s not to love in a beautifully crafted advertising offer that understands the medium’s audience and knows how to maximise its receptivity to advertising? The answer as ever is cost and practicality.

Huge premium

Demanding bespoke creative increases advertisers’ costs and in an age of carefully benchmarked CPMs and CPC how successful can platforms be that look for a huge premium? Even Apple didn’t get away with that for iAds and the idea of paying a premium, for anything nowadays, is very hard to justify.

Snapchat might have to change, due to pressures for revenue. No one builds a global ad platform just for teens, investors need to make a return. Taking too much control over the ad process means it will take longer to build revenues.

But maybe there is room for this third way? Hope’s expectations resonate with the “Portal of Me” scenario outlined in a joint report called Media 2015 The Future of Media, by Unilever, ESPN, Mindshare and The Futures Company. In this scenario media access is always on but narrowed to a small number of trusted partners that are her constant companions, playing an active role in censoring or restricting access to her by brands.

Already I hear stories about China where digital properties have refused to run advertising from a major advertiser because it “was not in keeping with the user experience”. This particularly relates to WeChat who have such a powerful position in the digital ecosystem.

It reminds me a lot of the days when magazines could afford to be choosy about the brands they sold space to; when the quality of the audience experience was front and center of the pitch to media planners and buyers.

Advertisers talk a lot about fitting in to the environments they appear in – but it is going to be a bit of a shock to them if they are held to account by the platform! It implies a much closer collaborative working relationship between the platform and the advertiser is going to be needed.

With a uniquely valuable audience, platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have the license to apply this audience centric control. Whether they have the pockets to see this through is another matter but if they don’t they risk an exodus of users. Facebook is clearly highly successful at monetizing its users but the frequency and intensity required to achieve that clearly comes at a price among this particular group.

The message is if you want to be cool to this cohort then back off a bit. The words of Coco Chanel are rarely applied to advertising but her advice that “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory” is very apt.

Sue Elms

Head of global brand management, Millward Brown

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