Snapchat Discovery poses challenges as mobile ad platform
By Mark Hamstra
August 21, 2014
A report this week that mobile photo-sharing application Snapchat has been in talks to begin serving ads to users has some mobile marketing experts scratching their heads.
Snapchat displays visual media for a few brief seconds and has been primarily favored by teenage users. Targeting ads to people in that environment presents numerous challenges for marketers seeking to get consumers to interact with their brands.
“I’m not sure how well this platform will be able to drive engagement,” said Jin Kim, business-development specialist at FunMobility, Pleasanton, CA. “On other mobile platforms there is something to cause consumers to take some action, such as sharing.”
Mr. Kim is not affiliated with Snapchat but agreed to comment based on his expertise in mobile advertising.
A representative from Snapchat was not immediately available for comment. According to the Wall Street Journal report, Snapchat has been exploring the possibility of offering both news and ads through a new feature called Snapchat Discovery.
Young and fast
One of the challenges inherent to Snapchat’s structure is that images by default disappear quickly after they are viewed. The moment-to-moment interaction it fosters might not be conducive to advertisers who want users to take some action with their ad.
“Messages on Snapchat get clicked through pretty quickly," Mr. Kim said. “Expecting people to click through on an ad in that environment seems like a stretch.
“If it is just a matter of choosing whether or not to watch a video, that might not drive engagement. Mobile ads tend to have a call to action.
"This might be like YouTube video where you have the option to skip the ad.”
He stressed that he is not aware of exactly how the ads might be displayed on Snapchat, so his opinions are purely conjecture.
Snapchat features fast-moving conversations and image and video sharing.
In addition to the speed factor, Snapchat’s young audience also poses a challenge for marketers.
Neal Modi, vice president of revenue and operations at Kargo, said Snapchat might offer some advantages as a mobile platform, but he also noted that its overwhelmingly young user base restricts the pool of potential advertisers.
“It is a very niche audience,” he said.
On the positive side, he said he believes Snapchat offers other features that might be attractive to brands seeking to reach the app’s user base.
“I think there’s definitely potential for monetization in the app via advertising,” Mr. Modi said. “One of the hard things to sell is ‘intent’, and when you are opening a Snapchat, you have intent.
“Brand advertisers really love that.”
Likewise, Nathaniel Perez, global head of social at SapientNitro, said the platform might be appealing to advertisers because of the opportunity to make direct connections with fans.
“With ads and news, brands that might have been shy to strike up a conversation on Snapchat may find an easier way to build a following,” he said. “Snapchat, much like Vine, has a flavor and character to it. Brands can tap into that character and be really engaging by sharing short-lived content they wouldn’t share anywhere else.”
Snapchat is still a relatively young platform, however, Mr. Perez cautioned.
“It’s still clearly an emerging platform on the roster, one that marketing pioneers are still exploring,” he said.
Mr. Kim of FunMobility and Mr. Perez agreed that inserting ads into the flow of conversation that occurs on Snapchat could be a turn-off to users.
“Ads and news may very well feel like an unexpected interruption to the ‘usual business’ that happens on Snapchat, between friends,” Mr. Perez said.
Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Marketer, New York