Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel Showed Up at Cannes to Meet With Advertisers After All

Threw a secret party, underscoring 'quiet' strategy

The app knows how to play the festival in France.
Snapchat/Adweek

CANNES, France—Snapchat bought a huge digital ad on the facade of the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès here this week, implemented other out-of-home advertising, but didn't do much else to woo festivalgoers this year, right?

"Where's Snapchat?" has been a popular question all week at Cannes Lions because the company didn't have speakers on stage—it seemed to many as if the company completely skipped the gala. But it actually threw a secret party for agency execs on Wednesday night, and CEO Evan Spiegel was in attendance to talk with them, per multiple sources. A Snapchat rep declined to comment about the party. 

Additionally, Snapchat chief strategy officer Imran Khan has been seen walking between the hotels on the Croisette, and his company has had a number of salespeople here. Earlier this week, Re/code reported that the burgeoning ad player had a presence in this French Riviera town, complete with guards to keep the uninvited away.

Of course, it's not at all unusual for companies to hold under-the-radar meetings with potential partners and clients at Cannes. The Venice, Calif.-based company has, though, been trying to keep things unusually low-key here this year after becoming one of the buzziest subjects in 2015—even though it just revealed its Snapchat Partners API.

Why is it taking this PR strategy? Perhaps Spiegel, Khan and other Snapchat executives are like most people when it comes to public speaking: They don't enjoy it. Or, maybe keeping things "super secret" is part of a tongue-in-cheek plan, theorized David Deal, marketing consultant.

"Snapchat is reinforcing its image as the cool kids on the block by making brands come to Snapchat instead of the other way around," Deal explained. "The approach of using a secret compound with guards and a branded fence allows Snapchat to poke some fun at its own ultra-cool image while making brands play ball on Snapchat's terms. I detect a sense of humor with the secret bunker, which works for Snapchat's playful brand."

Whatever the case, the app still managed to get people talking on the French Riviera. Nearly all of its API partners are independent companies, so it will be interesting to watch whether any deals with advertising holding companies emerge as a result of this conference. 

"After introducing its API, Snapchat needs to get down to the business of becoming an advertising powerhouse," Deal added, "and focusing on deal making on its own terms makes sense."