Snapchat’s Thrown Digital Advertising Against the Wall: Will It Stick?

Can Snap Inc. take the popularity of its app and turn it into a $1 billion standalone business?

Admit it: You did not see Snapchat coming. Conceived and launched in 2011, the messaging service reached 10 million active users by the end of its first year and continued to grow at a rapid pace. It went from a simple messaging application to a full-blown social media app, quickly becoming the go-to social network for a large number of millennials.

Now, Snapchat boasts 60 million daily active users, and it’s looking more and more likely that the newly branded Snap Inc. will outpace even Twitter, becoming Facebook’s top competitor in the social media game.

But as promising as all this news is for the relatively young company, questions still loom: Can it keep up its massive pace of adoption? Can Snap Inc. take the popularity of its app and turn it into a $1 billion standalone business?

The company takes these questions seriously. It has already explored a variety of revenue streams and is continually working to discover the most effective way to serve ads to users. Recently, Snapchat made another push into the digital ad game by introducing three new methods for advertisers to better target users. Each method involves matching a brand’s data to Snapchat’s (anonymously) to ensure that the right messages are aimed at the right audiences.

By pushing further into digital ad targeting, Snapchat is sending a clear message to media buyers: This is an ad platform that can’t be dismissed. But what does its latest push mean for advertisers? Does Snapchat offer a better marketing platform than what brands have seen before, or is it just the same old digital advertising we’ve seen? The short answer: It’s a little bit of both.

Different app, different strategy

In terms of functionality, Snapchat’s digital targeting isn’t much different than Facebook’s or Instagram’s–buyers can match existing email lists and mobile IDs to anonymized Snapchat and third-party data and target users based on demographics or the types of content they view. It’s standard fare for experienced media buyers.

In some ways, Snapchat’s ads even lag behind traditional offerings. They’re 100 percent viewable, but the impression is delivered instantly, and the user has the ability to skip it just as fast. There’s currently no premium placement or compulsory delay that gives brands a chance to entice the consumer to watch more. A user’s instinct is to immediately skip. This means getting ads in front of anyone who isn’t already interested is a much more difficult prospect.

These traits don’t have to be drawbacks. On the contrary, they force us to be better marketers and reinvent the way we interact with consumers. Snapchat’s unique build and attributes open the opportunity to create a targeting strategy that can’t be matched.

Part of this opportunity comes from Snapchat’s huge success with younger audiences–it’s where 18- to 29-year-olds spend their time socializing. If a brand wants to reach millennials, Snapchat must be part of the conversation. But to credit Snapchat’s pull over its demographic is to do the app a disservice.

Snapchat is making strides in social media. It’s doubled down on the mobile-only focus. It gives brands the chance to flex their mobile muscles; there’s nowhere else for marketers to focus solely on mobile and refine their efforts.

The app’s interface takes its targeting opportunity even further. Instead of the clicks and taps usually found on social media apps, Snapchat’s users swipe to interact, whether they’re swiping to chat, learn more or shop. A mobile-friendly swipe makes it easier than ever for users to take action on a brand’s ad.

Snapchat also offers something other networks overlook: screenshots. Many users screenshot branded messaging they want to go back to when they have the time. These users are interested in the ads, but on most social media platforms, there’s no record of that interest. On Snapchat, screenshots are noted and can be used as a new way to measure engagement.

The app has room to grow before it can name itself the king of social media or messaging (and it will likely have to share the title with a few competitors). For advertisers, however, Snapchat has already carved out its own compelling channel–one that isn’t slowing down any time soon.

Aubry Parks-Fried is senior manager of digital innovations, social and native at digital advertising and media management software provider Centro.