Here’s How Brands Are Cashing In on Snapchat’s Long-Awaited API

Nordstrom explains its targeted campaign

Snapchat's long-awaited API (application programming interface) is officially out in the wild with a handful of creative agencies and ad-tech companies selling ads on behalf of the mobile app. Brands are also finally getting a look under the hood at the data that powers their campaigns.

Among the companies working with the API is VaynerMedia, which is on both the creative and media-buying side. Since the API launched this summer, the digital agency has run two Snap Ads—one for USA Networks and one for Nordstrom. Gatorade, Nissan and McDonald's have also run API campaigns through other partners.

While programmatic-like buying on Snapchat is still new for brands and agencies, VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk said that his shop is "probably getting 25 to 50 inquiries a day" about the API.

"It's a new execution within a scalable platform," he said. "It's not that the platform is new. It's that reality is new. We've never had the ability to put creative between people's stories."

One of the more interesting parts of the API is the ability for brands to A/B test multiple pieces of creative at the same time to see which performs better and adjust campaigns on the fly—just like they have for years with email and direct mail as well as digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

"It works similar to most digital platforms, holding an audience static—in this case, at the ad-squad level—with multiple versions of creative being served, all optimized based on the platform's algorithm," explained VaynerMedia's svp of paid media Jeff Nicholson.

"The advice we give most often is about creative variance: Don't be afraid to experiment with different content pillars and creative directions. It's still very early on the platform, and brands need to learn how consumers want to interact with them and what will drive brand value and impact on Snapchat."

Like the other Snap Ads partners, VaynerMedia is building its own technology pipes into the app to pull reports about campaigns. Those reports include real-time stats on campaign performance versus its goals—including how many impressions and swipes an ad generated as well as time spent.

In terms of targeting, brands can use Snapchat's software to home in on look-alike audiences and use a product called "Snap Audience Match" to anonymously pair up first-party data like email addresses and mobile device IDs with Snapchat's data on its users. The app is also reportedly working on more sophisticated behavioral targeting like forms of retargeting, even though CEO Evan Spiegel has famously called such targeted ads, "creepy." 

Advertisers can also target ads through Snapchat's API using more basic information including age, gender, location and device. And there's an option to serve promos based on someone's interests and content a user has previously looked at such as sports or music.

The latter interest-based option is how Nordstrom ran a campaign with VaynerMedia. On Sept. 29, the retailer launched a six-second video campaign to promote Beyonce's Ivy Park activewear line (see the creative at the top of the page). The campaign zeroed in on "arts and culture and music" interests. Nordstrom declined to share any statistics about the campaign's performance, but said that it's run at least three other sets of ads with the app—for its Anniversary Sale, New York Fashion Week and a shoe event hosted with supermodel Karlie Kloss.

"We've been excited by how our customers have responded to the Ivy Park content we launched through Snap Ads API content so far and we're looking forward to connecting with them through new versions in the future," said Nordstrom spokeswoman Tara Darrow in a statement.