Welcome to the Age of Snapchat

Opinion: Snapchat offers a way for brands to get directly in touch with that much-coveted group, millennials

The world of social media moves fast. Only seven years ago, we were proclaiming the “Age of Facebook,” and now, the social network faces a new challenger to its throne, Snapchat.

Snapchat has gone from strength to strength in the past year, rolling out its advertising platform and launching a successful initial public offering. While Facebook’s strength is by no means diminished, Snapchat is emerging as a worthy competitor for brands’ digital advertising dollars.

Snapchat’s appeal is clear: It offers a way for brands to get directly in touch with that much-coveted group, millennials.

According to Nielsen data, the percentages of users below the age of 24 for Facebook and YouTube are 23 percent and 17 percent, respectively. On their own, these look like respectable numbers—until one takes a closer look at Snapchat. 51 percent of Snapchat’s users are below the age of 24, based on Nielsen’s numbers.

A report by Cheetah Lab, Cheetah Mobile’s mobile internet and artificial-intelligence-focused research institution, shows a slightly lower percentage, 40.62 percent, but this is still far higher than YouTube (11.94 percent) or Facebook (10.9 percent).

Based on these numbers, it’s easy to see why advertisers believe that Snapchat will become one of the top players in the global mobile advertising market.

What is it exactly about Snapchat that makes it so appealing to the younger generation? Partly, it’s the perception that Facebook is “just old people socializing”—a state that’s hardly likely to appeal to an image-conscious teen.

Snapchat U.K. general manager Claire Valoti attributes the messaging application’s popularity to the fact that “people use Snapchat to be their real selves,” instead of projecting a carefully curated public image.

CEO Evan Spiegel has said in the past that Snapchat is “much more for sharing personal moments than it is about this public display,” noting that it has “made it very hard for parents to embarrass their children.”

Unlike on Facebook and Twitter, content on Snapchat can only be seen by the people who are given access to it, and only for a limited period of time. This considerably lowers the pressure for users to produce good content, encouraging them to post more frequently and therefore increasing the time they spend on the app.

Brands might have some difficulty channeling this sense of spontaneity for their Snapchat ads. Valoti says the most common advice she gives to advertisers is, “Just be yourself.” People expect branded content to have the same level of candor that their own posts do, which leads to brands coming up with innovative campaigns to generate user activity.

Cheetah Mobile’s report looks at one recent example of an innovative marketing campaign, carried out by the team behind the 2016 film Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. While it used both Snapchat ads and traditional video ads to generate awareness, it also had director Tim Burton design special filters and lenses exclusively for use on Snapchat. These special features could be unlocked by scanning codes in movie theaters and on posters. Ultimately, the combination of the Snapchat campaign and traditional video ads helped to raise the movie’s profile and generate ticket sales.

For Valoti, the success of the film’s campaign boils down to the fact that the marketing team “really thought about what part Snapchat could play in the journey of promoting this film” and created content specifically for the platform, instead of relying on a wholesale approach.

In the report by Cheetah Lab, the researchers observe that one of the reasons for Snapchat’s ascendancy “is that the company gives brands an opportunity to showcase more innovative advertising on mobile phones, creating ads that are more fun for younger users and put them in less passive roles.”

Young people like Snapchat because it’s fun—it’s fun to play around with different filters and see what people would look like if they had a beard, or huge eyes, or a dog’s nose. Cheetah’s researchers also noted the fact that Snapchat ads “are more customizable” and have interactive options that encourage user participation.

The biggest problem that Facebook has at the moment is that fewer users are using the site to share details about their lives; instead, people are increasingly using Facebook to share news and content from other sites. This means that checking Facebook no longer has the same immediacy it used to: If the only thing people are sharing is an article from The Wall Street Journal, then there’s no longer much of an incentive to spend time on your News Feed.

Snapchat, on the other hand, encourages people to share intimate details of their lives in the here and now. And the social media platform is totally dependent on people creating original content for it—a marked difference from Facebook’s model.

For brands, being on Snapchat offers a chance to connect with people in an authentic way, whether it’s through interactive ads or by creating content that appears spontaneous and unforced. As Facebook becomes more of a repository for outside content, Snapchat’s emphasis on original content will prove to be beneficial for advertisers, in more ways than one.

Jenny Quan is executive dean of Cheetah Lab.

Image courtesy of Wachiwit/iStock.