The 8 Stages to Snapchat’s Extremely Buzzy 3-Year Ride at Cannes

From candid remarks to a Ferris wheel, it's been an intriguing run

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

The Snapchat-branded Ferris wheel at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is quite appropriate, as it’s been a wild ride for the messaging app at the past three editions of the gathering in France.

Snapchat founder and CEO Evan Spiegel took Cannes by storm in 2015, at the ripe young age of 25, when he described the company’s advertising plans in detail for the first time. It’s been a process—here’s how all of Snap’s stages have played out in the last few years on the Promenade de la Croisette.

Stage 1. The “blank canvas” speech
Spiegel discussed the increased engagement brands were seeing from vertical ads, which occupy smartphones’ entire screens without requiring users to rotate their devices, and he told Adweek:

A lot of folks in the transition to mobile—which is still ongoing—were taking video that was formatted for livestream desktop and TV, and they were jamming that creative into a mobile feed. That makes sense in the evolution from desktop to mobile, but since we started on mobile, it’s a blank canvas … Our baseline was, (we want) full-screen. And in order to get full-screen, you’ve got to do vertical video.

Stage 2. Targeting? Bleh
Spiegel also explained his dislike of targeted advertising:

Some of the stuff that happens on the Internet—like when a product you didn’t end up buying follows you around—that ends up feeling strange and maybe even winds up doing brand damage. We have a really big business here that also respects the privacy of people who use Snapchat.

We’re going to stay away from building really extensive profiles on people because that’s just bad and doesn’t feel very good.

Stage 3. OK, maybe not—let’s make some dough
One year later, Snapchat did a bit of a 180 on ad targeting with its introduction of its application-programming interface and debut of Snapchat Partners at the 2016 edition of Cannes.

The ads API brought with it targeting based on location, gender, wireless carrier, device type and content affinity, but those options were nowhere near as robust as what was offered by Facebook.

More important, third-party companies would be able to sell Snapchat ads for the first time as part of the Snapchat Partners program, and those partners were divided into two groups:

Ads Partners developed software for advertisers on Snapchat, enabling them to buy, optimize and analyze campaigns.

Creative Partners boasted social content expertise and experience with 3V, Snapchat’s vertical video format, which was soon renamed Snap Ads.

Stage 4. Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone wants data
Snapchat also used last year’s Cannes event to announce advances in measurement in the form of ad performance scores from Moat and ad data from Google’s DoubleClick.

Stage 5. Being awesomely stealth? Very Snapchat
And while Spiegel did not have anywhere near the public presence he enjoyed at the previous year’s event, he apparently made quite an impression in private, appearing at a secret party for agency executives to talk shop.

According to reports, Snapchat went as far as hiring guards to keep the uninvited away from its secret meeting spot in the French Riviera, which, almost as a taunt, featured the iconic Snapchat ghost on its gate.

Marketing consultant David Deal shared his theory on Snapchat’s strategy at Cannes Lions 2016 with Adweek:

Snapchat is reinforcing its image as the cool kids on the block by making brands come to Snapchat instead of the other way around. 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.

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

Stage 6. OK, time to really grow up
One year after Snapchat Partners came Snapchat Certified Partners, an initiative to ensure that employees at participating ad agencies are fluent in the ins and outs of the messaging app, as well as the best ways to serve potential advertisers.

Snapchat chief strategy officer Imran Khan explained the motivation behind Snapchat Certified Partners to Adweek:

You really want to help your partners grow and learn. We’ve always been very focused on, “Let’s not onboard advertisers just to onboard. Let’s onboard them to be successful.” And as a result, we have been very maniacally focused on measurement, ease of buying that brought in things like the API. Our view is that we have to take a long-term approach.

Our ad business is still relatively new, so educating people on our ad product, our creative, our measurement system—all of those things will help our advertisers to get better performance.

New creative tools and a self-service buying platform were also part of Snapchat’s Cannes 2017 arsenal, with the latter, Snapchat Ads Manager, coming off testing by 20 companies.

As for the creative tools, we reported:

To that end, in July, Snapchat will roll out editing software dubbed Snap Publisher designed to make video ads in less than two minutes. Advertisers can chop their own videos up into 10-second clips or pick from a library of Snap-designed templates. A piece of code identifies video files to detect when a scene changes to help piece together different clips. Brands will also be able to test multiple versions of creative and then, based on the results, purchase Snap media straight through the self-serve platform.

Stage 7. ‘OMG! We won 3 Lions!’
Snapchat parent Snap Inc. likes to remind people that there’s more to the company than the messaging app, and this year’s Cannes Lions reaffirmed that, as its Snap Spectacles sunglasses with built-in cameras took home three gold Lions—two in product design and the other in design.

Ruth Berktold, product design jury president and owner of Germany’s Yes Architecture, told Adweek:

Even if the glasses might not be a problem-solver, they will have a lot of influence. The product itself is functional, it’s beautiful.

We like the fact that it’s a product that’s out there already. We like the way it’s working. It’s a very simple interface, a camera in your glasses. We like the fact it really influences our younger generations. It’s certainly something that will have a major impact.

Stage 8. This Ferris did not have a day off
And now, we come full-circle to the aforementioned Ferris wheel, which we described as follows:

The carnival-size ride is positioned in front of the Palais, where more than 15,000 marketers and creatives will appear this week. The wheel is decked out in Snap Inc. branding, including canary yellow paint and a ghost logo that appears in the form of a giant hubcap for the wheel.

The attraction is open from noon to midnight during the festival and features 21 cars that, at four passengers each, means 84 people can ride on the huge yellow contraption. Strategically positioned QR code-like Snapcodes unlock a festival-themed lens that overlays a pair of sunglasses and the word “Cannes” within the Snapchat app. Snap has also set up a Spectacles vending machine nearby, possibly to persuade marketers to check out its video-recording sunglasses.

Yes, it’s been quite the whirlwind three-year ride at Cannes for Snapchat. What will next year’s event bring? Stay tuned. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.