Will a lack of Ad targeting options be Snapchat’s achilles heel?

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Originally featured in the August 28th issue of Campaign Middle East

Ever since last year’s Cannes Lions Festival, where Snapchat was the darling of the young tech companies strutting their stuff, Ad Land has been waiting for the company to make a serious push into scalable advertising. Snapchat’s advertising revenue is growing at an incredible rate, rising from $59m last year to a projected $250-350m this year, but this has mainly been on the back of branded geo-filters, lenses and sponsored stories.

While until now this has only been accessible to brands with huge budgets, it seems that Snapchat is now on the verge of scaling it’s advertising offering by forging new partnerships with third-party creative agencies, as well as API platforms that facilitate the buying and delivery of ads on the app. All of this will help make managing ad campaigns on Snapchat much easier for brands and agencies alike.

A few months ago, the platform rolled-out auto-advance stories, a process that automatically plays friends’ stories one-after-another creating a seamless video-roll of everything you’ve missed since your last visit. It’s here that they plan on inserting what they term ‘Snap Ads Between Stories’, i.e. ads that automatically play between your friends’ posts.

The route to advertiser accessibility

While this might be good news for the company, as well as for brands and agencies willing to experiment with new ways of reaching younger consumers, there’s still one aspect that I feel will hold back Snapchat from reaching the same scale and accessibility as Facebook and Google when it comes to advertising – and that’s targeting.

Snapchat simply doesn’t have as much information on its users’ demographics and tastes as some of the other platforms competing with it for advertising dollars. With the advanced targeting options offered by Facebook and Google based on a mountain of user data and search behaviour, advertisers can laser-focus their ads. In this digital age, and especially on digital channels, advertisers expect this level of precision.

Without these options for advertisers, Snapchat is a bit more like TV; great for big brands with big budgets that want a broad reach, but not really suitable for smaller companies that have less of a budget to experiment with. For any digital platform that truly wants to scale, accessibility and flexibility are paramount.

Targeting in a post-demographic age

While Snapchat lacks the detailed user info and search behaviour data that Facebook and Google have, if it can find a way to accurately profile it’s users by ‘Interests’, as opposed to demographics, it could prove to be a more meaningful variable for targeting them. After all, we live in a post-demographic world in which it has become less accurate to segment consumers based on age, gender or location etc.

While Facebook for example has an endless treasure trove of its users’ stated Interests, Twitter bases much of it’s targeting on the themes and topics that users frequently feature (via keyword tracking) and on the high-profile accounts they follow.

As there is little text-based content from it’s users to scrape, Snapchat will have to approach this kind of content tracking in another way, analysing what it’s users are snapping about, and better evaluating popular accounts so as to more accurately profile their followers. With Instagram trying to muscle in on Snapchat’s turf with their new ‘Stories’ feature, the pressure is well and truly on.

Snapchat is an immersive and engaging platform with a unique potential for ads that engross and inform users. Think Facebook Canvas-style immersive scrolling pages and videos for brand awareness campaigns, click-to-buy snaps for sales-based campaigns, and simple info entry forms for lead generation campaigns. All this could happen within the app itself rather than redirecting to a separate website or landing page making for a more frictionless experience for the user.

As more advertisers come on board, the focus turns to measurement and accountability, and this is another aspect that Snapchat must also address. Facebook’s Dave Jakubowski outlines this challenge; “marketers are going to start asking questions when they get out of the experimental budget phase … when the dollars get big enough, somebody someplace says ‘What am I getting for this?”

CEO Evan Spiegel may have previously said publicly that Snapchat is against “creepy” targeted advertising that follows you around the web. But if they can nail targeting within the app, and scale the success they’ve had with some larger brands to brands with smaller budgets as well, then they can really start looking towards competing with Facebook and Google for a more broad range of advertising dollars.