Campaign Magazine

Facebook & Snapchat are battling it out to change the way we visualize the world around us

Originally featured in the May 28th 2017 issue of Campaign Middle East

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s probably never been truer than it is today. It’s no surprise that people are communicating less and less through text these days – and more and more through visual means on mobile messaging apps and social media platforms in particular.

Instagram may have kick-started this trend a few years ago on social media, but Snapchat dragged it into the personal messaging space and other platforms have followed suit, so much so that now, rather than using digital imagery as a way of simply documenting and presenting our lives, we actively use visuals to communicate in the place of text. Snapchat has been the poster child of this movement over the last 3 years or so, tripling its daily active users to over 160 Million. Not content at being left behind, Facebook has copied pretty much every visual messaging feature that Snapchat has popularized on each of its four platforms – Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook itself.

While facial lenses and basic image editing have become a bit of a commodity on social messaging channels though, both platforms are trying to branch out from this to a more ‘augmented reality’-style future where users can actively overlay digital elements onto whatever they are looking at in real-time. Think Pokemon Go, although much more interactive and responsive to your actual surroundings. Snapchat describes it as “painting the world with 3D experiences”.

Snapchat may have been the catalyst for this trend, but it seems that Facebook are innovating at faster speed. At the company’s recent F8 event Mark Zuckerberg launched a host of new 3D camera effects, highlighting a renewed focus on creating a ‘camera platform’, an onus on the camera not simply being a tool used just to capture images, but to communicate too. He even went as far as to say that the camera needs to be more central than the text box in all of their apps.

This is a way for Facebook to fully insert itself into the real world, to become the link between your smartphone and everything you see around you. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Zuckerberg expanded on this approach, “Facebook is so much about marrying the physical world with online. When you can make it so that you can intermix digital and physical parts of the world, that’s going to make a lot of our experiences better and our lives richer”.

Demoing these new 3D camera effects, one Facebook engineer pointed his phone at a table and a 3D propeller plane appeared on the screen, flying around a water bottle on the table top. Another used his phone’s camera to turn the room into a planetarium, with planets and stars spread out across the ceiling. Another took a normal photo of a face, then manipulated the expressions into a smile and then a frown.

Facebook also showed off various 3D scenes created entirely from a handful of 2D photos. The scenes had real depth to them, allowing viewers to tilt their head to see behind a bed in a room, or peer around a tree in a forest. Users could dim the lights in the image of a room, flood it with water, or even leave a digital object in the room that would still be there for someone else to discover at a later time.

The ultimate idea here is to turn the real world into an extension of Facebook itself. While Zuckerberg highlights examples like using Facebook’s camera to view pieces of digital art affixed to a wall, or to play a digital game overlaid on a table-top, you can see the long game here – dragging elements that would normally appear in your feed, for example, into the real world. But as well as pieces of content from your friends and family, surely this means ads too. As the traditional Facebook Newsfeed takes a back seat to messaging apps, this could be one way of keeping this type of content relevant going into the future, as well as expanding their ad inventory in the process.

But what will this mean for brands when consumers are living in an augmented world, constantly interacting with and visually manipulating their surroundings? And what happens when we are all wearing AR glasses or contact lenses 24/7? Visions of a Minority Report-esque world where ads bombard us at every turn spring to mind, but surely there must be another way. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Facebook, Snapchat

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

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Originally featured in the August 28th 2016 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.

 

Posted by Rob in Campaign Magazine, Marketing, Snapchat, Social Media