Last month Snapchat did something kind of crazy - they started showing ads. And it will likely be their downfall. On October 18th, many Snapchat users were frightened and freaked by the first ever sponsored Snapchat from Ouija. Wow, have horror movies gotten lazy or what? Next up is "That Noise That Could Be a Murderer Entering Your Apartment But Is Probably Your Ancient Heating System, The Movie." Followed by, "Call Your Landlord."
Anyway, Snapchat figured that Halloween would be the perfect time of year to introduce this new frightening ad element into their beloved picture messaging app.
Ouija's rating on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty scary too
Snapchat announced their ad strategy in a blog post the day before, explaining that the transition to Snapchat ads is "going to feel a little weird at first, but we're taking the plunge." Yes, taking the brave plunge into buckets of money, if all goes according to plan.
Snapchat turned down Facebook's $3 billion acquisition offer back in 2013, and was recently valued at $10 billion, even without existing revenues. Clearly everyone sees some kind of cash cow materializing out of the Snapchat fog.
In their blog post, Snapchat notes that while many people want to know why they have begun incorporating ads, the "answer is probably unsurprising - we need to make money." Whether you'd rather call it "want" or "need," Snapchat is now focused on the oldest profession in the world - the business of making money.
As Far As Ads Go, These Could be Worse
Ads are the social media equivalent of getting your big boy wheels. For most, ads are the obvious evolution - we can't all be the Ellos of the world, surviving on our gumption and morals alone.
As far as ads go, Snapchat's ads are as good as it gets, at least from a user's perspective. Snapchat ads appear under the Recent Updates section, a separate feed that's not integrated with a user's personal Snaps, which would be the obvious choice for maximizing revenues.
As Snapchat notes, that would be "totally rude." Like duh it would be, but that certainly doesn't seem stop anyone else (most notably Facebook, who is looking to edge out organic brand posts in hope of getting more businesses to transition to paid Facebook ads).
Snapchat explains that, "an advertisement will appear in your Recent Updates from time to time, and you can choose if you want to watch it. No biggie." That's right, users don't even have to see these ads - they can go totally ignored. Yeah, brands are really scrambling to get on top of this awesome deal. The ads will disappear after the user watches the ad or after 24 hours.
Photo from Paul Szoldra of Business Insider
Snapchat ads also won't be targeted whatsoever. Which is... good? Snapchat sends some weird mixed messages, noting in their ad introductory blog post that, "the best advertisements tell you more about stuff that actually interests you. Some companies spend a lot of time and collect a lot of data about you to figure that out. The product we're releasing today is a lot simpler."
Oh cool, so rather than show users the "best advertisements," you're going to show ads about stuff that doesn't interest us. That sounds much better - so countercultural and hip!
Snapchat claims they're trying to go old school with ads, going back to the way "ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted." I understand that ad targeting creeps people out at times, but I'd still rather have ads trying to sell me stuff I actually might want rather than volumizing hair products and Civil War canon replicas.
Christmas came early this year
But sure Snapchat, you're being cool and retro. Please continue to send ads about horror movies targeting tweens that I have no interest in seeing.
Why Ads Really Have No Place on Snapchat
While Snapchat's ads appear largely unobtrusive and don't seem to affect the user experience a whole ton, I have a hunch that Snapchat could be making a huge mistake adding ads into the mix.
Here's the thing - Snapchat thrives on the concept of privacy. Now how private Snapchat really is doesn't matter so much. In fact, Snapchat isn't even all that private - they collect data on when, where, and who you send messages to. Screen capture aps pretty much nullify any authentic hopes for privacy. Still, what matters is that Snapchat's image is very much built on the illusion of privacy.
Snapchat is the place users go to share embarrassing and intimate moments with other individuals that they trust, and only them. Snapchat's logo is a ghost (albeit a goofy, derpy one), which makes a ton of sense for an app priding itself on keeping secrets. Ghosts are silent, mysterious, and often unseen.
Ads, on the other hand, are loud and messy. They feel public and unromantic. They are the drunk uncle at your cousin's wedding. Their lack of subtly is why we cringe when we see ads targeting our personal flaws (lose those love handles in 10 days with this workout miracle.) Ads are proof that someone is keeping tabs on you, studying you, and trying to get something from you.
Despite the flack I gave earlier, not using targeted ads was probably a smart move on Snapchat's part, as targeted ads are an even stronger indicator that someone's looking over your shoulder. Still, even leaving targeting out of the equation, Snapchat is dramatically shifting their public image and changing the intent of their app, moving it, to some degree, from the private to the public sphere.
Really, Snapchat is getting the worst of both words - they're implementing advertising, which naturally makes users distrustful and jumpy, and showing lousy ads to boot that won't even interest many users.
Ads are public. There are not private. No one is going to want to send a suggestive cleavage shot after seeing an ad for Toyota. Ads could easily break apart the secrecy stronghold that Snapchat has worked so hard to build.