In late January, Snapchat launched the "Discover" feature, which adds news and content to the thriving image and video messaging app. Eleven publishing partners provide daily editions with around seven pieces of content. Each edition is available for 24 hours, after which time it disappears, in keeping with the app's ephemeral nature. The media is abuzz with how the nascent feature will monetize Snapchat's user base and how it could change mobile news as we know it, but "Discover" carries some important implications for advertisers as well.
Unlike the steadfast banner ad or those mandatory five seconds of pre-roll, users can swipe away the interstitials within "Discover" in a fraction of a second. The entire model is predicated on consumer volition -- users have to choose to engage with ads on this platform.
What does this entail for advertisers? Naturally, a higher standard: If "Discover" ads aren't compelling -- if they don't offer some kind of value to the user -- they'll be whisked away into cyberspace faster than you can say "wasted marketing dollars."
Take the Ritz ad that appeared in Food Network's daily edition in February: a six-second loop summarized how to make miniature pizzas using Ritz crackers. I swiped to see more and got a detailed recipe with a beautiful layout. This execution was flawless -- the ad felt contextually relevant, it was barely distinguishable from the publisher's content, and it offered clear utilitarian value. Juxtapose that with BMW's i3 ad on the CNN daily edition that ran around the same time: it was little more than a truncated thirty. The i3 ad was unrelated to the publisher's content, interruptive, and offered no real value to users. It was also out of my sight in about 0.3 seconds.
Despite this innovative approach to content and advertising, Discover has a few idiosyncrasies that feel regressive. Most notably, neither content nor ads are shareable. Admittedly, sharing content with a 24-hour lifespan could prove challenging, so that is an understandable omission. (Just imagine the frustration of trying to view content that had already vanished.) More perplexing is the inability to further engage with an ad: none of the advertisements I've seen support outbound links, precluding any calls to action. Want to learn more about that i3? Too bad: you'll have to close Snapchat, open a browser, and Google it. By modern UX standards, that's a Herculean effort.
This closed ecosystem puts even more pressure on advertisers to create high-quality, memorable content. Since ads are neither shareable nor actionable, the onus is solely on the user to continue engaging with a brand. If advertisers fail to motivate and inspire users, their messages will live and die on the Discover platform.
This Darwinian standard in advertising isn't exactly new: as consumers get savvier and user-generated reviews become ubiquitous, brands are becoming more transparent. In this era of transparency, it's not enough for brands to simply say they're great: they must truly show they are in order to survive. Consequently, advertisements cannot be ostentatious or interruptive -- they must offer real value in order to win the attention of consumers.
By empowering users and letting them choose which ads to interact with, Snapchat's "Discover" is accelerating the natural selection process, and impelling advertisers to create better ads. Advertisers that rise to the occasion will flourish, but the less ambitious will drown in a sea of undifferentiated noise that they helped create.
Nicholas Manluccia is an analyst, Insights & Stategy at Questus.
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