Snapchat Dips Its Toes In Programmatic, But Advertisers Want To See More

programmatic-snapchatOn Thursday – amid strengthening rumors of an IPO – Snapchat finally released its anticipated ads API to enable better automation, targeting and measurement. It is running with nine partners.

Advertisers can buy Snap Ads – full-screen, sound-on, vertical video ad units – programmatically on the platform.

“Advertisers [can now] glean insights and better optimize their campaigns,” said Viji Davis, chief marketing officer at Omnicom’s Resolution Media. “Now you can adjust and optimize bids by segments, glean insights on what messaging and creative combos work and optimize ads towards what resonates with consumers.”

The API offers real-time reporting on KPIs like open-rates, screenshots and view times. It also gives advertisers insight into how Snapchat performs against other social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.

“I think they are really hearing loud and clear that reporting has always been their Achilles heel,” said James Douglas, director of IPG Mediabrands’ social marketing unit Society.

He called the release of the API a “good stride.” But for Douglas and other hands-on media buyers, being limited to a select group of partners who have total control over the experience is frustrating.

“There’s still a level of hand-holding here,” Douglas said. “I want to be able to touch, see and understand the auction in great detail.”

Douglas is impressed, however, with Snapchat’s advancements in targeting. Advertisers can target users based on content affinity, customer email lists and lookalike models. Snapchat can also create custom solutions by vertical, including weather targeting, dayparting and TV syncing.

The API marks Snapchat’s first foray into programmatic. But the platform isn’t fully automated just yet.

Snapchat’s highest-engaging ads, sponsored geofilters and lenses (users play with the latter for an average of 20 seconds), can still only be purchased through direct buys.

“It’s important to recognize that today, the API is available to us exclusively for Snap Ads,” said Jamie Tedford, CEO of Brand Networks, a Snap Ads partner. “It adds programmatic elements to buying on Snapchat, but I don’t see any signal that Snapchat is moving [toward] all programmatic.”

But it won’t be long before advertisers want all programmatic on Snapchat, Douglas said. That could put Snapchat in the sticky spot of maintaining its user experience (UX) while giving advertisers what they want.

“Snapchat absolutely has to continue to evolve the API to include those units,” Douglas said. “That will be particularly challenging for them because that’s a UX element.”

When it comes to creative, Snapchat has set the bar high. While marketers can A/B test messages, they also want proven results before diving all-in with expensive, custom placements.

“It’s a new type of ad unit and brands need to ensure that they are budgeting for the creative development,” said Lance Neuhauser, CEO of 4C insights, another Snapchat Ads partner. “We have to be realistic about just how much brands will submerse themselves out of the get-go.”

Douglas put it a bit more bluntly: “Snap Ads have a fairly high minimum when you can go to Facebook and Twitter and basically put in your credit card and spend 20 cents.”

For now, Brands are willing to experiment. Neuhauser guesses that by 2018, brands will see Snapchat as “an evergreen, always-on channel that needs to be leveraged to its full effectiveness,” he said.

The most interesting play for Snapchat is its potential to steal dollars from TV, especially for brands trying to increase brand awareness with younger demographics, Douglas said.

“Younger audiences are becoming very difficult to reach on linear TV buys,” he said. “If you’re a niche advertiser trying to do broad-based reach for younger audiences, Snapchat can provide a really unique capability.”

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