Snapchat may have shortened its parent company’s name, but the platform is ramping up its ambitions. As Snap Inc. prepares for its IPO, the company has rolled out more sophisticated ad targeting tools, begun a push for Madison Avenue partnerships, and even waded into wearable tech with Spectacles.

What do marketers need to know about Snap’s latest evolution? And what’s in store for the company post-IPO? Nick Orsini, J. Walter Thompson’s resident Snapchat savant, tells us why he’s bullish on the platform.

What about Snapchat’s platform attracted you to working with it? What excites you about it?

I was personally really late to the Snapchat game. Gradually, for me, Snapchat has replaced a lot of other social media applications on my phone and in my daily life. It’s become the preeminent way I take pictures. You’re able to photograph, but also then to add this extra level of personality to your photos. Snapchat offers group texts and a lot of the same features as Messenger or iMessage, even though they may not be as robust.

Snapchat does a lot really well, and it is a really powerful tool. Gradually, in my opinion, the flaws in Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have started to come through. Facebook and Twitter I think suffer from a lack of curation. In Snapchat, you can control your environment: who’s seeing your material, where you’re getting your information. Instagram is definitely a powerful tool for photo sharing and editing, but some of the social aspects aren’t done as well as they are in Snapchat. When you can figure out how to bring it into the marketing space, it’s a huge asset.

For marketers, how does Snapchat fit into the digital ad landscape?

To reach the 18–34 demographic, Snapchat is the premier platform. I talk to young people who say that Snapchat is exclusively what they use. You can have an IM function on it, you’re sharing content, and that’s how they’re getting their news and information.

Even though the Stories feature on Instagram has replicated a similar experience, brands seem to be staying with Snapchat. Snapchat’s ad offering is really robust, and it gives you an opportunity to create whole campaigns in the platform. It could be a lens that goes with a game that you’re launching that goes with ads in the Discovery section. You can do Snapchat takeovers in a lot of different ways.

With so much creativity and flexibility available, does that also make it more challenging for marketers?

Absolutely, and I think the real challenge is in content production. You’re moving to a totally different way of shooting video. The 9:16 aspect ratio for vertical video is a new format, a new deliverable. With Snapchat, they’re almost forcing marketers to optimize for the platform. With the exception of a movie trailer, or something like that, they really encourage the use of vertical video.

Often it’s also meant to be a really simple six-to-ten second piece that mimics the Snapchat experience. Really quick hit, simple creative works. Google is now coming to terms with just how short these pieces have to be. Google has unveiled a six-second bumper ad. So people are moving into this space. In digital we’ve seen that shorter has become the new norm, for example with the Tasty videos on Facebook. The longer pieces of content are, the more likely people are to tune out.

What makes a good Snapchat campaign? Is it different from what would make a good ad on other platforms?

A lot of times, the case study of a good Snapchat campaign is a sponsored lens, for example the Taco Bell lens or the Gatorade lens. Those were huge spends for one day, but got an insane number of impressions.

Gatorade Dunk
Gatorade's sponsored lens saw 165m views.

Another tool in Snapchat that makes it stand out is the ability to create web-based games that are optimized for the platform. Gatorade had a Serena Williams 8-bit tennis game that was really cool. They essentially re-skinned Pong, and as you played you could unlock different content. Snapchat partners with game developers and can help agencies create those pieces, which are super fun and engaging.

Serena Snap

There are also creative things to do with sponsored geofilters. There are ways to own the day, whatever day it might be. National Taco Day, Pizza Day—there are ways to take ownership of these weird, quirky days and create campaigns that have some vitality to them. Target did really cool filters throughout Thanksgiving, so there were eight filters throughout the day based on what people were doing. When you went out the night before, when you woke up, when you ate, had dessert, watched football—everything got a different filter.

WEB Taco Bell snap
WEB Michael Kors snap

I think the next step for Snapchat in terms of ads is moving to content series. Saturday Night Live just did their first video, which was pretty funny. While networks and influencers will be at the forefront of that, gradually marketers will come to the table.

You have to be really precise in the execution of a content series, and Snapchat offers the platform to create a precise, interesting series. You’re not depending on earned media and counting on people to show up every week; your audience is there. If the content is engaging enough, your audience is tailor-made.

The way advertisers tell stories will change. You’re going to be asked to think more episodically, more long-term. Even though the perception around Snapchat is that we spend for one day, I think that campaigns will actually have legs. And you’re going to have to think, how do we tell this story over the course of X weeks using the different ad tools that they have?

Aside from what you’ve already mentioned, were there any other campaigns or partnerships you thought were particularly interesting?

Campaigns that make use of Snap codes are pretty interesting. People inherently know how to use Snap codes. If you’re out with your friends and there’s somebody new in the group, you can just take a picture of their Snap code and you’re following each other. I think brands can use it to unlock content. So on the treasure hunt, there’s step one where you have to take the Snap code and unlock the geolocation piece, which is step two. That’s what I’m interested in seeing.

A lot of people talk about emojis and how we’re going to use them. The Snapchat Scissors tool that lets you make your own emojis is pretty interesting. It’s locked into your own account, but I think there are definitely opportunities for brands to make use of Scissors to have people create their own content, or create this emoji-fied world. There are definitely cool things that are yet to be done.

What do you see for Snap moving forward? How do you address fears that Snap might one day lose its relevance or its audience?

Where Snapchat is in a unique position is actually in their user interface. Their UI breaks a lot of the conventions of a traditional app. I’ve heard critiques that it’s really hard to use and that it’s confusing, but it actually plays into the mindset of how that gen Z/millennial generation experiences the mobile internet.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have a lot of work to do to get back some of the goodwill from users. As Snap is a disruptor in the social space, I think those three platforms will continue to borrow features and try to improve. Facebook just came out with its own version of lenses for Messenger, so you can do lenses in Facebook now.

I spoke with students from the 4As, and they strictly were on Snapchat. Snapchat is their platform. Content on the internet has become very difficult to rein in. A lot of the critiques of Facebook and Twitter are that the channel can come off as negative. There’s a lot of weirdness that happens on Twitter, and misinformation. Snapchat has done a nice job of allowing users to filter that out, and get the content the way they want it, from the people they choose.

The way we use influencers will change. Previously, it was enough to have your influencer say “Buy this, drink that.” Now, I think the way we use influencers is going to be about that personal connection. So it’s an influencer talking directly to you, acknowledging the platform—“Hey, why don’t you swipe up? You know you want to swipe up. Check it out.”

Browser Tracking Protection enabled. Unable to display content.

I see that pivoting as influencers take a more active voice. So I think the IPO will be successful. I think Snap will continue to be on the forefront of curating and managing this abbreviated content. And then, gradually, they’re going to introduce episodic content.

Over the long term, there will be hardware rollouts. Snapchat has undergone an overhaul in the last year to move it from an app company toward becoming a camera company. A lot of their hiring seems to suggest that they want to move more into hardware. They’ve hired a lot of engineers from HTC and Apple and Google, to stay relevant in the hardware space. Spectacles were generally well received, well reviewed, and they were successful. So I think they’re going to move into hardware. Stuff that will keep people creating content in new ways.

I think they show that they have the chops to be in the wearables space, which is not an easy breakthrough to make. Google Glass really struggled. It was priced way out of the norm for regular people to purchase it. What Spectacles did was bring that technology down to a price point that people could afford, and made it fun to go out on a skateboard and do first person videos. When I went to the women’s rally in DC, we were shooting a lot of video with Spectacles. It gives that man/woman-on-the-street perspective.

Is there anything else we didn’t cover that you wanted to mention?

I want us, here at J. Walter Thompson, to always think about how social and digital comes into campaigns. How do we define a brand’s personality on social? How do we bring that personality to people? That’s how marketing has changed. A brand has to have a personality, has to stand for something, has to connect in an authentic way. The best and simplest way to do that is through social—with Snapchat in particular, but also with social across the board.

At J. Walter Thompson, we have to do more than just answer the brief. We have to go beyond and say, “I know the ask is this, but the tone and the way we want to present it lends itself to these four to six channels.” A campaigns doesn’t have to be like a one-month thing; it should last. We’re going to reach the goal in six weeks, but what happens at week 15 or week 20? How do we keep momentum going, and what’s the next chapter of this story?

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