Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Snapchat's Misguided Views on Targeting

Snap Inc announced this week that Snapchat would begin to apply third party data to ad serving, leveraging the Oracle data cloud. This is meant to play "catch up" with other blue chip social media sites, most notably Facebook, and is seen as table stakes for major networks at this stage of digital ad targeting evolution. Snapchat was slow to match these stakes for several reasons, the primary most likely being Facebook's superior development and adaptability to new targeting, but also because Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel made a promise two years ago to not be "creepy" when it comes to leveraging personal data for ad targeting. 

​While I admire Spiegel's ambition to avoid "creepiness" in an age when ever-improving targeting technologies make it seem as though brands and publishers are following users around the web, the idea that embracing the best of ad targeting is inherently "creepy" is a flawed one and has hamstrung Snapchat in advance of its IPO.

Unless Snapchat pivots significantly and engages a "pay" model, Snapchat will make its money by serving the best, most engaging, and most relevant ad creative possible. Ad targeting allows for creative served to be highly relevant, benefiting the consumer and the medium alike, and contributing to a thriving consumerism-driven economy where people are spending on the best, most relevant, most innovative products. Advertising matters, both to consumers and to a vibrant capitalist system, and effective advertising elicits benefits to all parties involved. Brands save money by serving creative only to relevant audiences, and consumers save time by being served only relevant advertising.

A corporate culture at a behemoth like Snapchat should embrace new targeting technologies as a power for good (and profit), and then on the back end be wary of technologies where data privacy is threatened, and where any other unethical activity could emanate. Spiegel decided to approach ad targeting the other way around, decrying methods as "creepy" and then being delicately approaching targeting capabilities that enhance user experience. Being late to the game in his embracing of targeting has resulted in a rush for Snapchat to catch up in advance of their anticipated IPO, which they will do, but should learn from its mistake of calling targeted ads "creepy" at first blush, rather than embracing innovation in the space, and being advocates for the security and safety of data that brands leverage in ad serving.

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