Snapchat’s 3V attempts to redefine online video advertising

Snapchat has been in our lives for a little under four years now and though the social media app has grown rapidly throughout it’s existence, it has largely done so in the advertising background. This was primarily due to Snapchat’s achilles heel: monetisation. The trouble Snapchat has faced is that their key demographic, which they have captured at a time when others can’t seem to grasp them, is both tech savvy and decisively advertising-aware. In the time since Facebook opened their doors to advertising they have steadily lost this younger generation who want an open conversation with their friends without the intrusion of advertising. Snapchat knew that they ran the risk of poisoning their platform for their strongest economic bargaining chip.

One of their first major forays into advertising happened at the turn of the year but came with a clear and resounding message for marketeers: Snapchat only wanted the biggest brands. Their asking price of $750,000 per day told the story of a quality over quantity model. Snapchat clearly want to make money but avoid over-saturation of their platform. It is an interesting model but one that a large number of major companies have so far shied away from utilising.

It has been six months since Snapchat’s asking prices came to light and in the months that followed their pitch has shifted. Now Snapchat are not just selling their platform to advertisers but they are implying a shift in the very way consumers interact with advertisements, and have backed it with very strong numbers to prove they are right. It seems Snapchat have decided that instead of lowering their asking price, they will convince marketers that the cost is worth every penny. They did this by announcing their new branding for video advertisements on their platform: 3V.

3V was announced in late June by Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel in a video that can be seen here. Suffice to say the introduction video does not give off the aura of a major announcement from a billion dollar company. First and foremost Evan Spiegel is no Steve Jobs. He comes off more like a Sunday school teacher than the CEO of a company asking for $750,000 of a companies revenue for 24 hours of advertising space. Does this matter in the grand scheme of 3V and its emergence into the online advertising arena? Well no, but it doesn’t inspire confidence either, especially when you look at the unbelievable flaw in Spiegel’s promotion. He sits confidently in his chair and comforts us into believing his new form of advertising is the best way to reach consumers. The site surrounds the video with numerous exciting facts pointing to the formats legitimacy. It is a great advertising pitch for the next stage of vertical-based video advertising. So why did he sell it in a 16:9 video? It is a fact that could be easily missed because we are so used to viewing video online in those dimensions but if Spiegel truly believed the strength of his new model, then surely he should have promoted it in the form it exists in. You don’t pitch BMW sales from the front seat of a Mercedes.

So what exactly is 3V advertising? Well Spiegel describes it as being “Vertical, Video, Views”. The “vertical” in this case is the portrait style of video that is viewable when holding your smartphone in one hand the same way you would when making a call. The “video” part is clearly relating to the fact that all the advertisements are videos but it is with the “view” tag that the message gets muddled. Spiegel’s odd reasoning for using the word “view” is that Snapchats video function is the only video style that fills the entire screens view when held vertical. The concept works, but with a stretch of logic.

Spiegel definitely makes bold claims with regards the potential his new 3V model has but he backs them up with seemingly strong stats. The site highlights that the rate at which videos are being viewed vertically has steadily increased since 2011, having grown from an average 30mins per day viewership number to 180mins. In the meantime, horizontal screens have plateaued around 450 minutes a day for the past half a decade. There are hints here that vertical screen usage will inevitably catch up with the traditional method of viewership. It is a strong basis for an argument as to his new platforms authenticity but it is also one conveniently tagged with missable fine print that on closer inspection highlights Spiegel’s definition of vertical viewership: all mobile users. That’s right, Spiegel has conveniently designated all smartphone video use as being vertical, bloating the stat in his favour.

The trouble with the presentation of the 3V concept is that it contains excellent stats that paint a strong picture for Snapchat as an advertising platform in general. They boast numbers such as 60% of people aged between 13 and 34 who own a smartphone in the US are Snapchatters. Their platform has over 2 billion video views every day with over 100 million active users daily. They even have 37% of all US citizens aged between 18 and 24, a notoriously hard demographic to reach. These numbers are strong enough to sell advertisers on the platform, outside of the extortionate asking price of course. Ultimately pushing 3V doesn’t seem necessary because in the end they aren’t going to steal advertising from other platforms because it doesn’t make any creative sense to focus on the app.

What it boils down to from a creative perspective is the constraints inherent in building for vertical video advertising. Marketers would need to either completely reconstruct existing creative or build new, vibrant creative exclusively for Snapchat. The reason for this is simple: there is a big psychological shift in vertical video making. The reason this form of content creation works well for Snapchat is because it feels intimate. The closed in video feels like you are a part of the users life as they have shared with you a very focused part of their day. Granted this could work well for certain brands who want to promote intimate moments and a personal touch. I could imagine a company such as Dove utilising it well, possibly with their real beauty sketches campaign, taking advantage of the empathy that the video format can give. This format does not immediately work for a lot of brands though. It would be hard to imagine a BMW advertisement on a vertical screen or Nike choosing to sell their latest trainers in such a constricting way. This is because the truth of vertical video is that it is claustrophobic, while the traditional widescreen nature of horizontal can feel epic even on the small screen of your mobile. Horizontal composition also allows the video room to breathe, freeing creative up to tell whatever story they want, and more importantly one that is universal across the infinite number of devices in today’s connected world.

In the end the worst aspect of the 3V model for Snapchat is that it feels like an unnecessary middle ground, designed to keep the platform pure instead of making it advertising-friendly, which brings everything back to the monetisation problem the platform has had from day one. So obsessed is Evan Spiegel with avoiding the wrath of his audience that he has made it a niche platform for marketers. Not only is the cost to advertise on it expensive but the uniqueness of their video restrictions means any content made for it is for it and it alone. Even taking into account the fact that their claims are backed by strong stats and that they boast such incredible numbers in a notoriously hard to reach demographic, ultimately their unwillingness to be malleable could make it hard for advertisers to justify targeting their platform.

Aiden O’Brien is part of our Creative team here at CKSK

By Ciaran, Jul 2015