Everything You Need to Know About Advertising on Snapchat

by Ovative Group
February 10, 2016

What’s inside?


Although only offered as a mobile app, Snapchat reached the 100 million active-user mark in just 4 years. The social app exploded in 2015 with roughly 6 Billion mobile videos views per day. For comparison, Facebook boasts 8 billion video views across mobile and desktop.

While broad audience reach is Snapchat’s current strength, it is focusing on increased targeting options for its primary audience – the highly-coveted millennials. This mix of millennials and mobile devices positions Snapchat to capitalize on two major pain points for advertisers. As Snapchat has gained more popularity, the number of non-millennials is also skyrocketing.

This post explores the unique opportunities for advertisers as Snapchat continues its meteoric rise in the social media space.

The Basics of the Snapchat Platform

Who are Snapchat Users?

Snapchat has enormous reach with over 100 million “daily active” Snapchat users watching between 5 and 6 billion videos every day. This makes up 60% of 13-34 year-olds in the US using Snapchat. The graph below breaks out Snapchat’s users by age group, the biggest being 18-24 year-olds.

demographics of snapchat - monthly usership


How does Snapchat’s scale compare to other properties?

Based on the US estimates, Snapchat has 2.5-3MM daily video views while Facebook has 1.5 – 3MM.

  • 5% of active Facebook users are outside the US and Canada but we know video consumption may be lower in certain markets so we’ve factored an estimated range.
PlatformDaily Global Active Users (Millions)Daily Video ViewsAvg. daily Views per User
Snapchat1100+5-6 Billion (mobile only)50-60
Facebook21,010 (894 mobile)8 Billion (desktop+mobile)8
Twitter3150 (est.)N/AN/A
YouTube41,000+ (overall)8+ billion (desktop and mobile)8+

How does Snapchat work?

Snapchat is a mobile-only social media platform focuses exclusively on sharing pictures and videos in very short (1-10 second) clips referred to as “snapchats” or “snaps” for short that disappear after being viewed.

The two basic ways to share Snapchats are:

  1. Individual messages – In a format similar to text messaging, individual messages are sent directly from one person to another. These are private messages and disappear right after being viewed.
  2. “Snap Stories” – A personal “news feed” of Snapchats from an individual person that is automatically shared with all that person’s friends. Users add pictures/videos one by one to create a stream of Snapchats. These are viewable for 24 hours after being posted.

What is Snapchat Discover?

Snapchat defines Discover as, “curated editions of stories by top publishers” within Snapchat.  Publishers post short-form content within their channel which are typically videos or articles but can also include quizzes, photo displays and animation.

Current publisher content is heavily focused on video.  Most of the initial assets highlight video or rich media in the teaser even if the full content is static.  All of Discover’s content gets refreshed daily, with yesterday’s news gone forever.

Ad space within specific channels is purchased directly through the channels advertising department, while advertising across a full vertical can be purchased through Snapchat.

snapchat discover vs snapchat stories

Snapchat has partnered with a variety of publishers across verticals such as news, entertainment/lifestyle and sports.

Current publishers include BuzzFeed, Mashable, Food Network, Tastemade, ESPN, IGN, Sweet, Vice, Wall Street Journal, Fusion, People, Daily Mail, Refinery29, National Geographic, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, CNN, Vox and iHeartRadio

Wall Street Journal is the newest addition, launching on their channel 1.6.  They promoted it across their other social media channels

As the platform continues to develop, there will be a need for Snapchat, publishers and users to have additional capabilities for Discover.

The growing number of publishers participating will dilute share of voice for each individual publisher.  Competition for user penetration will decrease and create a certain amount of channel blindness.

Unless the user has the ability to customize their own personal Discover feature, publishers have a means to promote their own presence within the platform or bring their content more into the updates or stories format beyond the Discover section / logo, there will be potential challenges for partners.

Could a publisher or brand still create a regular username?

Yes.  It’s free to create an account and username, however the experience is limited to the standard user experience.  It also requires promotion of presence through other owned channel media since there is no in-app capability for discovery or friend recommendation mechanism outside of a user searching.

What’s going on with product experience?

User-experience has always been at the forefront of concern for Snapchat, which is part of the reason that their ad platform has been slow launch and has had limited capabilities.

After the introduction of Live Stories in 2014, the platform has been steadily releasing a stream of features that allow users to enhance their content generation and consumption.

A few of these experiences include:

  • Augmented Reality: Allows users to overlay digital features on their Snapchats in real time. Popular adaptations of this feature include putting fake mustaches or having rainbows come out of people mouths. These features have been wildly popular and have even gone viral across other social media platforms.
  • Explore Story: A new feature for Live Stories, Explore allows users to delve deeper into similar snaps about a particular part of a Live Story. For example, If Taylor Swift were to…fall off the stage at a concert… you would be able to see that in the Live Story. Explore allows you to “swipe up” on Taylor’s graceful move and see all of the Snapchats users posted of her falling from different angles. As of December 2015, ads are not placed in the Explore feature specifically.

snapchat lenses feature

What’s going on with Snapchat Privacy?

Snapchat recently revised their terms and conditions, and some of the language in the new terms spooked users based on language surrounding Snapchat’s ability to save messages posted to users Snap Stories.

This is in sharp contrast to Snapchat’s initial value to users, which was “delete is our default” in reference to message disappearing after being viewed.

In a blog post responding to the backlash, Snapchat clarified that messages sent between people directly remain private. Because Snap Stories remain live for 24 hours and content for live stories is hand-curated, Snapchat had to add this language to the new terms.

According to the post, other platforms, like Instagram, have the same abilities to store and re-use user-generated content. No data has been released, but the impact on Snapchat’s user base seems to be limited.

On the opposite end of the spectrum for this same set of terms and conditions, many users praised Snapchat for not using “legalese” in the policy and clearly stating their policies.

In the policy they directly tell users, “…the same common sense that applies to the internet at large applies to snapchat as well: Don’t send messages that you wouldn’t want someone to save.”

What is the state of ownership?

Rumors of an IPO started circulating after the CEO stated this specifically as a goal last year at a tech conference and the company hired Imran Khan, who led Alibaba’s IPO, as Chief Strategy Officer.

Snapchat has been very successful raising capital from with a total of $1.2 billion in 8 rounds of equity funding. They also turned down offers of $3 billion and $4 billion from Facebook and Alphabet (Google), respectively.

Obviously, driving revenue generation is key for a successful IPO. Because advertising is a key revenue driver, Snapchat is expected to continue expanding their ad platform, and several source have recently reported that Snapchat is working on launching an API. This would allow 3rd party platforms to buy ad placements in Snapchat following the model set by Facebook and Twitter.

Snapchat’s Advertising Capabilities

What are the current opportunities?

The advertising options are designed for branding and have limited engagement opportunity as they don’t allow the user to click out of the app.  They are built around the Snap Story format and are very transparently labeled as sponsored content.

Currently, no ads are shown in-stream with content generated by individuals on their own Snap Stories.  Snapchat will be rolling out additional ad capabilities in 2016, so we expect to see new opportunities consistently released.

What ad units can I run?

Snapchat refers to their ads as “3V”, which stands for Vertical Video Views.

  • Vertical: Snapchat is mobile only so all ads are vertical to best fit the screen.
  • Video: Video is the logical format for branding campaigns (Snapchat’s strength) and fits more seamlessly into content.
  • Views: All ads are 100% viewable and views are basically the only performance metric Snapchat measures. Users cannot click through ads at all but they can include a url within the image. They can share them, but Snapchat has not disclosed any metrics around this feature.

snapchat ad formats and dimensions horizontal video

Where do they run?

  • Discover Channel – Shown at the top of the “SnapStories” tab and as a separate page.
  • The closest thing to a brand “page” on Snapchat
  • Content driven strategy – using a combination of stories, video, and photo content that must be refreshed daily.
  • Can be “Presented” by someone – appears to be a fixed placement agreed upon between the advertiser and publisher
  • 3rd party ads are locked in place between stories or media content generated by the publisher who owns the channel. This means that if users scroll past the ad, they can scroll back and see it again. Ads CAN be skipped with a tap of the screen.
  • Live Stories – Typically revolving around a specific place (UMN Campus, Minneapolis, etc.) or event (Packers vs. Vikings, Fashion shows, Sunday Brunch). Appear in the top line of the “Snap Stories” tab
  • Content is consumer generated, but hand-curated by Snapchat before appearing in the story.
  • Video ads ONLY appear in between user-generated snaps and CAN be skipped with a tap of the screen.
  • Live Stories are only viewable roughly 24 hours after the start of the event (varies on the type of event)

how to open or view snapchat stories


  • Additional opportunities
    • Sponsoring content or channels – includes a banner noting the sponsorship as the user enters the channel as well as 3V ads throughout the channel
    • Sponsoring filters and lenses – includes branded filters users can add to their photo and video snaps

What kind of targeting is offered?

Snapchat’s targeting capabilities are limited, but likely to expand rapidly as early as Q2 2016. The three targeting capabilities Snapchat currently offers are:

  • Contextual: Advertisers can hand-select which Live Stories and Discover Channels they want to appear on. You can also buy “bundles” that group together related channels (such as “World News & Culture”)
  • Gender
  • Location: Granularity can change, but they’ve recently rolled out radius targeting
  • In a mixture of the three, advertisers can also use individual influencers, similar to bloggers and other social media platforms, to increase exposure and screen time, but the number of popular snapchat influencers is still relatively small.

Launching an API, which the company has plans to do as soon as Q2 20165, would greatly expand Snapchat’s interest-based targeting capabilities based on:

  • Prior viewing behavior on existing Discover Channels: This would be the easiest to implement with the addition of an API, so it is possible this targeting would be available by Q2.
  • Off-App Web Browsing & Search History: Similar to other programmatic offers, this would add targeting capabilities based on web browsing behavior on mobile and possibly desktop browser.

What are other advertisers doing?

  • Advertisers like Target have taken advantage of the new radius targeting to target their store locations.  Target is currently running a bullseye filter to users accessing the app within their stores.
  • Best Buy has purchased takeovers within specific Discovery Channels, such as Food Network
  • Sleep Number sponsored the Mashable Discovery channel, which included a static image noting the sponsorship and video ads throughout the Mashable content
  • com ran 10-second 3V video ads within College Graduation Live Stories to reach new graduates
  • The movies and entertainment industry has heavily leverage Snapchat
    • To promote the launch for Furious 7, Universal ran 10-second 3V video ads within the Ultra Music Festival Live Story
    • Sisters ran video ads within Discover and Live Stories


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