Snapchat’s UK boss has said he is "flabbergasted" that many advertising chiefs don’t use the messaging app and suggested they are out of touch with its core audience of 13- to 34-year-olds.
Ed Couchman, who joined as UK general manager of Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, in July 2018, promised the company will be more open as it seeks to engage chief marketing officers, agency leaders and creative directors.
He told Campaign in an interview in Snap’s Soho offices: "The thing I get asked most is: ‘What’s Snap?’ I am a little flabbergasted at the question.
"We have 15.5 million people [in the UK a month] on the platform, with incredible reach with 13- to 34-year-olds, which are very important audiences for advertisers, and I am flabbergasted that those agency heads, ECDs and clients aren’t on Snap.
"You can’t do your job properly if you’re not on the most important platform for 13- to 34-year-olds who live and breathe it."
Snap said last year that it reached three-quarters of 13- to 34-year-old smartphone users a month in the UK, but it no longer discloses such figures.
Couchman, who is 43 and previously spent six years at Facebook in the UK, has been meeting industry leaders to explain how Snapchat works and the importance of "camera marketing" – what he calls a new way of communicating because the app opens to the camera.
"We’ve got to do a better job of reminding people just how important this platform is to 13- to 34-year-olds – and senior agency leadership is probably a little bit older than 34," he says.
"I’m taken aback that they just don’t get it. I think you have to be on Snap to get it and then you fall in love with it."
Couchman, who recently gave a Snapchat lesson to some of Campaign’s editorial team, says: "I really want to get the industry on Snap. If anyone wants a hand to get on Snap and to show them the magic of Snap, I am always available."
His approach reflects a wider recognition inside Snap that it needs to be more proactive in courting advertisers and growing its global audience, which is flat at 186 million daily active users.
Evan Spiegel, the founder and global chief executive, said on Snap’s fourth-quarter earnings call earlier this month that "explaining our core product value to customers everywhere" is a key area of focus.
Couchman describes 13- to 34-year-olds as "camera natives" and says they have a "totally different" approach to communications, marking as big a change as the move from press to TV or from film to digital.
"For them, the camera is Snap," he says, referring to under-34s with smartphones. "You pull out your phone and it opens to Snap and that very much opens onto the moment – 'What am I doing now?’
"I’m not [opening] into a feed, which is ‘What else is going in the world?’, but it’s ‘What is going on with me?’, and that means you are creating stuff straight away.
"One of the big differences with our platform is 60% of users create content on Snap – a video or a photo or a filter with dog ears – every day. That is very, very different [from other social media platforms]."
So "I’m running late" becomes "a three-second video", Couchman explains: "That is a much more expressive canvas, which is a great creative canvas for advertisers."
Couchman concedes some older people might struggle to use Snapchat because they don’t find it intuitive. "Understanding that takes a little while unless you are aged between 13 to 34 and are a camera native," he says.
He insists the Snapchat user experience itself is not the problem: "There are 15.5 million people on the platform [in the UK] and, every single day, 60% of them are creating Snaps. So if we’re saying the problem is Snap, [in fact] the problem is people."
Agencies don’t get Snapchat
Couchman cites lots of examples of creative work that UK advertisers and agencies have been doing with Snapchat, often with an element of augmented reality.
Fanta’s "biggest ever" campaign for Halloween included Snapchat filters and lenses such as a ghoulish bat, pumpkin and creepy skull transformations.
Three’s "Puggerfly" let Snapchat users "Snap yourself silly" with unlimited data on the mobile phone network and featured butterfly wings to decorate photos on the app.
Most recently, Kabooki, the company behind Lego clothing, has launched a pop-up "clothes store with no clothes" in central London. It contains nothing except a Snapchat code on a plinth to promote a limited-edition Lego clothing line as visitors use their phone to shop via an "AR experience".
However, Couchman, who knows the agency sector well because he was director of agency partnerships at Facebook from 2014 to 2018, believes most creative and media agencies have failed to embrace camera marketing.
"Agencies that are going to get camera marketing and build out capabilities will win out in the long term and I don’t see anyone doing it yet," he says, although he sees "pockets and teams of good work".
Couchman name-checks social agency We Are Social, marketing tech outfit Byte London and production company Unit9 as rare players in the agency sector that are innovating on Snapchat in Europe.
It’s not that the UK or the rest of Europe is lagging, he says, insisting it’s a "myth" that the US is ahead of Britain when it comes to the creative use of tech.
The problem is too many agencies are creating horizontal videos that only take up a third of the phone screen, instead of vertical video, according to Couchman.
He suggests that more creatives need to think like Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, which used two cameras – one to shoot horizontally and another vertically – to make Guinness’ "Compton cowboys" campaign.
"We are really quite assertive – I think, strident – about telling the whole of the marketing community that camera natives are a really important group of people," Couchman says.
"They express and communicate themselves differently, and if you want to communicate with them and win in the long term, you need to understand camera marketing."
Most of the ad industry is still behaving "like the scene in Apollo 13" when the crew on the spaceship are running out of oxygen and "trying to put a square box into a round hole", he warns: "It’s time for them to stop."
Significantly, some of the advertisers that have been embracing Snapchat in recent quarters are performance brands that have been using it on a self-serve basis and getting immediate results.
What agencies think
Andrew Spurrier-Dawes, global digital director at MediaCom, says Snapchat has become a useful platform for some advertisers but does not agree that he is missing out if he does not use the app himself – even though he fits Couchman’s favoured 13-34 demographic.
"I don't need to add another platform to my life, and in work I can’t assume that just because there's an audience there, it’s right for every client," Spurrier-Dawes, a winner of Media Week 30 Under 30 in 2016 , says.
"However, as a professional, I have to take into account client, product, KPIs, audience and quality of surrounding content, and in the right plan we have seen Snap deliver excellent results across a range of metrics."
Simon Davis, chief executive of Blue 449, who is on Snapchat, is more supportive of Couchman’s view. "I agree with Ed," Davis said. "It’s an entirely valid media platform with large numbers of hard-to-reach audiences. It’s easily traded, with high visual impact and a strong contender for budgets for the right advertisers."
Nils Leonard, co-founder of Uncommon Creative Studio, also thinks Couchman is "completely right" about most senior advertising people not using Snapchat and missing out. "Yes, I have it. I also have three sons who have it," he says.
Uncommon used Snapchat to help Asos launch youth clothing brand Collusion in the autumn last year and Leonard says: "If you want a fast cut to Generation Z or whatever you call it, you’d be mad to ignore it."
However, Leonard cautions that the platform has limitations for advertisers and "none of it feels additive". He explains: "The temptation is to use it just like another poster site or digital film site. It still suffers – the same as any other targeted channel – as people feel pursued by advertising."
Snap opened a UK office at the end of 2015 when it recruited Claire Valoti, who was working with Couchman at Facebook. She subsequently went on to head international sales for Snap and her old colleague came to run the UK.
There are about 35 London sales staff who are part of a 140-strong UK team, which includes engineering and other functions.
Couchman has three ambitions in his new role: build a sustainable business, make camera marketing a "thing" and create "a moment" for his UK team when they will be able to look back and say their time at Snap "was the best time in my career".
Snap has had a reputation for being low-profile, even secretive, but Couchman believes it is now ready to "take its place in the advertising community".
The former Facebook executive went on: "I really detect a real need for a positive, optimistic voice from a tech company – that is absolutely our role [at Snap] to do that."
The Silicon Valley tech giants have come under fire over privacy, but he maintains Snap is different because messages vanish after they have been opened, users decide who sees their personal "story" feed and only approved publishers create content on the Discover platform.
"At the heart of the platform, essentially, is privacy," Couchman says. "People can control who sees what and how. That gives people a sense of safety, which makes it a much more fun platform."
Snap has had growing pains. The share price has halved since its 2017 stock market float, last year’s redesign backfired, Instagram has more users and has successfully mimicked one of Snapchat’s most popular features with its Stories function, and a string of senior Snap executives have exited.
Couchman accepts there have been challenges, but he is "very confident" about Snap’s long-term prospects.
"I do think we’re in the process of making a giant step forward and that’s all around the camera," he says. "Essentially, it’s about augmented reality and connected reality, and overlaying different information on the world around you to help you live your life, navigate where you are going and have fun at the same time and live in the moment."