Why Snapchat's next move could alienate Gen Z even more

If Snapchat launches unskippable 6-second ads, it would alienate 80% of its biggest user-base warns the founder and chief executive of Fanbytes.

It is no surprise that  Gen Z hate disruptive ads - brought up in a generation of short-form content and decreased attention spans due to so much content being consumed, it is this generation that have seen the massive rise of adblockers - their way of tuning out being disrupted by advertising. 

It’s this known aversion to disruptive advertising that makes the announcement of "Commercials"- unskippable 6-second ads on Snapchat even more surprising. For a platform like  Snapchat which has been built on the back of understanding the mind of the younger generation, this is a move that’s left many including me perplexed.

What are commercials?

Commercials, which Snap is testing out now, are set to be 6-second unstoppable ads which play in between dedicated  Snapchat shows on Discover. The placement of these ads is important and worth iterating, these unskippable ads are to be placed inside of Shows - programmes created by Snapchat partners like  Viacom and NBC Universal - and are not to show up alongside Discover content or between friends content. 

What is the logic behind the move?

The logic behind this makes sense for a number of reasons.

Firstly, with pressure to increase revenue, the idea is that this type of advertising will be able to command higher ad rates due to the higher watch time of 6-seconds.

Snap's latest results show a company under pressure. Even though its first-quarter revenue rose 54%, year-over-year, to $230.7m (£168.9m), the growth was below average analyst estimates of $244.5m, causing the company’s shares to drop nearly 19% Tuesday evening.

Secondly, as the ads are to be placed inside of premium shows, it is likely the ads will be equally premium resulting in the ability to demand higher fees.

Additionally, as Digiday reported 6/10 Snapchat users skip ads before the first second so the introduction of "commercials" plays a part in stopping them from being able to skip.

There is also some logic in the commercials being placed in their Snapchat shows format as consumers we are used to watching shows on YouTube and TV which are then interrupted by ads. Consequently, watching a TV show style format on Snapchat and having relatively long ads shouldn’t be too much of a behaviour change.

Could this format spread to other parts of Snap?

As with most new features on social media, one could argue that placing them in "Shows" is a test-bed for fully rolling out this ad format across Snapchat. The larger question, therefore, is whether this 6-second snap format is one that will take off were it to be introduced to the rest of Snapchat amongst friend’s stories and Discover.

Given our vantage point from managing large Snapchat Channels popular with 13-19-year-olds, we created a poll for our audience to get their reactions on what might happen if 6-second ads were to be introduced across Snapchat. 

A resounding 79% of the 8,000 people who entered the polls suggested that they will stop using Snapchat if they were to introduce commercials into friends stories. The other 21% said they will reduce their consumption considerably if the commercials format was to be introduced in friends’ stories.

This should set alarm bells ringing for Snapchat. In its latest results, its DAU numbers missed analyst expectations primarily due to the negative reaction of its userbase to its redesign.  

Interestingly, a number of responses alluded to this being like the mid-roll ads in Facebook which often caused them to simply stop watching the video.

This intuitively makes sense, people don’t go onto Snapchat to watch ads - they go to be entertained and create fun content.  Having to then watch a 6-second ad when ready to watch their friends content is not only going to irritate but also alienate consumers.

When news of ‘commercials" broke, many likened it to YouTube who themselves introduced 6-second unskippable ads at the beginning of certain videos suggesting that "commercials" could have the same financial success for Snapchat. 

This comparison fails to acknowledge the fact that lengths between videos on each of the platforms are very different with the maximum time of a snap being 10 seconds and the average video length on YouTube being 4 minutes. Having to watch an ad which equals 60% of the length of a snap is enough to drive people crazy. 

Moving from disruption to immersion

So if millennials and Gen Z are so vehemently against "Sticky ads" -then how can both brands and Snapchat themselves reach and monetize this audience sustainably? The answer to this is simple - don’t disrupt what people are interested in but rather be what people are interested in.

If Snapchat is an avenue for exploring your playful side and create fun experiences with your friends, then the role of the brand here is not to interrupt but rather to enable them to create the best content on there as possible. In helping them create content, they promote your brand too.

Snapchat have an advantage on this ahead of many other social platforms - mainly due to their strides in Augmented Reality. Anyone can now create lenses on Snapchat with a bit of creativity and design and in doing so can enable others to engage with their brand to new levels of immersion. All in an organic natural way - a case in point was the strategy employed with Deezer which saw 1m views of a lens in 24 hours through influencers.

Additionally, with the introduction of things like Snappables - Snapchat lenses which turn into games - there are extra opportunities to create content which resonates with today’s audience, adding to the content and not taking away.

Will 6-second ads catch on?

Most likely not. As the survey shows, users will be vehemently against ads becoming unskippable in their friends stories so Snapchat testing in a few exclusive "shows" is a wise decision. In the event that this was to be rolled out across Snapchat, I predict that a decrease in user engagement will cause the decision to be overturned and either be used exclusively for Shows or taken away altogether.

Timothy Armoo is chief executive and founder of Fanbytes

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