Snapchat's global ad product boss Peter Sellis on AR, Amazon and that redesign

Sellis sat down with The Drum earlier this month for a Q&A / Snap Inc

We've only just entered April, yet already it's been a busy year for Snapchat on the advertising front. Here, The Drum catches up with Peter Sellis – the top exec behind the Venice Beach firm's burgeoning suite of ad products.

Investments in ad tech yielded a strong start to 2018 for Snapchat, helping increase traction with large and small businesses alike, while forecasts predicted that in the UK alone the app's ad revenues will surpass the £100m mark for the first time.

By the same token, the app has had to defend its controversial redesign, and questions too have been raised about the strength of its self-serve platform after alcohol giant Diageo froze spend, and a slot which appeared to make light of domestic violence found its way on to Discover.

As well as outlining Snapchat's e-commerce ambitions after a triumphant campaign with Nike, Snapchat's global director of product management Sellis discussed how Snap plans to lead the charge on augmented reality (AR) in a world where players like Amazon look to be getting in on the act, how Snap is assuaging advertisers about that redesign and more.

The condensed takeaways from the chat can be found below.

On where Snapchat's AR formats actually fit in to brand's media plans...

"[Lenses] absolutely started as a standalone big ticket item. Even in the UK it was over £100,000 for a single day, and that was partially due to the constraints of creation. It used to take eight weeks to create the storyboards and so on.

"Over time we've introduced more of the ability to use them however advertisers want. We merged our AR targeting with our ads targeting – so brands can use all the same targeting and optimisation and measurement they would for a classic campaign as they would for an AR one.

"That's where advertisers started to see it as an ad product, not just as a cool activiation. And when the results started to come back and they looked good, that's when we started to add things like Snap Ads that swipe up to the camera or Snap Codes and things like that. Over 2018 we'll continue to offer the buy models that advertisers expect from our AR models."

On how Snap will keep keep its AR crown despite potential competition coming from the likes of Amazon and Facebook...

"Staying on top of that is going to involve [Snap] investing in the consumer experience more, so that every day there are more relevant tools for our users that lowers the threshold to creativity.

"I do think that other applications, especially the likes of Amazon's, could absolutely approach AR from the utilitarian perspective and that could be very useful. But, when they want to get distribution for those assets, places like Snapchat will be the first place they'll look and I'm pretty excited about that."

On assuaging advertisers on the efficacy of Snapchat's self-serve platform after that controversial Rhianna and Chris Brown ad

"That one was obviously really unfortunate. That ad had no place on the platform, it should have never run and we admitted that mistake.

"When I think about self-serve and scaling the platform it is definitely in its early stages but ad review and quality are just something we have to continually invest in. Especially with all the headlines and the direction everything is going in, it's something we have to focus on."

On why the Snapchat's much-protested app redesign may be good news for advertisers looking to use the platform natively

"From an advertising perspective it's actually pretty exciting, not withstanding any of the criticisms or controversy around it.

"One of our issues early on was the 'jumbling' of users' stories from friends, with those from publishers and media and brands, which led us to eschew helping brands activate more organically on the platforms. There were some brands who achieved success with this but for the most part we made it fairly difficult; not intentionally, but we intentionally did not invest in it.

"The redesign eliminates that and will allow us to help brands learn about their audience on the platform organically. So we've already rolled out insights to our popular users, but a bunch of brands actually fell within that category including Victoria's Secrets, Red Bull and Taco Bell.

"So giving them access to these analytics is our first kind of acknowledgement that they can have a place organically on Snapchat now, which is going to be a big deal for the redesign."

On brand safety

"Our commitment to premium content - even when I joined I was not sure how valuable that would be - and two or three things over the last few years have shown that investment in our content has been a god send to our advertising business.

"In terms of brand safety, the degree to which Snapchat has a brand safe environment almost makes it look like we were anticipating this being an issue.

"Advertisers can specify whether they want to be shown against premium content only, but not in news. We were able to offer that in our self-serve tool within the first six months of launching."

On tapping into big cultural moments, like the 2018 World Cup

"In terms of concerns around viewability and adjacency and so on, being able to provide premium content opportunities around those is really exciting.

"The Rio Olympics was obviously huge and global, and that's great, the World Cup will be very similar. You'll see us invest in not just performance-orientated packages around that but adjacency packages, share of voice packages and more television-style buying. We've seen a lot of demand for that."

On how Snap now plans to appeal to a broader range of advertisers, including small businesses

"To ask for [small businesses'] money right off the bat is crazy, and there's so many effective solutions out there, including deal and local sites or social platforms - there's so much competition for their time and we have to focus on making Snapchat worth their time.

"We've some early initial successes there, particularly through some of our more local-orientated products because small businesses are not sophisticated when it comes to measurement - they don't have the time to do it. But, they see our products working and they see people in their own stores using Snapchat and that's why we're excited about the local side.

"The other aspect of small-medium businesses that I'm excited about it digital natives, the ones' whose business lives online. The most obvious ones are mobile app owners and we've invested a ton on making them successful on Snap."

Sellis' observations come just over a year since Snap went public. Here's what marketers think of Snapchat's place in the mix 12 months on.

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