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Snap talks up ‘privacy by design’ model as TikTok circles its audience


By Imogen Watson, Senior reporter

September 10, 2020 | 7 min read

While 2020 has been a nightmare year for some of its competitors, Snapchat’s decision to privacy proof its platform from the outset is fast becoming its main strength. Here, Snap’s European general manager Ed Couchman shares how the platform is weathering the pandemic, why he thinks Gen Z is critical to recovery and just how wary he is of TikTok.

Snapchat's general manager Ed Couchman discusses the app's road to recovery

Snapchat's general manager Ed Couchman discusses the app's road to recovery

2020 has been a momentous year for social media platforms.

Beyond the pandemic wreaking havoc, Facebook has faced a brand boycott, a monopoly probe from a vigilant US Congress and sustained pressure concerning its political ads ahead of the US presidential elections.

Newcomer TikTok, meanwhile, faces a fight for its very future. Its ability to operate in the US has been under attack, with the US president citing national security concerns. And in India, the government has banned the app altogether, calling it a ’danger to the country’.

So as its main competitors work through their problems, Snapchat has been priding itself on privacy.

”We’ve seen brands take a more thoughtful, careful approach to social,” explains Ed Couchman, general manager DACH, Netherlands, Nordics and the UK. ”Essentially they’ve been asking, what makes Snap different? And it’s given us an opportunity to talk about how Snapchat’s been privacy by design, where all communications and messages are ’delete by default’.”

Indeed, in July’s earnings call, its parent company Snap said the ongoing advertising boycott against Facebook has ”opened the door” to advertisers that wouldn’t usually spend on the platform.

Chief business officer Jeremi Gorman said at the time that though it was difficult to determine the exact impact of the ‘Stop Hate For Profit’ campaign (which saw advertisers pull spend for the month of July to put pressure on Facebook to change its hate speech policies), it had led to conversations with high-level execs at brands.

”It’s tricky for me to comment on [Facebook’s] business, but what I would say is that interest in our business has grown,” Couchman says. ”It’s been an opportunity to talk more about Snap, and essentially why we’re different.”

Despite the pandemic, Snap generated $454.2m in revenue for the three months from April to June, marking a 17% year-on-year increase. And after a difficult year like no other, Couchman says ad sales are finally picking up again after growing at a weak rate in the second quarter.

”During the pandemic, we saw interest from digital direct-to-consumer brands, digital fulfillment and online services, like food delivery brands and food kits. And if you fast-forward to where we are now, we’ve seen pretty much all our traditional advertisers come back into the platform. Saying ’business as usual’ is a bit overstating it, but essentially all major categories are back advertising on the platform.”

But though business may be on the up, Snapchat’s chief financial officer Derek Anderson has warned that uncertainty around events like the back-to-school season and the limited operations of sports leagues could make for headwinds in Q3.

”It is an ongoing time of uncertainty and no one can sadly see into the future,” Couchman acknowledges. ”But what we’ve seen from the majority of our advertising partners is a willingness to get back on the platform. When the Premier League kicked off again, we saw a large amount of activity from brands we wouldn't expect to associate themselves with football necessarily.”

While most physical events have taken a lengthy hiatus, Couchman says Snapchat has benefited greatly from the emergence of other digital channels, like the Disney+ launch. ”There’s some agility and versatility with digital platforms. That means brands can weigh up and down weigh really quickly. I think some traditional media channels struggle with that agility. We know that people are spending more time on their phones and on digital channels.”

As Snap looks to recover its lost ad spend, in July it debuted its first brand-facing campaign: ’Meet the Snapchat Generation’. Couchman says the campaign was a pitch to brands, to stress that the ’Snapchat Generation’ of Gen Z will play an important role in post-Covid recovery. ”They’re more resilient to the virus. We’re optimistic that they'll have a really positive impact in helping the whole world get back on its feet.”

Part of this pitch to reclaim lost ad spend has seen Snapchat commission research with Kantar to analyse the speed with which people of different ages watch content on social media and the extent to which they recall it.

Released today (10 September) it found 59% of Gen Z correctly recall the advertiser they saw, compared to 57% of millenials and 47% for Gen X. Further, over half of Gen Z (55%) who watched a skippable video ad for less than two seconds correctly remembered it, which was more than double the rate (26%) of research participants in the Gen X and baby boomer generation.

While ’Meet the Snapchat Generation’ was its first definitive pitch to business, it closely followed TikTok’s ’Don't Make Ads, Make TikToks’ campaign. After experiencing a boom during lockdown, the short-form video app finally took a concrete step in making its platform more accessible to brands.

While Snapchat has been on the social scene for longer, TikTok encroached on the already crowded space. A recently published IPA Touchpoints study has found that the app doubled its reach from 14% to 30% in the UK during lockdown. But according to reports, uncertainty over TikTok’s future provided a big boost for Snapchat in August, with 28.5m new installs. Is Snapchat wary of the competition?

”I’m not sure if it is a competitor,” Couchman claims. ”It always feels quite binary, is it one platform or the other? What we really focus on is Snap and how unique it is. We now reach 18 million people in the UK, with people using it every day to communicate with their best friends or to creating wonderful stuff with AR.”

As Snapchat looks to 2021, like all other business the uncertainty of the pandemic will be a constant threat. Yet, while it’s been a year like no other, the lessons it’s learnt will carry it as it travels to destination unknown.


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