Vox Pop: is a new-look Snapchat the right way forward? (Part 1)

This content is produced by a member of The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

Snapchat's plans to overhaul its primary app with the intention of making it more intuitive for users, comes after reports of serious losses due to a shift to programmatic advertising.

The Drum Network asks if a new-look app is the right way forward to bolster sales and widen its appeal, or if it is at risk of driving away its current audience.

Here's what some of our agencies had to say:

Dan Deeks-Osburn, strategy director, Impero

I couldn’t be happier to hear that as Snapchat leans heavier on programmatic delivery, its value as a communication tool erodes. The obsession with precise targeting and programmatic delivery is the great sickness rotting away at the heart of industry. It seems like since things became perma-tough in 2008, brands have been stuck in an endless cycle of growing KPIs, shrinking budgets, and ever-increasing stakeholders demanding ever greater returns. It feels like a safer bet to send customised ads to a targeted audience who (hypothetically) already care about your product in the first place, avoiding the wastage of reaching people who aren’t interested at this moment. But it’s precisely this ‘waste’ that builds brands. Brand advertising with a huge reach doesn't only focus on people who are interested in your product right now, but also taps into the huge audience who could want or need your product in the future. People don’t know what they want until they’re told what they want, and it’s our job as marketers to tell them. Snapchat was compelling to marketers because it was an innovative service with great creative formats ideally suited to a young audience. If Snapchat focuses on building a creative space for having conversations in exciting ways that consumers want to engage with, it’ll be on to a winner for users and brands who want to invest in creative marketing. If it sticks with its programmatic approach, the app will eventually become as ignorable as a banner ad.

Dave Nicoll, social media manager, Run2

It sounds like a terrible idea. Snapchat continues to see huge growth with 12-17 year olds which is an audience other social networks struggle with. The reason these younger users love it is exactly because it isn't very intuitive and therefore it hasn't been invaded by parents etc unlike other social networks, for example, Facebook and Twitter. It's likely that through the process of attracting a larger user base with a simpler app, it will drive away its primary audience who are hugely active on the platform.

Laura Collins, head of paid social, Merkle|Periscopix

This is a risk Snap has to take. Since its IPO in March, its story has rapidly turned from a tech fairytale into a tragedy, and drastic action needs to be taken. It’s having trouble dispelling common conceptions about the platform: it’s too expensive to advertise on, and only teens use it. The first has been addressed by its move to programmatic advertising and the removal of minimum spend requirements, but to grow its older user base, changes to the app itself are vital. Time will tell if those changes alienate current users…but no guts, no glory.

Kris Boorman, digital marketing blogger, Sagittarius

Oh boy. Snapchat. A fun app, once I can figure out how to blimmin’ use it. This isn’t a ‘grandma programming the VCR’ thing, age isn't the issue. The barrier is the shit UI. I’ve just got no patience for it. At this point, it might be too great a risk to spend time on overhauling the app, but if it had recognised the need for that overhaul, and taken steps to improve it before spending so much money on advertising (regardless of the method), it needn’t have been such a gamble. To be blunt: programmatic isn’t the issue, Snapchat is.

Jess Geary, account director, Rapp UK

Watching Snapchat’s crisis of confidence is like watching a talented young popstar veering off the rails. Its captive audience is categorically the hardest to reach, as the potent combination of tech-savviness and ethical sensitivity means that the 18-24 year olds drive the penetration of adblockers the world over. Therefore, Snapchat’s shift to programmatic and sponsored content, away from human-curated ad moments is bound to be the death knell for these ad-intolerant, perceptive engagers. Re-designing the platform so that it can be another app that your embarrassing parents stalk you on may be a way to grow revenue, but you will lose a valuable, progressive audience in the process.

Steve Wilkins, head of content strategy, BWP Group

Risky? Yes. However, history has shown us that the social media networks that fail to adapt to change or take risks, usually fall by the wayside. Think back to the early days of social networking; Friendster, Myspace. Despite their early successes and growth, they failed to adapt to the wants and needs of their users and remain ascendant or relevant. As a 35-year-old android user myself, I will be interested to see if it can both target and woo me with its new-look Snapchat app, as tapping into this demographic could be significant in it bolstering sales. Jury's out.

Lucy Cunningham, head of mobile, Roast

With the rising shift in programmatic many publishers have adopted this model successfully, however very premium placements, as Snapchat would consider itself to be, tend not to always reap the commercial reward. It has seen this, and it will be a good lesson for other publishers who are looking to go 100% programmatic in rejigging their proposition and educating the market going forward. I would expect to see Snapchat revert back to programmatic, as larger publishing houses aim for an increase in programmatic buys, but can understand its decision in the short term. It will be interesting to see if programmatic was the problem or if it's Snapchat's overall proposition that needs looking at.

Brian Williamson, senior strategist, Critical Mass

It’s risky but necessary. It must grow to meet investor expectations, and to grow it must be accessible for more people. The question is, can Snapchat design for scale and still do what it does best? Young people like it. Content publishers like it. Facebook’s struggle with those groups is arguably its biggest weakness. Snap has been criticised for not emulating Facebook’s quantitative approach, but it’s clear that approach has its own consequences.Users will dislike the redesign for at least the first month, but if it preserves its core appeal, they will return. It’s a risk they must take.

Click here to see part 2 of this Vox Pop.