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Media Future of Media Snapchat

Snapchat Spotlight explored: ‘A clear departure from its origins’

By Natalie Carder |

November 30, 2020 | 5 min read

Natalie Carder, head of paid social at Zenith, explores what Snapchat’s latest entertainment offering – Spotlight – means for marketers.


On the surface, Spotlight looks uncannily like TikTok’s For You feed; videos are full-screen with sound-on, in an infinitely scrollable vertical stream. But there are some subtle differences and media buyers should take note.

For Snapchatters in 11 eligible countries, Spotlight offers a new, dedicated space to consume content from creators and the broader Snapchat community. Spotlight sits behind a new play icon in the bottom right corner of the app. Users discover Snaps (short, vertical videos) by scrolling up through the feed, or by tapping hashtags to explore #topics included in Spotlights to see similar Snaps.

Snapchat is incentivising users to submit Snaps to Spotlight by making shares of $1m a day available in earnings, at least until the end of 2020. However, content creation is already an inherent behaviour on Snapchat; the app opens on the camera and according to Snapchat, over 4 billion Snaps are created and sent each day. Expectedly, Spotlight feels like a natural extension of user Stories; video content captures fun, authentic, real-life moments and Snaps integrate existing creative tools like AR lenses, captions and GIFs.

The significance of Spotlight for Snapchat and its users is the public nature of content creation and sharing. Spotlight represents a clear departure from the platform’s origins of intimate communication with real friends. This diversification of functionality builds on a growing user behaviour trend: according to Snapchat, Discover content (human-curated content from premium news and entertainment publishers) has seen over four consecutive quarters of high growth in time spent, increasing 50% between Q2 and Q3 2020. Evidently, Snapchatters are looking to be entertained by content from new sources and Spotlight offers this. In launching Spotlight, Snapchat has another means to keep their community of 249 million daily active users engaged and a new way to attract content creators.

Though not quite as timely as the release of Reels, Instagram’s similar copycat product, Snapchat’s launch of Spotlight follows recent months of controversial attempts by the Trump administration to ban TikTok in the US, a market in which both Snapchat and TikTok have over 100 million users. The fact that TikTok’s second executive order was overthrown by a lawsuit brought by creators themselves demonstrates the significance of the platform for empowering creators to do business. Prior to Spotlight, Snapchat did not have an easy route for creators to reach new audiences and earn an income.

Does Spotlight pose a threat to TikTok? Time will tell, but Snapchat will need to make up a lot of ground if they are to rival TikTok’s For You feed, from two respects. First, the music, which was embedded in TikTok from the start, helped the app to gain the attention of the music industry and general public alike, after catapulting new artists to fame and enabling old tracks to reach wider, younger audiences via viral dances and challenges. Similar to TikTok, Snapchatters can create Snaps that integrate music from Snapchat’s featured Sounds or as recorded audio via the integration in the Camera. At this stage though, the selection of Sounds is limited in comparison to TikTok’s extensive music library, which is bolstered by global licensing partnerships.

Secondly, and perhaps harder for Snapchat to navigate, a key element of TikTok’s success is its ability to birth popular memes, at scale and at speed, via its Hashtag Challenges. Not only does this explicitly invite user participation, but the nature of the challenge inspires creativity, while uniting the community around a shared track, dance or joke. Snapchat doesn’t have this functionality, and will have to offer something quite original in order to differentiate Spotlight.

Of note to brands, Snapchat Spotlights can be liked or sent directly between friends or within groups, but in line with Snapchat’s other products, there is no public comment functionality. Though this limits community interaction for creators, this will undoubtedly prove appealing to brands; removing both the potential brand safety risk as well as the need for comment moderation resource.

Snapchat has not yet released information about advertising opportunities in Spotlight, but a likely monetisation route would be in-feed ad placements, which would offer brands an easy way to expand the reach and frequency of their Snap Ads, beyond User Stories and Discover.

Additionally, the integration of AR lenses into Spotlight videos also suggests new earned reach potential for Sponsored Lenses, and perhaps new lens ad placements. With this in mind, brands could consider partnering with creators to boost reach and engagement with Sponsored Lenses in Spotlight, and also consider how lens design might inspire participation in Spotlight, for example, via gamification.

Crucially though, the opportunity for brands will boil down to the audience reach opportunity and the maturity of the ads offering. Snapchat already has options to suit every type of media buy – from flexible and quick-creation auction campaigns, to high-reach reservation buying models of self-serve Reach & Frequency, Snap Select (fixed CPM), and First Commercial. This puts them in a good place to make advertising in Spotlight attractive to brands, provided Spotlight takes off among Snapchatters. The incentive of earnings hopefully provides a good kick-start.

Natalie Carder is head of paid social at Zenith.

Media Future of Media Snapchat

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