Snapchat adopts Facebook-style ad targeting like email, mobile device matching

3 Oct

Snapchat is rolling out new ad targeting options that challenge its anti-creepy advertising stance and could be used to execute the type of retargeting that Snapchat really doesn’t like.

Snapchat is beginning to let brands aim their ads at the mobile app’s daily audience of 150 million, based on those people’s email addresses and the unique advertising identifiers attached to their phones, as well as to people who share characteristics with that defined audience. And more old-school advertisers will now be able to target ads based on content-based audience categories, like people who are into gaming, music, sports, beauty or technology.

The three new ad targeting options — Snap Audience Match, Lookalikes and Snapchat Lifestyle Categories — will be available for anywhere its vertical video Snap Ads can run, such as in between people’s Stories, within Live Stories or within Discover channels. But advertisers will not be able to use them to target their sponsored lens or sponsored geofilter campaigns. And while most brands should now be able to use the customer-matching and lookalike-targeting options, the ability to target audiences based on the categories of content they check out won’t be broadly available until later this fall.

If you’re someone who uses Snapchat but doesn’t want brands to be able to advertise to you based on your email address and the mobile advertising ID attached to your smartphone, you’re in a tough position. Snapchat plans to add a way for people to opt out of that type of targeting, but it’s unclear how soon that will be made available, while brands are already able to target their ads that way. Until then, the only ways to evade this level of targeting are either to constantly go into your phone’s settings menu to reset the advertising ID and change the email address tied to your Snapchat account or to stop using Snapchat until the opt-out is made available.

That Snapchat is adopting this more data-intensive ad targeting shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to people (at least not to those who caught Snapchat’s policy changes earlier this year). Sure, Snapchat has often implied that it thinks targeted ads are creepy ads. But that was before the money started rolling in. The more targeted an ad can be — especially if it can be targeted based on solid data like someone’s email address — the more money advertisers are willing to pay for that ad.

Snapchat would probably describe its ad-targeting options as not creepy because it’s not — or at least not right now — adopting the type of targeting that tracks what people do outside of Snapchat and targets them with ads on Snapchat based on that activity. But that doesn’t mean advertisers couldn’t execute that type of retargeting on Snapchat thanks to the new options.

For example, if someone visits a retailer’s site while logged in using the same email address that’s attached to their Snapchat account, that retailer could log what products that person checks out but doesn’t buy, add them to a list of other logged-in visitors who checked out those products, and then buy ads on Snapchat targeting those email addresses with ads that feature those products. It’s not an easy way to retarget people or one that has Snapchat directly facilitating the retargeting by putting a tag on advertisers’ sites to automatically track that behavior on their behalf. But it’s still retargeting, and it wasn’t possible on Snapchat before the new email-matching targeting option was introduced.

This isn’t Snapchat’s first foray into ad targeting. Brands have already been able to aim ads based on their desired audience’s age, gender, location, what mobile device or operating system they’re using, who their wireless carrier is and which Discover channel(s) or Live Story they’re checking out. But those were much more basic targeting options compared to what Snapchat’s rolling out now.

But Snapchat isn’t rolling out anything new to the industry. The company is following the ad-targeting playbook popularized by, if not written by, Facebook and already adopted by other major ad-supported digital platforms like Google, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. By now, this is what companies that have large numbers of authenticated users do in order to compete for brands’ ad budgets.

“In the early days of Internet advertising, marketers relied on things like targeting to help differentiate ad products that weren’t very engaging,” Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel said in a company video released in June 2015 that touted its vertical video ads to marketers.

With its innovative ad formats like vertical video ads and sponsored filters and lenses, Snapchat has differentiated itself. With its new targeting options, it’s simply following suit.

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