The Social Advertising Primer

April 28, 2016

With new, buzzworthy social media apps and sites making news online every day, it’s hard for brands to know what is worth their ad dollars … and which will drop off as quickly as they came into the zeitgeist. The following are four that have captured our and our clients’ attention as ones that brands should keep an eye on:



Snapchat started out with a … rough reputation back in September 2011 when the photo-­sharing app was introduced. At first, its premise of sending and/or receiving a picture that disappeared after a few seconds, never to be seen again, lead to it being known as a “sexting” app. As popularity grew, this stigma faded, and three years later sits solidly in the top 10 free social media apps for both Apple and Android phones – by May 2014, Snapchat reported that 700 million snaps are sent a day (the author estimates that 699 million are selfies).

Before October 2014, paid ads were not established on Snapchat, though brands, like McDonald's and Taco Bell, have utilized the service to send snaps to fans and users with public accounts. The downside to Snapchat advertising is that the majority of users use the app as intended and keep their settings of “Send Me Snaps” to private “My Friends” and not public “Everyone,” therefore cutting off the ability to receive snaps from these brands. As this makes available only a small audience, investing in Snapchat may just result in being lost and unseen by users who are using the app for the intended, private purpose.

However, Snapchat recently introduced ways for brands to circumvent these settings. The new Stories – collections/live streams of user­-submitted snaps from those attending Snapchat­-chosen events like music festivals, sports games and gatherings – appear on everyone's feeds regardless of privacy settings. Snapchat reports this content is viewed more than 500 million times a day, giving the events and brands involved a better shot at being seen.

Snapchat has been around for three years, but only now is it capturing any real attention by marketers. The first official Snapchat ad – the first time Snapchat was paid to run content – was released this month. The inaugural ad was owned by Universal Studios for their movie “Ouiji” and showed up in users' feeds as a Story, meaning it was available to all users … and millions reportedly watched. With this success, it is only a matter of time before advertising on users' feeds becomes the norm, right alongside their friends' selfies, lunches and cat pictures.



Anonymity has surged as the newest trend in apps, but unfortunately, these types have become a dime a dozen. In fact, NY Mag earlier this year profiled 25 of these anonymous apps, coming to the conclusion that they all essentially serve the same purpose. However, with privacy concerns and cyberbullying as established issues in our society, it's not surprising why these apps are in vogue and why a few have consecrated themselves as the apps for anonymous posting.

While many, like Yik Yak, are used almost exclusively by young students (providing a great gateway for brands to connect with a younger audience), others hold appeal to varied age groups, like Whisper and Secret, and are ripe for brands to market on the platforms.

Whisper is the grandaddy of the anonymous apps, created in March 2012. By December 2013, the app reported it had hit 3 billion page views and encouraged brands to advertise – Universal Studios and Pepsi have conducted campaigns by utilizing native advertising, modeling their ads after the accepted format of the Whisper posts. Because it's anonymous, users receiving the posts won't know whether a friend, stranger or company created the “whisper” … giving marketers and brands a lot of freedom to experiment with messaging that they might not otherwise find on public platforms like Facebook.



If Whisper is Alpha, than Secret is Omega. Created in January 2014, Secret is new, but right on the heels of Whisper, and encouraging brands to engage in the same way. Despite the anonymous angle of these apps, users still have to give some personal information to sign up, including phone numbers and contact lists, allowing for geo-targeting and location-specific marketing.

Though it might sound backward to tell brands to anonymously advertise, there is a lesson to be learned from Instagram, where users revolted against the very public, brand­-sponsored posts that started appearing on users' home pages in late 2013. At least by advertising anonymously, any negative backlash won't know where to go.



Heralded as the next social media platform to take down Facebook, Ello is meant to be “simple,” “beautiful” and currently exclusive, requiring an invite to get involved with the upstart. The prospect of a new Facebook-­level social media platform is exciting for advertisers and brands, but this one comes with a hitch: it's staunchly ad-­free. According to the site's “manifesto,” Ello is a platform where advertising is not welcome and instead, the creators are working on establishing the site as a “public benefit corporation,” meaning they can secure funding from the state as a company doing a public service (i.e., creating a social media “safe zone” among Internet privacy concerns) without the need for outside advertising partners.

This admittedly sounds bleak for brands … however (there's always a “however”) …

In the (now deleted) FAQ, the site did admit that even though there would not be advertising per se, anyone, once the site moves out of beta, could make a profile … including brands. This ushers in the same idea as Facebook's “Page” format and allows brands to … well, advertise themselves.

Already there are skeptics on Ello's promises and long-­term ability to keep public benefit corporation status. Like other social media platforms before it – such as Twitter and Instagram – that once shunned the idea of advertising, we feel it's only a matter of time before Ello gives in … and we'll be ready when it happens.