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Digital advertisers should take a page from Snapchat’s playbook

Ads can be a natural extension of the experience.

Hyper-Reality — an extreme version of what Snapchat offers now — presents a vision of the future where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media.
Keiichi Matsuda / Vimeo

Aren’t TV and YouTube ads the worst? Jarring, loud interruptions that ignore the media around them. They’re never in the same aesthetic tone and lack relevance to the programming they accompany. Sure, they can be muted, skipped over, theoretically ignored, but at the end of the day, they remain an annoyance.

Is this how the brands will be remembered? The loud, drunk uncle at Christmas dinner?

Web or in-app ads are even worse. The screens are often an unreadable, inconsistent, layered tangle of ads. Somebody locked human nature out of the room when these standards were designed. This shoddy execution has been allowed to take over in the name of efficiency.

“Consumers have been at the mercy of others when it comes to television. The shows and movies they want to watch are subject to business models they do not understand and do not care about. All they know is frustration.” —  Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, Netflix

Ad tech has been about a precise machine, never about a natural extension of the “supported” stories. Most online ads are unrelated, out of place, minimally targeted and disruptive to the point of pure avoidance. Marketers are crazy to buy in.

Ads are just part of the show

But on Snapchat, ads are a natural extension of the experience, not insulting or intrusive, so far. The ads follow the aesthetics of the medium. It’s a natural “next” to what you’re already watching on Snapchat. They’re actively visual and just long enough. Then, a smooth transition to the next Snap-storm from a publisher, a Kardashian or your best friend.

Ads that fit naturally with the medium will have a more positive brand impact and a higher rate of engagement. The Snapchat style and interface have opened the door for these native ads and an evolution to real world interactions.

The app’s "lenses" — those silly layers of dog ears and so on to your selfie — can add a lot of personality to the imagery that is shared. Now advertisers are sponsoring lenses that can lend a viral ton of brand awareness that just can’t be achieved on other platforms. Nobody seems to mind that the video of their lunch is layered with a cute frame for the latest Pixar movie — it’s fun, after all. With easy geofencing and low-fi creation, brands or anybody can throw up their own lens for Snappers to share location and context for graduation parties or a secluded beach for a marriage proposal, or to make fun of your neighbors — a fun complement to the ongoing stories.

People don’t just tolerate Snapchat ads — they play with them.” — Mary Meeker, Internet Trends 2016

Ads aren’t currently in Snapchat friend feeds. But they will be soon, and I doubt there will be a big outcry.

Touchy-feely interface

To make all of this work on Snapchat, the fire starts with the user interface. The swooshing, grabbing, flinging and tapping are the best leap toward natural gestures in the relationship with our networks.

I can imagine an even more physical and tactile experience that surrounds the user. Let’s say you’re in a big white room (or anywhere) where your gang can be summoned into an image-rich dialogue. They are within reach, entering and exiting, getting your attention and grabbing you over to show you something or talk about something great. Fade in. Fade out. Overlay. Adjust the focus and opacity.

Maybe something like this — but a little more friendly and less dire. Like this:

As an evolving medium, Snapchat moves to solve what Brian Eno diagnosed as the problem with computers: “There is not enough Africa in them.”

What’s pissing me off is that it uses so little of my body. You’re just sitting there, and it’s quite boring. You’ve got this stupid little mouse that requires one hand, and your eyes. That’s it. What about the rest of you? No African would stand for a computer like that. It’s imprisoning.” — Brian Eno

Here on Snapchat, we can see the computer come to life as a rolling story with physicality, humanity and soul, removing the rigid confines of screens, aspect ratios and platforms.

I’m not talking about wearing ridiculous goggles or gloves wired to some machine. These experiences have to “live” around us, react to our gestures and be visible at our whims. Not Pokémon Go viewed through a little phone (though it’s nice to see people moving around a bit). Something much closer to the holographic experiments we see with the HoloLens, and with even less gear, Magic Leap.

Foundational pieces to work with

Designers and developers will now have a new tool kit of communication styles, user flows and interactions to bring into next-generation experiences. These are all promising components to work with. The dynamic is changing to something that will insult us less and be healthier to interact with.

As an expression of our relationship with next-generation users’ networks and media now, we can contribute our unfiltered personal bits to the whole  —  the atomized experiences laid out temporarily in always-moving chapters. Tip in. Tip out. Fly into another relationship, story, ad. It’s all in the mix.

Maybe we didn’t hate talking — just the way older phone technologies forced us to talk.” — Jenna Wortham, the New York Times

Done! Who’s really got the time, otherwise?


Jeff Tidwell is the principal at Prepop, a Los Angeles-based startup design company with a focus on image-rich experiences. Reach him @prepop.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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