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  • Writer's pictureJason Burlin

Underrated Or Overrated: SnapChat Ads.

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Quietly but persistently, Snapchat ads are gaining momentum as an alternative or secondary advertising social media platform to advertisers who are seeking to be less dependent on Facebook. 

Unlike the younger and more promising social media app Tiktok, Snapchat has actually been around for longer than we normally think. Snapchat was launched back in 2011 but took years to catch momentum. Ads on Snapchat were released in the early stages of the platform but it was around 2017 that Snapchat’s ads became available to most advertisers in supported countries. 2017 was also the end of what many call on Facebook – the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of the glory days for advertisers. Strict regulations were added to Facebook and buyers became more skeptical with ads on the platform. For many large advertisers, it seemed like a good time to transition to Snapchat. 

Snapchat was more conservative and was way more sensitive to user experience, so they didn’t make it easy for that transition to happen smoothly. Big expectations turned from running away from Facebook to crawling back as long story short advertising on Snapchat didn’t deliver what advertisers expected or needed. In the last 5 years, the platform changed a lot. Official reports claim that user growth is at its peak, but some advertisers are skeptical. It seems that the entry of Tiktok into the social media space impacted all platforms to a point where the war between platforms for new users has never been more cutthroat. Platforms are forced to focus on efficiency and retaining their existing users, and that’s something that Snapchat has been historically good with. 

So now that we covered the history, let’s talk about Snapchat ads, and whether or not they might be a good channel for driving users to your business.

Bird eye’s screenshot

Remember how Instagram copied the “stories” format from Snapchat? Well, Snapchat ads are essentially a replica of Facebook ads, or at least based on it. You don’t need someone like me to walk you through how to create a campaign because it’s fairly easy and you can find thousands of helpful videos on Youtube that do just that. The point of this article is to bring to your attention what I believe are the most important parts to be aware of, and what most tutorials and blogs don’t tell you about snapchat. 

Objective-based advertising platform

So, just like Facebook Ads, Snapchat ads are what I call, an objective-based advertising platform which means that the ad algorithm works based on automating targeting and delivery based on achieving your goal. In simple terms, tell them what you want to achieve and at what cost, and the entire process becomes automated to maximize your results. Yes, you can pick your demographics and GEO location and even include interests and behaviors, but the principle of who exactly sees the ad and when is left in the hands of the algorithm to generate you the most return for every dollar spent. That’s why the screenshot above, which is the first step that you need to select, is the most important. Selecting your objective is the first layer of targeting that signals to the algorithm what you want to achieve. Most advertisers want sales and select “conversions”, but there are a lot of advertisers that think that if they choose a different objective like “traffic” or “engagement” thinking that that’s the best way to start driving traffic. It’s a critical mistake because you’re telling the platform that you want traffic or engagement and not sales (conversions objective). Without going into the full technicalities, understand that users are segmented into buckets based on their online behavior. The screenshot above shows the available objectives and tells the platform which bucket to target. Make sure you focus on conversions from day one, unless your ultimate goal is not to drive sales.

Ad formats

By the looks of it, it may seem that ad formats are more limited than on Facebook where just a regular image/video ad and stories format ad are primarily the formats that most advertisers select. Worry not, as even though Facebook offers more options, these are the most popular and effective formats, so you aren’t really missing much. Remember that the best ads don’t look like ads, so Snapchat ads are designed to blend into the user’s feed naturally. When advertising platforms release a new ad format and want to promote it, they release case studies that show how “great” this new format is for businesses and they recommended it deeply. After testing millions of dollars on all ad formats available, I concluded that just regular image/video ads or story ads work the best. 


Surprisingly enough, this part of Snapchat’s ads manager looks a lot like Facebook ads. My general recommendation here is less is more. Advertising algorithms work best when they get maximum freedom. Yes, you shouldn’t target males and females if you sell a product exclusively for men and the same goes for age groups and locations, but everything else in my humble opinion should be left blank. Why? First off, these predefined audiences might not be accurate or recent or even relevant. Second, you are limiting your audience size dramatically instead of just giving the algorithm as many users to analyze. This can cause a surge in CPM (cost to deliver 1000 impressions) and can dramatically decrease your performance.  Even if you don’t select any targeting info, ad platforms have plenty to work with. First, they will randomly deliver your ads for the first few impressions. Then they will look for early signals based on how they interact with your ads.

They will move on to people who are likely to click and shop, then once people start converting, they will find similar people to those who converted based on similar online behavior. Advertising platforms work based on sampling and rapid predictions which means that they can make accurate predictions with small size data. So in short, exclude who isn’t relevant and keep the structure as broad and simple as possible. 

Budget ,optimization & goals

Selecting the right goal is the most important part after selecting your objective. If you’re telling the platform your goal is to get swipe-ups, guess what will happen… They will shift your ads towards people who are likely to swipe up (click) at the lowest cost possible and not people who are likely to purchase or sign up for the lowest cost possible. Selecting the right goal will ensure that both your business and the advertising platform are working to achieve the same goal.

Budgets should be selected using a realistic amount that you can spend daily for at least a good few days without having to change it back and forth. In other words, select an amount that you feel comfortable spending for a few days even if performance is bad. The reason it’s important is that it directs the platform to deliver at a certain pace because once we make daily changes, we force it to recalculate and performance could be skewed. So consider your edits and changes as an external factor that forces the platform to calculate and make new predictions. 

The fewer changes, the more accurate predictions will be the less volatile performance will be. It’s not enough to select your goal (optimizing towards purchases or sign ups etc.), it’s important to also select a target cost per conversion or bid cap. Different bidding strategies on different platforms are named differently, but all share the same mechanism. They signal to the platform what’s a good result. That is that it’s not enough for you to get a conversion, it has to be around a price that you can afford and be profitable.

Media & Copy 

Creating your actual ad is straightforward and doesn’t really require further explanations. If you have created ads before on other social media platforms, the settings and flow are similar. Keep one thing in mind. Everyone hates ads. The reason ads are so effective on social media platforms is because they blend in your feed and when done right, they don’t look like ads. They just look like random organic posts that appear in your feed. Think of how annoying Youtube ads are. It’s because they disrupt you in the middle of what you are watching and immediately make you feel like you are being advertised to, and no one likes that. Ensure your ads are focused around the product you are selling and minimize everything else that takes away the focus. Templates offered by advertising platforms in my opinion are a strategic mistake as these templates become templates after they are shown millions of times and have been saturated. There is no copy-paste solution here or easy shortcuts, focus as much time as you possibly can to craft your own unique ad creatives.

Some next-level stuff to be familiar with:

View-through conversions

If you read some of my blogs, you know how I feel about view-through conversions. If you’re not familiar with the term, then view-through conversions are conversions that most advertising platforms like FB or Snap take credit for that require no click or other meaningful user interaction. In simple terms, Snapchat will show a user’s feed, and regardless of whether he clicked or noticed it, if he makes a conversion (purchase , sign up etc..) within 28 days after this ad, they will take credit for it. How insane is that? Most of us scroll through hundreds of posts per day on our feed, most of them we don’t even remember. Platforms like Facebook & Snapchat have extremely smart algorithms that decide when to show users an ad. All they have to do is find people who are in the process of buying or at least thinking of buying a product, show them an ad and count up to 28 days to claim the conversion, possibly without the user even remembering the ad. You can imagine what it does to your advertising budget on that platform. The better return on investment they report to you, the more you are going to spend and pay them. But is that a real “ROAS”? That’s for a different discussion and you can read about it here

After the privacy lord, Apple, released their new IOS 14 which included unprecedented privacy policies, platforms like Facebook shifted their attribution settings back to 7 days clicks and 1-day view, but Snapchat still reports back to 28 days to take credit for a conversion. We can dedicate an entire blog post or even a book to this topic, but I don’t want to dig deep too much. It’s important that you understand that when platforms attribute so aggressively, they are claiming conversions that they didn’t necessarily generate and those conversions are also likely to be claimed by another ad platform if you are running ads on multiple platforms. The reps at Snapchat will tell you that it makes sense as Snapchatters are not used to click and comment on ads and posts they see, so it’s natural that the reporting will be biased and include view-through conversions. This is disturbing as that puts you in a position of whether to take their word for it and rely on their numbers as you really don’t have an effective tool to measure their true contribution to these view-through conversions. If this sounds technical or you don’t understand the significance of this topic, then it’s important to remember that once you advertise on more than 1 platform, use very conservative attribution models that are based only on people who clicked and made a recent conversion and not based on those who view.

Volume & Scale

If you are successful on Snapchat and are trying to reach the same level of spend as you are spending on platforms like Google or Facebook you will notice volatility that might prevent you from spending the same level. Advertisers report difficulties spending high amounts. This might be due to the fact that Snapchat has fewer users (thus less ad space), or might be because their advertising platform has less data, or perhaps because snap chat ads work better when there are other traffic channels that it could feed off. 

Abnormal UTM performance

One of the odd things that advertisers see when evaluating traffic coming from Snapchat ads in Google analytics is the abnormal user behavior of that traffic. If you are not familiar, UTM links are URLs that have several pieces of code attached to them so advertisers are able to identify them in Google analytics and analyze their behavior. This method was the most commonly used tracking prior to where tracking pixels were introduced. In short – tracking pixels don’t have to rely on direct clicks to track a user, UTM links do. When you analyze Snapchat ads traffic using UTM links you will find that the performance is very different from what’s being reported on Snapchat ads. That is, performance is usually way worse, and not just in terms of conversions and sales, but also in terms of the visitor quality (high bounce rates, low amount of time spent on the website etc..)Snapchat explains this as being irrelevant as users mainly view ads instead of clicking and go back to the website later on, which rules out the ability to accurately track using UTM links. 

Problems of secondary advertising source

Another issue is when you try to introduce Snapchat ads as a secondary advertising source to another platform that you’re running ads on such as Google or Facebook ads. In many cases, performance on Snapchat tends to be better than the performance of your main traffic source which immediately makes you think that there might be a big overlap here where Snapchat is claiming conversions that are attributed by your main advertising platform. The rule of thumb here is that if reports are too good to be true, they probably are. If you are not spending high amounts per month, it’s extremely hard to create an A/B test to identify a lift in sales to evaluate the real contribution of adding Snapchat ads. Most advertisers fail to properly test and end up relying on what the reports from Snapchat say. If you are having a hard time properly evaluating the value and contribution, then be as conservative as possible with your spend and aim for a high ROAS as an insurance policy. 

In Summary

Snapchat is an often overlooked advertising platform. Over the years, Snapchat has grown to be an effective and valuable asset in digital marketing. The approach to advertising on Snapchat is similar to that of other advertising platforms like Facebook: your formatting, target audience, objectives, and budget strategies should all remain the same. 

Be aware that advertising on Snapchat comes with its quirks. For example, Snapchat still utilizes the 28-day view-through conversion algorithm which may take credit for conversions that your ad had nothing to do with in the first place. If your conversations on Snapchat appear to be too good to be true in comparison to other platforms, then it probably is. Advertisers have also reported difficulties in the success of high spend ad campaigns which may be contributed to Snapchat’s lack of usable user data.

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Jason Burlin

A seasoned marketer with more than a decade of experience in online paid advertising. Managed more than $150M in ad spend and worked with more than 500+ brands. He is known as the unconventional marketer.

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