Snapchat has no proven track record in election advertising. It shares only limited data about its audience, and caters mainly to a demographic that hasn’t traditionally turned out in big numbers to vote. That’s not stopping political campaigns from devoting more ad dollars to reach the millions of millennials who spend hours every week on the social-media app.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump have both stepped up their spending on Snapchat in the past month, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Clinton campaign is buying video ads with a targeted number of views by Snapchat’s audience, while Trump is running an interactive ad seeking users’ e-mail addresses, said the person, who asked not to be named because the details aren’t public. Both campaigns have used Snapchat’s geographic photo-filter tools in the past at political rallies, but this is their first significant national advertising spend on the platform.
Though it started as an app for sending silly disappearing selfies, Snapchat has evolved into a legitimate news platform, now counting more than 150 million daily users, some three-fourths of whom fall into the coveted 18-31 age-group demographic.
According to Nielsen Ratings, on any given day Snapchat reaches 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. More millennials watched the election’s early debates on Snapchat than on TV. And some metrics indicate its users are more engaged. A Public Opinion Strategies study released in November said two-thirds of millennials who use Snapchat are likely to vote in the 2016 election, compared with 61% of the population overall.
“Snapchat has reached a point here in the U.S. where we can’t ignore it anymore, and it’s definitely earned a line on every campaign budget,” said Tim Cameron, digital director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “We’re really using demographics to reach a larger audience. It’s not as specific as other tools but it works.” The NRSC says it now spends more than 30% of its ad budget on digital messages, which include Snapchat.
Snapchat has become the “MTV of Mobile,” according to Zac Moffatt, who co-founded Targeted Victory, an ad agency that works with Republican candidates. “I would treat it like a cable network channel and say, I want to reach young people.” Snapchat is capitalizing on its young and engaged users to be taken seriously as a force in election advertising.
As the election moved past the primaries, both the Clinton and Trump campaigns have paid for geofilters, images or text that appear over pictures captured within a limited geographic area, and Snap Ads, 10-second full-screen videos that play between other content. “There have been a lot of things we’ve tried that are no longer around,” said Ward Baker, an executive director at the NRSC. “We’ve grown with Snapchat. I think in the next election more people will be using it, more campaign staffers are going to be using it, more college students will have jobs and will be thinking about college debt. And every year people cut the cord. It’s only going to grow.”