Universal Pictures says millions viewed first Snapchat ad, a success

Actress Olivia Cooke is seen a trailer for the movie "Ouija" that users on Snapchat had a chance to voluntarily watch last weekend.
Actress Olivia Cooke is seen a trailer for the movie “Ouija” that users on Snapchat had a chance to voluntarily watch last weekend.
(Paresh Dave / Los Angeles Times)

A 20-second trailer for the movie “Ouija” that ended with a terrifying shriek was viewed by millions of people on Snapchat last weekend in what a Universal Pictures executive called a satisfying first run at advertising on the messaging app.

The sponsored video was the first time Snapchat had been paid to show content to its users, the Los Angeles start-up said last week. Snapchat declined to comment on how the experiment performed.

Universal had long expressed interest in advertising on Snapchat, said Doug Neil, the studio’s executive vice president of digital marketing. It was serendipitous that Snapchat’s internal timetable for launching ads worked out to give Universal a chance to be the first mover. He said the ad was “competitively priced” compared to “video opportunities in general.”


“We believed that the Snapchat user is in our core target user for the ‘Ouija’ movie opening Friday,” Neil said. “If it hadn’t been a movie tied to a teen audience, we probably wouldn’t have taken this opportunity.”

A link to the “Ouija” ad, noting that it was sponsored, appeared alongside updates from Snapchat users’ friends on Saturday and disappeared a day later. To watch, users clicked on the link and pressed on the screen for the duration of the video. It was available only to U.S. users because Universal is handling only domestic marketing, Neil said. The ad was professionally produced as opposed to shot on a camera phone, like most Snapchat messages.

Snapchat was still tabulating final analytics, but Neil said a key metric would be how many people were exposed to the ad versus how many viewed it.

On social media, some Snapchat users expressed bewilderment about watching a clip from what they knew was a scary movie. Others were annoyed by the ad or surprised that it wasn’t necessarily as novel an approach as they thought it might be.

Neil saw the responses as a positive.

“Some of the best response was being scared by it,” he said. “They were being marketers for us, and that’s the best of digital and social media marketing. We were very satisfied with the experience.”

With investor capitalization that makes it worth billions, Snapchat said last week that it was time to start making money. The mobile advertising market is expected to reach $19 billion in the U.S. this year, according to EMarketer. But Snapchat could quickly scale the charts because its wrinkle of allowing messages to be viewed only for a certain period and requiring users to opt-in to view them marks a different approach for advertisers.


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