Snapchat Move From Nudes to News Won’t Come Easy

Well, at least there wasn’t any naked selfies from Wolf Blitzer. Yet.

Snapchat launched a section on its platform Tuesday, dubbed Discover, that will allow a selection of top media brands to translate their content to an app hugely popular among highly coveted young demos who enjoy exhibitionism (as long as the evidence erases itself after 24 hours).

CNN, ESPN, Vice, People and Comedy Central were among the inaugural 11 partners brought on board. Judging from the content they’ve produced with Snapchat for the first few days, participating members haven’t quite settled on just what content for Discover is, but they’re game to figure it out on the fly.

Because Procter & Gamble isn’t crazy about placing its ads near photos of your nephew’s nipple ring, Discover is the latest effort by Snapchat to stretch the limits of what content its platform can provide marketers. Last year saw some interesting experimentation on the app, from the “Stories” format that incorporated brief videos to the addition of very select advertising messaging.

Text, photos and video intermingle beautifully on Discover, mostly in the form of full-motion launch pages that you can easily swipe with the flick of a thumb to move from one story to the next.

That said, once you click into an individual story, nothing too impressive follows unless Buzzfeed-esque listicles like ESPN’s “Ranking the Super Bowl’s Top Players” is your idea of spectacular. Yahoo News offers a good example of how Discover repackages content with pretty wrapping paper: millennial sex symbol Katie Couric does five-second voiceovers at the start of each story, but click through to the story itself and it’s the same copy you can find on a Yahoo Web page.

Discover is very slick — maybe too much so for a platform in which there’s a certain charm to how rough-edged all the user-generated imagery is. What’s interesting is that while the brands are clearly dumbing down the content into bite-sized chunks, as if everyone reading Discover is on Adderall, they’re not aping the Snapchat aesthetic too closely. That’s actually smart because this user base would sniff out this kind of corporate poseur-dom pretty quickly.

Discover’s tonal restraint was all the more appreciated when clicking on a CNN report regarding the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz. For a millisecond, a fear crept in that black-and-white gas-chamber footage would be set to a thumping hip-hop beat. Instead, a tastefully somber piano plays over a rotating set of statistics illustrating the sheer scale of the Holocaust’s horrors. A Leon Wieseltier essay, it’s not, but Discover strikes the right balance here between talking to a young demo on its own terms without doing something disrespectful.

It’s hard not to compare Discover to previous attempts by social platforms trying to ramp up the revenues necessary to capitalize on their massive scale with help from publishers or marketers looking to dip their audience in the Snapchat Fountain of Youth. In terms of precedent, there’s a continuum that stretches from the aggressive ubiquity of media partners all over Twitter to the more gradual, curated approach of, say, Pinterest.

Snapchat seems to be leaning more toward the Pinterest extreme. Rather than throwing open the doors and letting brands of all types run wild, which probably worked for Twitter, Discover represents a more cautious approach. Snapchat is letting just a handful of brands in at this time and, even more significantly, is ghettoizing Discover into a separate area from the rest of the fray.

But while it’s understandable that CNN et al. is being given this separate Discover nature preserve, you could argue Snapchat isn’t really exposing its user base by mixing everyone together. That would be a shock to the Snapchat ecosystem, but there’s something very undemocratic about creating a tiered area in an environment that thrives in part on the anarchic spirit of its members.

It’s worth keeping an eye on how Discover evolves in the coming months, though Snapchat makes what seems a disingenuous proclamation in its introductory blog post that user data will take a backseat to human curating. Let’s see what traffic patterns emerge if and when TMZ or Maxim join Discover, so keep your clothes on for now, Blitzer.



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