Every election season has its shiny new toy, and this year, Snapchat is most definitely it. We’ve already seen Rand Paul take a chainsaw to the tax code on Snapchat. Jeb Bush announced his campaign on the platform. And, most recently, Hillary Clinton cheekily gushed to Iowans about how much she loves Snapchat because “those messages disappear all by themselves.”
On the surface, having a presence on Snapchat makes these candidates appear forward-thinking and committed to connecting with millennials, Snapchat’s core demographic. And yet, even as candidates and their young teams play with the platform, behind the scenes, many of the digital teams on presidential campaigns say it’s far too early to dub 2016 the Snapchat election, as many in the media have already breathlessly claimed. Compared to other advertising platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and most importantly, TV, they say, the ephemeral messaging app has a long way to go toward proving its worth.
‘Advertisers are getting the individual level targeting on Facebook and Twitter, so how can Snapchat compete?’
The fact is, Snapchat’s entire business model is built around keeping user data private, a fact one Republican digital strategist called “antithetical to advertising.” That may explain why, as financial documents reportedly leaked to Gawker show, Snapchat is struggling to make money. But while sophisticated targeting capabilities are critical to any digital ad platform these days, they’re particularly important in political advertising, where campaigns must connect ads to voters—whose phone numbers they plan to call and on whose doors they plan to knock next election day.