The Ultimate Guide to Running Ads on Snapchat

Since its inception, Snapchat has been changing the game for social engagement.

If you can remember so far back as 2012, everyone was skeptical that Snapchat would ever monetize well. They didn’t see how the platform could leverage advertising the way Facebook was.

Since then, they have surprised people time after time, launching new, unique, engaging ways to advertise to its user base. Now in a great twist of irony, Instagram (owned by Facebook), is chasing Snapchat and copying features and advertising channels.

They were one of the first companies to offer hyper-specific, real-time geo-targeting. Allow you to target users not based on where they’re from, or where they go, but where they physically are at this exact moment.

They were one of the first companies to provide guaranteed engagement on ads because users had to physically hold their finger on the screen to watch snaps. You can’t just scroll past them without noticing like you can on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  

Sure, you can still skip them, but if they record a view, you know it’s for real. Not buried on tab #18 while Kevin checks his email waiting for the “skip” button to appear on YouTube.

While the future of their business is still up in the air, one thing is for sure. Snapchat provides an exciting opportunity for marketers today. And they show no signs of slowing down their innovation.

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Why Advertise On Snapchat?

In addition to the engagement and targeting discussed above, Snapchat’s advertising allows you to connect with users in a unique way. By creating engaging and sharable content, you can move beyond the normal direct ad experience.

With options like sponsored filters and lenses, snapchat allows potential customers to actively interact with your brand and share it with their friends. And features like Snap-To-Unlock leverage its existing technology to bring real-world ads to life.

Snapchat also captures a massive key demographic. 41% of all 18- to 34-year olds in the United States use the app every single day. Every single day.

Most companies are running around quoting monthly active users to get impressive numbers. But Snapchat proudly boasts how exactly active their users are. Oh, and all those users open the app on average 18 times a day.

But, what makes Snapchat truly unique is the variety of advertising mediums they provide.

Snapchat Ad Options

Before you set up your ads you’ll need to decide what format works best for you. They vary greatly in form and price…

Snap Ads

Snap Ads are the first format they launched and provide the most traditional (and accessible) ad experience on the platform.

They comprise of 10-second videos that are played between user’s Snap Stories (streams of short videos and photos stitched together from the past 24-hours of their lives for their followers to watch). They worked hard to match the user experience of snap stories so they feel more like content than ads.

You can engage viewers with these ads by providing more information with a swipe up. You can send them just about anywhere on the web. Include a video with more information, open the App Store so they can download your app, send them to an article or even to your store page where they can shop for your products without even leaving the app.

This is the ad format that will work best for most small and medium businesses. As we’ll discuss later, for now, it’s one of the only formats that are easy to setup on your own.


When users send snaps to one another, they have the option to swipe left or right to apply special “filters” to their photos and videos. These are static graphics that cover part of the screen. This could be something generic like funny word art declaring “IT’S FRIDAYYYY” or specific like special graphics designed for an event taking place locally.

That’s where the geo- part comes in. These filters can be set to very targeted geographic areas.

They come in two-forms: sponsored geofilters and on-demand geofilters.

Sponsored geofilters are generally used by bigger brands. They can be targeted to specific locations or as broad as the entire country, and pretty much anywhere in between.

For some brands, Snapchat has even set them up to only display within a certain radius of physical stores across the country. This allows you to apply for nation-wide reach, without wasting marketing dollars on unserved area.

Snapchat, nor their advertising clients, have stated how much it costs to run a Nationwide Sponsored Filter, but it’s probably not very cheap, though less than lenses for sure. You’ll find out how expensive those can get in a minute.

One thing worth mentioning! Although these can get expensive for companies. Snapchat has been known to provide them for free to universities, cities, and similar organizations. They do not permit any brand logos along with some other rules, but if you represent such an institution, it might be worth checking out!

For most, it’s not a very accessible option at the time being. But that doesn’t mean geofilters don’t have a place in your strategy.

On-demand geofilters are the consumer-facing version. They don’t publish an exact formula for costs, but they can target zones smaller than a city block for as short as an hour for as little as $5. The price scales as you increase the size and duration.

All you have to do is design a filter and submit it or approval.

They’re great if your brand is holding an event like a sale, conference, or party. You can set them up online and it shouldn’t take too long to have your filter approved.

Attendees can share photos and videos from the event with your logo and content to show everyone how cool you are and instill FOMO in their hearts for missing you awesome event you hold–boosting your social prestige and desirability.

However, if you’re hoping to create a filter for a popular special event like a conference or festival, Snapchat appears to have caught-on and raised the rates to as high as $20,000 an hour.


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Sponsored Lenses

Sponsored Lenses are like filters on steroids. While they aren’t geo-targeted (they are always national campaigns) like filters. They allow users to augment their videos with branded content.

They use augmented reality, a technology to add elements to the user and their environment.

But with the costs to develop one of these and the nationwide distribution, you can imagine these ads aren’t the most affordable… in fact, running a sponsored lense can cost anywhere from $450,000 to $700,000 per day for special holidays and events.


These are the newest advertising option Snapchat has started offering. It lets you place “Snapcodes” on real life advertisements. These work just like QR codes, but inside the Snapchat application.

When someone scans the image by holding their camera up to it with snapchat open, it can launch more branded content like video trailers for an upcoming movie.

There isn’t too much information out there regarding pricing and availability because it’s still new and not available to everyone. But I suspect that it will eventually become accessible on a similar level as snap ads due to the low overhead costs on Snapchat’s end.

While QR codes failed to gain traction, executive vice-president of digital marketing at Universal Pictures (who started piloting the new format last year) said he believes “this could be a bigger play” because QR codes required users to download specific, single-use apps, whereas, hundreds of millions of people already have snapchat on their phone.

It’s also worth mentioning here that you’re already able to create your own Snapcodes online that direct users to open a specific website or inside the app to prompt users to follow you.

Both of these options are free and easy to use.

How to Implement Snapchat Ads

This is where Snapchat gets a little complicated. Depending on the type of ad you are running, there are a variety of ways to get started.

We’ve already talked about this a bit above, but there are a few self-serve advertising options available.

As of last month, you can now set up your own Snap Ads by creating an ad account here. It’s still a little buggy and support hasn’t proven to be the fastest to respond, but the process is pretty much as you’d expect. Just like setting up a Facebook or Instagram Ad.

  1. Signup / Login
  2. Create and Upload your video ad
  3. Set objective and ad parameters
  4. Select your targeting
  5. Set budget
  6. Click “Launch Campaign”

And you’re off!

The experience isn’t quite as robust as Facebook’s Ad Manager, but they do offer a wide selection of demographic filters, some light retargeting tools and lookalike audiences just like Facebook.

This makes sense as from what we’ve seen Snapchat clearly prioritized more sophisticated advertising strategies aimed at big Fortune 500 clients.

Other than this and on-demand geofilters and URL-directed Snapcodes, these are the only types of ads you can set up on your own.

If you’re interested in utilizing any of their more premium ad mediums, you have two options…

First, you can contact Snapchat directly and work with their team to design and implement the ad. Or, you can work with one of their partners to manage the process on your behalf.


While Snapchat has been focusing on high-end, expensive ad placement for the past few years, they are starting to cater more and more to the SMB advertising market.

They provide a large variety of unique options for clients of all levels with great potential, especially for a creative marketer.

I’m excited to see what cool and creative ways people will start using Snapchat to connect with their customers and expand their market.

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