News broke last week that Snapchat intended to launch an online magazine it was calling Real Life. The site will launch next week and be not so much about tech news about about the tech lifestyle, how it integrates and is involved with our lives. As many have noted, this marks a significant expansion for Snapchat as it takes material it produces itself and makes it publicly accessible on the web.
What I haven’t seen addressed, though, is what this means from a branding perspective for Snapchat.
This isn’t the first time a company has launched a “news” magazine or website that seeks to compete as a standalone, unbranded operation. There have been quite a few instances where a company thinks it will be able to compete against actual news operations being managed by actual journalists for actual news outlets. None of them have been super-successful and are usually shuttered within a year or so due to lack of interest and the realization that this is a hard row to hoe.
Sourcing news from across the industry or, in Snapchat’s case, sourcing stories that touch on the lifestyle aspects of technology is *way* different than sourcing content to run a corporate content marketing program. The editorial judgement that goes on behind the scenes is night and day. Those of us who manage content marketing programs can talk about how we feel like news editors as much as we want, but reality is that’s not true, and we all know it.
Reading these kinds of sites I always think of how TV news looks within a TV show or movie. The fictional broadcaster and station look like they’re doing everything right to create the look and feel of a local TV broadcast, but it just seems…off. It’s almost like the uncanny valley: It approximates reality but something in our senses says nope, this is wrong.
So what’s in it for Snapchat to run this kind of site and operation? That’s not really clear, if you ask me. Even going beyond the usual considerations about running an unbranded news site, how does this further Snapchat’s business? What’s the ROI? It isn’t going to move the needle, at least not directly, on adoption and you could make the case that it doesn’t need to since Snapchat adoption is clipping along pretty well as it is. And it’s on the web, something Snapchat isn’t, so it’s not really on-brand in that regard either. The nearest I can gronk is that it’s an ad revenue play. If the site can show any sort of audience growth then it will have a deep well to draw from in terms of revenue from advertisers who want to reach people searching for this kind of news.
And there are a lot of people searching for this kind of news, something we know simply by virtue of how many of these sites are already out there. So, as with any other site or source launch, they will have to fight for the audience’s attention just like everything else on the web. That’s where Snapchat’s name could have come in handy, but that’s not available. We’ll see how this plays out.