Memories: The next frontier of advertising?

Stories are the currency of our collective memory. Stories are structured with beginning, middle, and end, creating self-contained nuggets of intrigue that are easily told and retold. Stories have characters, tension, and closure. When Snapchat was released, it stripped away all the technical clutter leftover from the mobile revolution, leaving a visual medium for story telling – this was Evan Spiegel’s original genius.

Facebook quickly took notice of this genius and precipitously began to clone Snapchat, feature by feature, across all its properties. Snap’s longterm success is not guaranteed (exhibit A: Instagram now has 200m DAU, more than Snapchat itself), but credit is due for introducing truly new concepts to the digital product world. Ephemeral messages, the story format, and Spectacles are truly innovative, but Memories may be one of it’s most powerful assets.

The trail of dead or acquired companies who’ve tried to compete head-to-head with Facebook in social is long and growing, so I remain suspicious of companies that try to compete directly with Facebook’s reach. Facebook has been able to quickly capitalize on the story format because the social graph is so massive and stories want to be shared.

Joseph Campbell famously chronicled the Hero’s Journey in his seminal work The Hero with 10,000 Faces:

The Hero’s Journey, or the monomyth, is the template of our most memorable and most shared stories; from the story of Jesus to Star Wars, the monomyth has proven to be one of the stickiest narrative formats across time, culture, and technology. But where stories are the format of our collective memory, our personal memories are different. They’re truly unique to us as individuals.

Our memories don’t have a templated structure; there are no allies and enemies, no call to adventure, no resolution. More importantly, our memories are utterly boring to anyone other than ourselves. Memories are not for sharing, they’re for reflecting. And this personalization, this intent and reflection would make them valuable in the right medium.

Whether we consider our daily lives interesting or not, Snapchat Spectacles makes capturing all the details – and memories – seamless. This unlocks a huge opportunity for advertisers and creates a compelling moat of defense from Facebook. Memories would be one of the most powerful ad units in digital media if Snap were to make inventory available. Our memories are extremely personal but, more importantly, manipulatable. We reconstruct our memories every time we revisit them, imagine if brands could have an ad placement every time we revisited a past vacation? Corona beer could place an ad based on GPS meta-data. Neutrogena could place a sunscreen ad based on image analysis of a sun filled background. The potential is endless.

The question is whether Snap is willing to cross into this admittedly sci-fi territory.