Facebook owns Instagram and wants to destroy Snapchat

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which purchased it for $1bn in 2011 in what already looks like one of the best internet acquisitions ever. With annual revenue of over $27bn, a market cap exceeding $475bn and over 17,000 employees, Facebook has considerable resources it can and is using to thwart competitors.

Snapchat is arguably the competitor Facebook has demonstrated the most interest in defeating and in the past year and a half the company has been focused on making that happen.

But while Facebook’s desire to destroy Snapchat is obviously important, that’s just the beginning of the story.

Instagram has a much bigger audience, and it’s growing faster

Instagram now has upwards of 700m monthly active users (MAUs) and 400m daily active users (DAUs) compared to Snapchat’s 166m DAUs. Snapchat does not provide MAUs.

And Instagram has a lot more users engaging with one of its most important features. Instagram Stories, which effectively launched as a clone of Snapchat Stories, now has 250m DAUs – a number greater than Snapchat’s entire DAU figure.

Perhaps just as important as the MAU and DAU figures is the rate at which they have been growing. While Instagram is still growing like a weed thanks in large part to its increasing popularity around the globe, Snapchat’s growth rate has slowed in recent quarters and was far below investor expectations in Q1, raising questions about just how big Snapchat will ultimately grow.

Instagram has broader demographic coverage

While Snapchat’s audience has gotten older in recent years, it’s still most popular among users under the age of 25. In fact, more than 50% of the app’s users are reportedly in the under-25 group.

Instagram, on the other hand, offers brands greater access to consumers across age groups. Roughly a quarter of Instagram’s users are between the ages of 25-34, and equal percentages (20%) are between the ages of 18-24 and 35-44. And a little more than a third of users are now aged 45 or older.

Beyond age, Instagram also has a larger geographic footprint. 80% of Instagram’s users are outside of the US. But according to regulatory filings Snapchat made in connection with its IPO, its biggest user base is North America (US and Canada).

Instagram’s ad platform is far more robust

One of the biggest reasons Instagram is winning over brands is that it has ad savvy and ad technology. A lot of that comes from parent company Facebook, which operates one of the largest digital advertising businesses in the world.

Instagram hasn’t hesitated to launch new ad offerings, most tailored specifically to the characteristics of its service. Increasingly, these offerings are tightly integrated with Facebook, making them potentially more appealing to brands already advertising on the world’s largest social network.

For instance, advertisers can now buy Instagram Story ads through Facebook’s self-serve ad-buying platform and API and use many of Facebook’s targeting options.

Snapchat, of course, has its own ad offerings, but they’re arguably not as robust as Instagram’s, have until recently been harder to purchase – it only added an API last year – and aren’t always priced to perfection, at least as far as advertisers are concerned.

To help it bolster its ad offerings, Snapchat has been on a shopping spree. In June, it purchased location measurement and offline attribution provider Placed for a price said to exceed $200m. And according to Business Insider, Snapchat has held acquisition talks with AdRoll, a performance marketing platform that claims more than 30,000 clients. One of Business Insider’s sources suggested that “Snapchat buying AdRoll would be somewhat analogous to Google buying DoubleClick.”

But there’s no guarantee that Snapchat will be able to acquire a major ad tech company – and the right one. Furthermore, integrating a major acquisition to create a well-oiled advertising machine would no doubt take Snapchat time, meaning Facebook-owned Instagram will almost certainly retain a sizeable ad tech advantage for the foreseeable future.

Instagram has catered to brands far more than Snapchat has

As the growth of Instagram’s ad business suggests, Instagram has no hang-ups over advertising.

Snapchat’s relationship with brands, on the other hand, has been somewhat tepid. While it obviously has ambitions of building a billion-dollar advertising business, especially now that it is a publicly-traded company and has shareholders to answer to, Snapchat historically hasn’t been nearly as brand-friendly as Instagram.

One of the big reasons for this is that co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel apparently has mixed feelings about advertising. A rare 2015 interview with Bloomberg revealed that he “ruled out ads on Snapchat that accompany private one-to-one messages between users, judging it too invasive.”

And although Snapchat has since rolled out the ability to target users a la Facebook Custom Audiences, he’s apparently not much of a fan of targeting. “It’s definitely weird when a vacuum follows you around the Internet,” he told Bloomberg’s Brad Stone and Sarah Frier.

While Spiegel’s skepticism towards traditional social ads could theoretically help Snapchat, the reality is that Instagram appears to be giving both users and brands what they want, so Snapchat’s stance towards brands apparently didn’t earn it a competitive advantage. In hindsight, it only gave Instagram time to catch up.