On any given day hundreds of thousands of users scroll through their Facebook or Instagram feeds, and on any given day most them become frustrated with the amount of advertising they see. When an ad plays before the YouTube video I am very excited to watch, I feel more annoyed than I do when seeing an ad while watching television or reading a magazine. It is clear that social media advertising is much more noticeable than other forms of advertising. But why?
The time gap between social media occupying large amounts of people’s time and thoughts, and the corporations catching on and trying to capitalise on this meant that for a time social media platforms were largely ad-free. But once one business purchased ad space on a social media platform, all its competitors would rush in after them. Therefore, in 2018 all of the popular social media platforms are over-saturated with advertisements, and each individual is targeted with ads for products they are likely to want through inter-platform data sharing. An average person encounters 111 social media ads daily, and no matter how personalised the products, this can feel like a bombardment and actually discourage users from purchasing any of the advertised products. It also causes the content users care about to be more frequently interrupted and more dispersed, which decreases interest in using the platform itself.
Enter Vero – the social media platform which despite being created in 2015, rose to the top of App Store and Google Play charts earlier this month. The app, developed by 39 year-old billionaire Ayman Hariri, reached one million users in under two weeks. The concept is simple: chronologically ordered Instagram-style posts, sharing settings which distinguish between people from “close friends” to “followers”, and the most alluring promise – no ads in sight. Sounds too good to be true? It is. While the first million users can sign up for free, every subsequent user must pay a subscription fee. Due to Vero’s sudden popularity the platform has experienced technical difficulties, delaying the subscription fee “until further notice”, but it was difficult to miss the rapid drop from 1st in the IOS store to 11th once the app reached one million users.
Many have labelled Vero as a “Facebook killer” or the “new Instagram”, citing the beginning of an era where social media is ad and corporation free. But should businesses worry? Is this the end of advertising opportunities on social media? That is unlikely. In their excitement, many have overlooked a major problem with Vero’s business model.
They have failed to remember that those born in the age of the internet expect social media platforms to be free. In fact, many rely on that. The popularity of social media platforms like Facebook is partly due to the fact that there is very little economic discrimination. If you have access to the internet, you can have access to social media. This means that there is more representation and diversity of voices, which is an attractive feature for any platform. Without this diversity, the content produced on the platform would be distinctively similar and uniform, growing tiresome and repetitive after a while. So, while a privileged few who can afford a monthly subscription may choose Vero over Facebook or Instagram, the majority of users are likely to stick around.
Will Vero survive and thrive as a new member of the social media giants? Statistics say no. Apps like Secret, Ello, Peach, Meerkat, and Mastodon have come and gone, characterised by a sharp rise followed by a gradual, fatal decline. Once the novelty of an app wears off, in this case the process being accelerated by the introduction of a fee, users will inevitably return to their old Facebook and Instagram accounts.
While Vero is not the cure for the problem of ad over-saturation, it is a symptom. And unless corporations change the way they approach marketing, the symptoms will worsen. Businesses need to focus on building relationships with their customers through social media, instead of bombarding them with mindless ads suggested by an algorithm. Vero’s most valuable contribution to the digital landscape is the message it sends to social media giants and corporations: change the way you advertise, or the next time something like me comes around it’ll stay for good.