Snap has the pieces in place to fight off the coronavirus downturn in advertising better than rivals, stock soars 36%

Key Points
  • Snap impressed investors Tuesday with its growing ad revenue in recent weeks, even as ad spend slows down across all other media.
  • The company's revenue for last quarter, which primarily comes from advertising, came in at $462 million, up more than 44% from the $320 million the company reported in the first quarter of 2019.
  • Analysts say even though Snap is showing optimistic signs of weathering much of the Covid-19 ad slowdown, other online ad-based businesses might be a different case. 
Evan Spiegel, co-founder and chief executive officer of Snap Inc., speaks during the New Work Summit in Half Moon Bay, California, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Snapchat maker Snap Inc. impressed investors Tuesday with its still-growing ad revenue in recent weeks amid a broader ad slowdown. But Snap's strength in a tough time may be attributable in part to the kinds of advertisers that spend on the platform, and that may not be the case for other online companies that rely on ad revenue. 

Snap's stock ended the day Wednesday up a whopping 36% thanks to the strong first-quarter results. Other social media companies got a boost Wednesday thanks to Snap's impressive results, a hint that investors think the advertising downturn might as bad as originally feared. Twitter ended the day up 10.4% and Facebook was up 6.7%.

The company's revenue, which primarily comes from advertising, came in at $462 million for last quarter, up more than 44% from the $320 million the company reported in the first quarter of 2019. Snap's user base grew to 229 million daily active users, up 20% from last year. That represents the highest year-to-year user growth the company has reported since the second quarter of 2017.

The company said it doesn't intend to share financial guidance for the second quarter but did say it estimated year-over-year revenue growth to be 15% through April 19 and that the growth rate in the most recent week was 11%. 

Social platforms and media businesses have reported big increases in viewership and engagement, but have still seen advertisers pulling out or decreasing spend. Twitter, for instance, pulled its first-quarter guidance in March, citing an impact to ad spend despite a jump in user engagement. 

But Snap might be a special case. The company appears to rely more on deep-pocketed, larger advertisers instead of a smattering of millions of small businesses that advertise on other social networks such as Facebook and Google, and it may also rely less on the sectors such as travel whose ad spend is hard-hit. As those types of companies pull back on advertising to weather the coronavirus pandemic, Snap has the advantage and can keep growing thanks to its cohort of advertisers that are in a better position to keep spending.

LightShed analysts said in a note Tuesday that Snap appears to be "far better positioned than its peers to withstand the challenges ahead." They said the platform likely has "maybe a couple hundred thousand" small-business advertisers, versus the more than 8 million at Facebook and Instagram. It also has less exposure to travel and leisure categories compared with Google and Facebook, they wrote. Analysts argued the platform is also less tied to marquee events and brand buys that are a "core focus at platforms such as Twitter." 

Wells Fargo analysts wrote Monday they believed that Snap won't be immune to Covid-19 impacts on ad budgets, but that it may be better insulated versus its peers because of its strong momentum with direct-response advertisers and more limited exposure to small business and international advertisers. Snap's chief business officer, Jeremi Gorman, noted on the earnings call that direct-response advertising, which seeks a more immediate response from a consumer versus brand advertising, now accounts for more than half the company's overall revenue. 

In another note Wednesday, Wells Fargo analysts noted the company's engagement from brands using the platform for mission-driven advertising and demand generation in "select, well-positioned categories" such as gaming, home entertainment, e-commerce and consumer packaged goods. 

Needham analysts wrote in a note Wednesday that for Snap to report such a substantial jump in first-quarter revenue despite about a quarter of digital ad categories no longer advertising implies that Snap's clients probably only include a few in areas such as travel, hotels, cinema and small business. They noted that Snap doubled the money committed during the 2020 upfronts compared with the 2019 upfronts, implying Snap has improved stature from the agency standpoint, "moving out of the experimental digital ad budget for ad agencies and brands and toward becoming a core ad partner." 

Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer of data science at marketing technology company 4C Insights, said generally speaking Snap's advertiser base includes brands wanting to engage the platform's hard-to-reach audience. Those budgets of the TV advertisers that use Snap to extend their campaigns are more resilient right now than those of small businesses, he said. 

"Coming into 2020, Snap had already captured a bigger spot on the annual plans for large advertisers as it proved last year that it could deliver strong reach against hard-to-find audiences," he told CNBC. "Now with the pandemic playing out, Snap has broadened its audience to address older cohorts working at home and discovering how fun Snap Lenses can be on videoconferencing. As for the younger demo, kids don't need to sneak their use of Snap during class as schools have shifted to remote learning and messaging can truly be an always-on activity." 

"Advertising always follows eyeballs and right now a good chunk of those are trained on Snap," he said. 

— Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

Snap beats revenue $462M vs. $430M estimated
Snap beats revenue $462M vs. $430M estimated