Is Snapchat changing the face of brand marketing?

You probably already know about Snapchat, the app that lets you manipulate and temporarily share photos, videos, text and drawings. I’d obviously heard of it, but as I’m not a thirteen-year-old girl I’d dismissed it as a gimmick that had nothing more to offer than making your ‘selfies’ (or photos as we used to call them) look like you were staring into the back of a spoon.

However, more and more UK brands are now looking to embrace what is becoming a powerful marketing tool.

Snapchat now has an estimated value of $15bn with 150 million active daily users (11 million of those in the UK). It’s this captive audience that has turned the head of brands who are now working out how they can capitalise on its intimate, playful tone and its ability to engage both millennials and their Generation Z successors.

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Brands as diverse as Gatorade and Procter & Gamble are already reaping the benefits of the app’s reach. Gatorade, whose animated Superbowl filter allowed users to dunk a virtual Gatorade cooler over people’s video selfies, wound up driving 160 million impressions – more than the 115 million who tuned in to watch the game. Burberry, Tiffany and Pepsi Max are also embracing the platform, the latter became one of the first UK brands to use Snapchat’s ‘Sponsored lenses’, creating a ‘Chelfie’ Valentine’s Day campaign that transformed selfies into ads with a cherry-flavoured makeover.

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But in the UK, it was Sainsbury’s who recently took interactivity to new levels.

The supermarket invited fans of its Christmas ad campaign, The Greatest Gift, to sing along with the vocals through the UK’s first branded karaoke lens. The Snapchat lens, which was live for 24 hours, turned users into a lookalike of the animated character from the ad and allowed them to share their version of the song, sung by James Corden in the TV version. Now, even I think this is pretty cool ­and I can’t stand karaoke and would run a mile if anyone suggested I give it a go.

As far as I can see, the true value of Snapchat to brands is in the degree of active engagement it invites from users. Think about younger consumers, although they’re tech-savvy the vast majority are cynical about advertising. But Snapchat succeeds in engaging them where other forms of marketing might fail because there’s always something new to try – something fresh to engage with. It’s instant, it’s inclusive and a lot of the filters that brands are adopting make the user the ‘star’ of the ad.

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Thinking about it, Warhol’s series of vivid screen prints of celebrities were a precursor of things to come – taking images of, amongst others, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe he manipulated the original image to create something visually engaging – only his images weren’t temporary and still resonate decades later.

But when you look at modern celebrities such as reality TV star Kylie Jenner, reported to have one of the largest followings of anyone on the network, they have the power to make or break a brand in a single snap. When she published an unsolicited post using the Tiffany filter the brand received priceless brand exposure and the Tiffany brand loyalists of tomorrow sat up and took notice. But it’s not just celebrities and brands that are increasing their reach, the UK Government recently used Snapchat filters to highlight the dangers of drug driving by allowing users to overlay prison bars on a selfie.

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However, this ‘real time’ marketing doesn’t come cheap, The Department of Transport reportedly spent £70,000 on filters for their Drive High? campaign, but sponsored lenses can cost advertisers anywhere between $500,000 and $750,000 (between £400,000 and £600,000). Given their 24-hour lifespan and Snapchat’s limited measurement tools for brands to collate sales or awareness stats, this must make the platform, in terms of return on investment, the most expensive media buy of the moment.

What I take from Snapchat’s evolution from niche photo-messaging service to established media platform is that brands are resilient… that they’re adaptable. Like a single flower poking up through a sea of concrete, brands will always find a way to reach an audience no matter what. It also reinforces the power of social media for consumer engagement and if their steady, but aggressive, advertising push pays off they’ll soon be giving Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest a run for their money – not bad for something that started life making headlines as a teen sexting app.

However, as I see it, real longevity as an effective marketing platform will only come from proving that it can motivate purchases as well as simply promoting awareness.