Does Snapchat Carry Hidden Pitfalls for Brands?

Snapchat is the “it” platform of 2016. It seems to go from one hit to the next, whether Gatorade at the Super Bowl or Snapchat itself making headlines at South By Southwest.

Snapchat is the “it” platform of 2016. It seems to go from one hit to the next, whether Gatorade at the Super Bowl or Snapchat itself making headlines at South By Southwest.

There’s no denying that the company has tapped into something consumers love and, as a result, brands have also fallen in love with Snapchat.

As appealing as the results may be; however, Snapchat carries a number of risks for chief marketing officers interested in tapping into the power of its platform. For brands, these risks range from violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to copyright violations to the dreaded naked Snap. Before brands jump in with both feet, they need to fully consider the risks involved.

Snapchat has succeeded in building incredible interest in user-generated marketing. The company has given marketers a seamless way to allow consumers—and, in particular, the highly prized millennial audience at that—to create branded content that the audience then shares with their peers. Since 2014, we have seen many brands experimenting with Snapchat:

The partnership McDonald’s reached with Snapchat in June 2015 was an early indicator that brands would seek to harness the power of user-generated marketing on Snapchat’s platform–despite the ephemeral nature of the messages.

Gatorade’s partnership with Snapchat is the most recent example of the platform’s advertising potential. Gatorade’s use of a custom Snapchat filter during this year’s Super Bowl allowed Snapchat users to virtually dowse themselves with gallons of Gatorade. The campaign generated more than 165 million impressions, proving that brands and agencies need to provide ways for consumers to tell authentic stories for themselves.

Indeed, a broad mix of brands including GE, Starbucks, Target and Dunkin’ Donuts has appeared on Snapchat with customized filters.

So where’s the problem?

The problem is that Snapchat provides no way for brands to monitor or manage the content being created in their name and with their brand’s assets incorporated. This means that there’s no way for a company to become aware of or take down offensive content that could be associated with its brand. Giving users unfettered access and control of brand assets and elements can make some marketers wary to hand over the reins to Snapchat and its users.

For example, Starbucks recently created a custom filter to support its new rewards program. It didn’t take long for users to use Snapchat’s Starbucks-branded filter to share videos expressing their hate for the new rewards program—probably not the engagement Starbucks had hoped for, especially after paying $350,000 to Snapchat, presumably with the explicit goal of improving the mixed reviews its loyalty program had gotten since its launch.

But how big a problem is this really?

It only takes one horribly gone wrong user-generated video or photo for a campaign to be completely derailed, hurting audiences and the brand alike. Imagine one selfie video taken while driving with an auto company’s branded filter making it seem to endorse the behavior, or one video of people wearing a retailer’s clothing while taking a hit off a bong and with that brand’s filter added. The list goes on. So how much are marketers rolling the dice?

Based on an analysis of more than 4,000 user-generated marketing videos, more than 6 percent contained content that was flagged as problematic by the brand whose custom filter was added. Consider that in the context of Gatorade’s Snapchat effort: The campaign generated more than 165 million impressions, a towering figure, but if 6 percent were problematic, that works out to almost 10 million brand-inappropriate views. That’s a huge number that will make even the most adventurous marketer pause.

Given the ephemeral nature of Snaps and the lack of any means of managing content, Gatorade will never know the magnitude of the risk to which it was exposed. Maybe inappropriate use of the brand isn’t an issue for a youth-focused brand like Gatorade, but for others, the risk and consequences are likely to be of far greater concern. A car company, for example, won’t want its brand associated with selfies snapped by people in vehicles not wearing seatbelts. Likewise, beer or spirits brands won’t be comfortable with minors sharing content using logos or other assets.

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