How Snapchat Raised the Bar for Brands on Mobile

Opinion: Until Snapchat, mobile advertising was pretty ugly

Many questions remain following the remarkable Snap Inc. initial public offering. Is Snap a media company or a camera company? Will Snapchat be the conduit through which an entire generation consumes content? And how will Snap achieve its massive revenue targets?

Snap will need TV-level ad revenue in order to live up to its valuation. And the company believes the key to success is not with low-performing video ads on a larger scale (the YouTube model, shall we say), but with a superior ad format.

Until Snapchat, mobile advertising was pretty ugly. Mobile ad formats, like banners and video, had been repurposed for mobile from web and TV. Average response rates to these formats are below 1 percent.

In the fall of 2014, Snapchat announced that it would be introducing a new ad format based on its beloved filters, which had won the hearts of its millennial audience. In a blog post, the company said:

We won’t put advertisements in your personal communication—things like Snaps or chats. That would be totally rude. We want to see if we can deliver an experience that’s fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted.

And it did deliver. With its sponsored lens ad format, brand filters were mixed in with Snapchat’s popular fairy crowns and barf rainbows. The consumer could choose to engage and co-create with a brand, adding his or her own voice, and then spread the brand’s message to a look-alike audience of his or her peers.

Snapchat provided the platform for consumers to invite brands into their personal conversations. And in doing so, the first iteration of “shared media” was born, and the consumer took control of both shaping and distributing their favorite brands’ messages.

There are well known examples of Snapchat brand filter campaigns, which have hit it out of the park. An early Taco Bell campaign during Cinco de Mayo that turned consumers’ heads into giant taco shells had 224 million views in one day.

Engagement rates on early campaigns went through the roof because the consumer was an active participant in message creation. Most important, the consumer was also the distributor of the message. One might say that the consumer became the ad medium itself.

Social media marketing, where a brand engages with its opt-in followers, is one thing. But Snapchat introduced a form of marketing where the consumer became the content creator and the brand ambassador.

A shared media industry has blossomed beyond the confines of the Snapchat platform as brands have discovered that they can tap into their own audiences with “shoot and share” engagements. Brands are now trying to figure out what the evolution of shared media looks like beyond the Snapchat platform. Brands are starting to test shared media because it is the best way to authentically endorse their brand and reach audiences on mobile.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Guinness is running a St Patrick’s Day campaign where it invites people to take photos of themselves with a Guinness foam mustache and share them on social media with the hashtag #StacheForCharity.
  • Folgers is running a shared media campaign where the brand is asking consumers to record themselves singing the Folgers jingle and upload their videos to a website, where participants can view and vote on the winner.

The challenge with these examples is that the experience is not seamless for consumers, and there are no branded filters that make it more fun for users and the content higher quality for the brand. Both elements—simplicity and fun—Snapchat delivers on in spades.

The most sophisticated shared media campaign running outside of the Snapchat platform solves all of these challenges and is part of Maroon 5’s launch of its latest single, “Cold.” Participating fans can virtually star in the Cold music video for 15 seconds. The campaign is not running on Snapchat, but it does have Snapchat-style filters, as well as brand-safety and a viewer call-to-action.

Here’s how it works: The band invites its fans to shoot video of themselves dancing to the song. Once a consumer’s brief video is uploaded, a filter is applied making it appear that the fan is dancing at the party featured in the Cold music video. Participants can then share the video with their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and on LinkedIn or Kik, garnering likes and retweets for the consumer while helping the band promote its new single at the same time. Viewers can then click to watch the full music video on YouTube.

Why did it take a company like Snapchat to raise the bar for brands on mobile? I believe the company capitalized on two things that made its core product a success: new technology and age-old human behavior.

Shoot-and-share mobile video technology is just now widespread. And behaviorally, consumers are not only willing to share—they have a need to share. They always have.

As a result, shared media ad formats were born. Finally, we have ads that are not a disruption. We have ads that work because they are designed for a social mobile experience. Rather than a distraction, brands are welcomed into the conversation.

Katherine Hays is the founder and CEO of user-generated marketing platform Vivoom.