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As the Mobile Messaging War Heats Up, Kik Tries to Win Over Marketers With GIFs

Bots serve pithy clips to different users

Twentieth Century Fox wants to talk to teens the way they do with their friends, so it's using GIFs to chat with them on mobile messaging app Kik.

The film studio and agency Trailer Park are launching a campaign today for the sci-fi flick Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the sequel to 2014's The Maze Runner based on James Dashner's book trilogy. In the movie, a group of boys look for clues about a mysterious organization called WCKD.

To play off of the movie's twisting plot, Fox made a PSA and is using Kik's Promoted Chats to let fans talk to a bot version of the WCKD character. The bot offers text-based information and a total of 12 GIFs that walk users through a series of challenges.

Like the movie's story, the app's messaging can go several ways. "It kind of feels like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books that you may have played as a kid but played out in a much more modern way," said Paul Gray, Kik's director of platform services.

Fox's campaign marks the first time a brand has used GIFs on Kik, Gray said. It's also the first work to be born from the technology Kik gained when it acquired GIF messaging-app Relay last year.

"One of the things we're always trying to work on is developing storytelling and combining that with emerging technology," said Glenn Sanders, group creative director at Trailer Park. "The story that we wanted to tell actually matched up perfectly with what Kik is launching."

Mobile messaging is a battleground

Over the past year, Kik's racked up a lot of buzz with marketers that want to tap into its massive group of 200 million users.

The company doesn't break out how many use the app monthly but says 40 percent of U.S. youths—people aged 13 to 26 years old—are active.

The average Kik user spends 97 minutes chatting on the app each week and sends 73 messages a day.

Buoyed by those numbers, Kik was one of the first messaging apps to go all-in on advertising. Since launching Promoted Chats last year, Gray said more than 15 million users have sent 400 million messages back and forth with brands like Spotify and Focus Features.

Noah Mallin, head of social at MEC North America, said Kik's been quick to build out ad targeting and build relationships with agencies, but Snapchat is the app getting more buzz from brands.

"First-mover isn't always an advantage," he said. "Right now, a lot of momentum has been moving to Snapchat just because it's newer. [Snapchat has] also been really savvy and public in striking the kind of deals they've struck with more mainstream publishers. Even if that's not necessarily the ad choice that every client is going to go for, it helps legitimatize the platform."

A few months after Kik launched Promoted Chats, Snapchat started building out its ad business, signing deals with big-name publishers like Time Inc. and Hearst. In June, Snapchat partnered with WPP and the Daily Mail to form an ad agency.

"Kik hasn't had that kind of very public style of partnership yet, so for bigger advertisers who are more traditional, it still isn't as on the radar as Snapchat is," Mallin said.

GIFs are one way Kik is looking to grow its ad business, but Guillaume Lelait, general manager at Fetch, said brands and agencies need new types of ads to stay afloat in the mobile messaging space.

"Moving forward, Kik will need to diversify both their ad offerings and core user base of teens to compete with the growth of major players like Snapchat," he said.

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