There is no shortage of marketers rushing to meet consumers where they live online, to elbow their way in and find even a moment of relevance amidst the cacophony of tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook updates, and every other platform that defines the current age of casual communication.
It's taken years for many brands to get a handle on just how to organize and create for Twitter and Facebook, then something like Snapchat comes along and marketers are faced with the challenge of engaging via an app in which the content disappears in seconds. And, as with every emerging platform that promises a pathway to a young audience, there's the eternal challenge: the struggle between figuring out an application that makes strategic sense for a brand, and stands on its own creatively, and just getting the hell on there and getting that sweet, sweet millennial attention. And, when it comes to the promise of the latter, the pull of Snapchat is too strong to resist. A recent Comscore report found that with 32.9% penetration, Snapchat was the third most popular social app among 18-34-year-olds (behind Facebook and Instagram, but ahead of Twitter, Pinterest, and Vine). And if you look at just the 18-24-year-old base, the app has 50% penetration. The company is said to have about 30 million active users and claims that people send and view more than 700 million pictures and 500 million "stories"—which allow brands to create longer narratives that last 24 hours—a day.
By providing content with a limited lifespan, it combines the appointment-viewing value of sports with the engagement of social media. There's also no hindsight in Snapchat; a brand is only as good as its last snap.
Here's a look at some of the top brands investing time and creative efforts in this fast-growing social media playground.
What: The brand has snapped out pics of LeBron and behind-the-scenes commercial footage with other athletes like NFLers Richard Sherman and Johnny Manziel, as well as creative food snaps and contests.
Why It Works: People have been watching McD's ads forever, so using Snapchat as a way to give fans unique looks at their favorite athletes—who also happen to be in a McD's spot—is simple way to add value to its social presence. "We’re really excited to explore the 'chat' and 'here' features more," says Lainey Garcia, McDonald’s Snapchat lead in the U.S. "The instant face-to-face video chat has a number of possibilities for us, too. The more one-to-one conversations we’re able to have with our fans the better."
Who: Taco Bell
What: With agency Deutsch LA and director Jason Zada, the brand launched its Spicy Chicken Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos with one of the first Snapchat Stories—a six-minute mini-movie that included a scene on the red carpet of the MTV Movie Awards, and was filmed and posted in less than 24 hours.
Why It Works: As branded efforts go, it would be tough to come up with a more perfect storm for this audience—Snapchat, Doritos tacos, MTV, and movie stars. Scenes were still being shot as the first scenes were being posted, pushing the boundaries of what brands are able and, more importantly, willing to do on the platform.
Who: Mondelez/Sour Patch Kids
What: The brand enlisted Vine star Logan Paul to post a Snapchat "Story" to the Sour Patch account, incorporating the candy, and the candy's "first it's sour/then it's sweet" device into his usual mix of online bromedy.
Why It Works: The brand has the risk tolerance to try out a partnership with a new form of social celebrity. It also seems to recognize the platform’s unique place in consumers’ digital lives. Farrah Bezner, marketing director of Mondelez candy division, says it’s a very personal way to connect with people and enables the brand to send them content one-on-one. "In partnership with Logan, we published a daily Snapchat Story and Logan also reached out to some fans directly, with personal video messages using Snapchat's recently added video feature."
Who: General Electric
What: The brand’s SnapChat debut was on July 15 and so far it’s introduced astronaut Buzz Aldrin to its younger fans, unveiled The Mission sneakers celebrating the 45th anniversary of GE’s contribution to the 1969 moon landing, and posted regular content on GE's roster of machines, as well as brain teasers, fun facts and puzzles.
Why It Works: So far, it’s solid addition to GE’s already impressive content lineup—the brand has found success by sharing its own big feats of invention, and encouraging interest in science across a range of social platforms including Instagram, YouTube and Vine. The Snapchat efforts continue its commitment to geeky goodness. GE's Global Director of Innovation Sam Olstein says the company is excited by the platform's potential, "The disappearing nature of its content encourages repeat usage and provides us with a unique way to celebrate invention with an expanding community of young fans."
Who: National Basketball Association
What: At the 2014 NBA Draft, fans on Snapchat got to see exclusive behind-the-scenes clips of the event, like players arriving on the NBA bus. During The Finals, the league posted exclusive videos between games, including one of hoops legend Bill Russell meeting the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard.
Why It Works: Sports are already well-suited to social, with so many stars, teams and drama to spawn endless story potential, as well as the most consistent (and arguably most valuable) appointment-viewing content left on the planet. It’s a smart move for a league looking to build and retain a young fanbase, with the possibilities of collaborating with its already very social star players seemingly endless. We’ve come a long way since Inside Stuff.
What: The brand started its adventures in Snapchat by sending its first 100 followers teaser footage of its NSX prototype in action.
Why It Works: The car brand has a presence on Vine, Twitter, and Instagram but distinguished its Snapchat effort by making its first post an exclusive offering.
Who: Rebecca Minkoff
What: The fashion label's most celebrated move on the app is when the fashion brand debuted its 2014 Spring Collection on Snapchat just before it hit the New York Fashion Week runway in September 2013.
Why It Works: Just like comic books geeks, fashion fans want scoops and bits of gold before anyone else—what better way to fire them up by making it exclusive and ephemeral.
What: At Coachella this year, the beer brand sent cropped snaps to followers as clues to surprise shows on any given day during the festival. Users who responded with the right band or artist got an early confirmation of an act scheduled for the Heineken House, the beer sponsor’s stage.
Why It Works: Again, and we can’t emphasize this enough—Exclusive. Content. Making it timely and tied to a specific event, much like Minkoff’s Fashion Week efforts, just fit the platform and users expectations even better.
What: The show and its stars posted snaps from the red carpet of its Season Three premiere, and began posting regularly throughout the season.
Why It Works: More exclusive content, sent directly to fans. It’s a winning formula, especially when your target demographic is the young and self-obses...uh, cool.
Who: The Association of Surfing Professionals
What: Not only does the organization post snaps of real-time updates of big contest and other epic waves, it also features stuff like 2013 ASP Rookie of the Year Nat Young sending "autographed" selfies to fans through Snapchat.
Why It Works: Like the NBA, the ASP has a cornucopia of sports content to serve up. Instead of hardwood, it’s got waves for surfers and other fans stuck inland or behind a desk.
Who: Free People
What: The brand uses Snapchat to give fans sneak peeks at new collections, looks inside the company office, as well as to ask fans about weekend plan or, like on Question Wednesdays, answer questions for Free People employees, ranging from "What was the first concert you've ever been to?" to "If you're an alien what would you look like?"
Why It Works: Exclusive, unique engagement designed to strengthen the bond between the brand and its fans. Free People director of marketing Kathryn O'Connor says that since the content disappears, there's little risk for brands wanting to try something new. "We keep followers guessing, so that when they go to open a snap, we have 100% of their attention," she says. "It’s a channel where followers get real insight into the brand and what we’re doing. There is a true delight factor in that."
What: Using the Story feature to post sequences of tasty photos that lead users to promo codes for the online food delivery and take-out service. The brand's also enlisted "Snapchat artist" Michael Platco for more snappy fun times.
Why It Works: A simple approach that makes perfect sense for the brand. Sometimes things don’t have to be more complicated than funny pics and discount pizza.