Snapchat’s yearly ad revenue trailed Facebook’s $26bn to $366.69mn in 2016. You might reasonably see this as an indicator that brands don’t yet regard Snapchat as a viable channel – but our question is: are those brands right to feel this way?

Despite its relative obscurity as a marketing channel, the image-sharing social platform has hosted loads of successful ad campaigns, for brands including Coca-ColaBurberry and General Electric. In recent years, Snapchat has been used in numerous Cannes Lions winning campaigns.

It seems that perceptions of Snapchat marketing are lagging the demonstrable reality: Snapchat has emerged as an important channel. Yes, you can still get by without it – but if you don’t know how to market using Snapchat, there’s a primary colour missing from your palette.

Let’s fix that. In this guide, we’re going to round up the current state of Snapchat as a marketing channel, before moving on to discuss some of the methods – both paid and organic – that we can use to good effect on this channel. Our aim is for you to leave with a good working knowledge of how Snapchat marketing is done.

Understanding Snapchat

Before we get started, may we ask: have you used Snapchat before?

You may not regard yourself as the archetypal Snapchat user, but as with any other social platform, it’s crucial that you get to know it before you use it for marketing.

Install Snapchat on your smartphone, ask a couple of colleagues or friends to do the same, and start snapping to each other. Explore as many features as you can, and follow a selection of brands to get a feel for how other marketers are using the platform.

Another part of understanding Snapchat is finding out about its users. It turns out they’re a numerous and surprisingly diverse bunch.

By the end of 2016, Snapchat had upwards of 7 million monthly users in the UK. Here’s how they broke down by age group, according to a Verto App Watch UK survey carried out in October 2016:

  • 18-24: 23%
  • 25-34: 28%
  • 35-44: 20%
  • 45-54: 17%
  • 55+: 11%

Under-18s were not included in the survey, which also found that 55% of Snapchat’s UK users are female, while 45% are male.

Organic Snapchat marketing

There’s a lot to love about organic marketing on Snapchat. First and foremost, you can use it to communicate with customers in much the same ways they snap to each other. The line between personal communication and B2C communication is blurred, and this allows a new space for creative marketing ideas to thrive.

Snaps may be short-lasting, but unlike most other types of social media communication, they fill the entire screen of the recipient’s device and address them directly. They’re compelling, and sending them won’t cost you a penny.

Let’s take a look at a few case studies of organic Snapchat marketing that hits the mark. We’ve included some notes on how you can replicate these examples in your own campaigns:

H&M and Boiler Room’s ground-breaking “urban chase”

In 2014, fashion retailers H&M Poland teamed up with trendy gig promoters Boiler Room for one of the most successful Snapchat marketing initiatives yet seen.

The campaign centred around an “urban chase” – a social-media-led treasure hunt in an urban environment.

H&M had hidden free tickets for sold-out Boiler Room gigs in their Krakow and Warsaw stores. They directed people to follow their hints and messages on Snapchat for clues on where the tickets were hidden.

Above all, H&M’s pioneering urban chase was brilliant because of how strongly it appealed to its audience. By targeting fans of the high-profile Boiler Room brand, via the ascendant Snapchat, they consolidated their own status with their audience. Their rewards included 943 new Snapchat follows, an overall social reach of over 3.8 million and some complimentary coverage in the Polish press.

Action it!

H&M’s urban chase campaign is easy to replicate, provided you have:

  • Something exciting to give away; and
  • Access to appropriate urban locations (or willing partners who have the same).

Here’s how we would go about orchestrating an urban chase on Snapchat:

  1. Identify a time-sensitive prize (e.g. expiring voucher or gig tickets). If your brand can’t offer anything suitable, consider finding a partner brand with high relevance to your audience.
  2. Identify the location you want to draw attention to. Choose somewhere in a densely-populated area. If you’re marketing to young adults, an area where lots of students live would do nicely.
  3. Plan your clues. Just two or three steps will do – e.g. a storefront, a floor number, an aisle. Make sure extra footfall and accessibility are accounted for in your planning!
  4. Prepare materials to promote the urban chase across your channels, e.g. Facebook banners, Instagram posts. These should direct people to follow your Snapchat for clues on where to find the prize. Publish them just before the chase starts.
  5. Ready your Snaps. These should look just like regular smartphone pictures, taken in the appropriate location. Instead of taking the photo in Snapchat, just use a phone camera as normal and then upload to Snapchat. This will allow you to send the same photo repeatedly to batches of followers. Use Snapchat’s draw tool to highlight clues/locations in the photos.
  6. Message the photos to your followers. You will need to keep doing this as you acquire new followers throughout the chase. As such, you’ll need to assign someone to Snap messaging duty throughout the duration.
  7. Get a snap with the competition winner when they find the prize. Ask for some photos for other channels too. Post on your social channels to tell the story of the chase.

The WWF’s #LastSelfie campaign

In 2014, WWF harnessed the worldwide selfie craze to create an incredibly poignant, Snapchat-led marketing campaign, titled “#LastSelfie”.

Working in collaboration with Snapchat, the organisation sent out #LastSelfie snaps to their Snapchat followers. The snaps featured photos of endangered animals, alongside donation info and CTA copy that urged the recipient to take a screenshot and share the snap on Twitter, using the #LastSelfie hashtag.

Incredibly, the hashtag achieved an overall Twitter reach of 120 million in one week. At the time, that was about half of all active users on Twitter.

This is an incredible example of how to use an emerging social platform to convey an important message. The #LastSelfie website sums the campaign up nicely:

“In a way Snapchat is a mirror of real life. The images you see are transient, fleeting, and gone too soon. They are unique, instant and yet only live for ten seconds.

“Our selfies are the same, not just because they are delivered over Snapchat, but because these are the selfies of endangered species. Their plight heightened by the fact that before your eyes they simply disappear…as they will do in real life if we don’t take action.”

Action it!

You’d be hard-pressed to imitate the #LastSelfie campaign without directly copying it. What you can do is learn from it.

This was a stunning piece of marketing because it made the medium a part of the message. Most brands don’t have anything quite as important to say as does the WWF, but we could all benefit from using a creative approach that engages deeply with the mechanics of Snapchat.

Kylie Jenner – personal branding

Personal branding on Snapchat is big business. In 2016, professional famous person Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat stories – which included make-up tutorials, poolside selfies and videos of Ms Jenner singing along to Kanye West – were viewed by an average of 8-to-9 million people.

Jenner channelled this vast following into achieving various marketing goals, including:

  • Cosmetics sales
  • Cross-channel promotion (i.e. Instagram)
  • Generating interest in Kylie Jenner’s own app (similar content to her Snapchat, but costing $2.99/month).

Action it!

You might consider Kylie Jenner an especially well suited candidate for a personal branding campaign on Snapchat, given the youthfulness of her target audience. However, whilst Snapchat usage figures tell us the app is especially popular with the youngest users, we can also see the app is widely used by older groups. To return to the figures used in the intro to this article: 77% of adult Snapchat users in the UK are aged 25 or over. Perhaps Snapchat can do more for your personal brand than you would’ve imagined.

Marketing with Snapchat Ads

Paying for Snapchat advertising may be well worth your while – especially if you have capacity to produce high quality video/graphic content in-house.

Advertising on Snapchat is a very different beast to Facebook advertising. The specifications for each ad type are more detailed, the lead time is longer and the relationship with the platform is more collaborative. You can find out how it works here.

Here’s a brief rundown of the ad types currently available on Snapchat:

Snap Ads

Video Player

Source: Snap Inc.

Snap ads are delivered to users just as if they were regular snaps. They take the form of a video lasting up to ten seconds, and can be made to link through to one of the following media types or actions:

  • Long-form video
  • App install
  • Article
  • Web view

Having this choice of click-through options gives the advertiser flexibility in terms of how their ads will convert.

Snap ads can take the form of a video, a still image, or something in-between (i.e. a GIF). Both the ad itself and the content it links through to must meet Snapchat’s specifications.

Sponsored Geofilters

Video Player

Source: Snap Inc.

Snapchat Geofilters are location based graphics that users can layer over the photos and drawings that make up their snaps.

Geotargeting with this ad type is highly flexible. You can deliver your Geofilter to users nationwide, throughout a chain of branches, or at a specific event or shared location.

In terms of the advertiser’s creative skills requirements, Sponsored Geofilters are less demanding than Snap Ads. The advertiser delivers the Geofilter to Snapchat as a .png file with a transparent background, as per Snapchat’s specifications for this ad type. Once the submission has been approved, the Geofilter is made available to users in the agreed location(s).

Sponsored lenses

Video Player

Source: Snap Inc.

With an eight-week-plus lead time and stringent specifications, Sponsored Lenses are the premium option amongst Snapchat’s ad products.

Snapchat lenses create an animated effect over the self-facing camera view on the user’s screen. They’re triggered by the user’s facial movements – specifically: open mouthraise eyebrowskiss and smile.

Popular examples include lenses which:

  • Add dog ears, nose and tongue
  • Vomit rainbow
  • Add angelic facial features

As you may have gathered, the aim here is maximum fun. If you can come up with a lens that gets schoolkids kicked out of the classroom for disruptive behaviour, you’ve nailed it.

Sponsored lenses are created collaboratively between Snapchat and the advertiser. The advertiser provides the storyboard and some design elements; Snapchat builds the lens.

We hope this has helped improve your understanding of marketing on Snapchat. We recommend starting off with some organic snaps to your followers, before moving on to ads. Happy snapping!