Written by Sandra Markovic


The perks of being a ‘brandsnapper’ 

As with anything else, Snapchat has its pros and cons. Brands are reluctant about using the mobile app because of the lack of analytics and targeting opportunities and, since late 2014, the money to pay for an ad space. It might feel like an expensive shot in the dark. On the other hand, many global brands such as Disney, Universal Pictures, Heineken, McDonalds and Audi have added Snapchat to their digital marketing toolbox. They became Snapchat brands, hereafter called the self-invented word ‘brandsnappers’ – keep reading to find out why. 

"We said, 'why do you want targeting so badly?' and they said, 'well we want to show this ad to people that want to see it. So we said, 'why don’t we just ask them if they want to see it?'” 

– Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel (Paresh, 2014)

The social media users in this mobile world, where attention appears to be as volatile as the wind, freedom of choice is something consumers seem to take for granted. Branding and marketing often seem inauthentic and are not always welcome in social media (Fournier & Avery, 2011). Therefore, not placing ads on personal messages but to run on ‘Stories’ is a risky but smart move. This means users will be able to skip the ads and brands putting out the question: “I have an ad I would like to show you, do you want to see it?” 

Micro-targeting and customized messaging are reasons among many to use social media (Fournier & Avery, 2011). By using visual storytelling through mobile apps, such as Snapchat, brands can generate greater awareness and serve consumers in their micro-moments (Kaneshige, 2015). Storytelling also allows brands to create a more intimate and emotional bond to their consumers. After all, Snapchat is still mostly a messaging app with a friendly, personal feel to it. 

Social media consumers tend to more trust their own opinions and the opinions of their peers (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011) and through for example ‘vloggers’ brands can communicate on a more personal level rather than pushing ads (Gensler et al., 2013). Take Shaun ‘Shonduras’ McBride for instance, Snapchat’s first own celebrity and one of the first to make money of using the app. Making branded content with an authentic message style, brands pay up to $30,000 for advertising deals with McBride and other power users (Huet, 2014). No doubt in that there is an interest in this personalized way of reaching out to social media consumers.

In an interview with Forbes McBride says: “I think brands are starting to notice now that they can put something on Instagram or Facebook, but the youth isn’t on Facebook, and if they’re on Instagram, they’re going to just scroll past it. But with Snapchat you have their undivided attention, they’re holding down the screen, and it’s awesome. When else does that demographic spend seven seconds just soaking something in? They don’t. They’re too fast. So I think Snapchat really nails that.” (Huet, 2014)

He pinpoints it well. By providing a gateway to the nitpicky young audience, teens and Millennials, Snapchat caters to brands. The other aspect of 24-hour-only stories makes the message feel exclusive and peers will pay full attention (Huet, 2014). Brands like Disney, Universal Pictures, Heineken, McDonalds and Audi have noticed that teens will pay attention to branded content delivered with an authentic Snapchat style. 

Global ‘brandsnappers’: How Disney, Universal Pictures and Audi did it

Today’s brand management demands flexibility, opportunism and adaptation instead of strategic planning (Fournier & Avery; 2011). Although stepping out and deciding to try on something new is not always easy. If a concept seems to work it might feel risky to make a bold move. On the other hand, for a brand to continue growing sometimes risks have to be taken. Among others, three big players; Disney, Universal Pictures and Audi have decided to take the leap using Snapchat in their digital marketing activities. Here is how they did it. 


Disney decided to contact the earlier mentioned ‘Shonduras’ to let him take over their official Snapchat account for several events at Disneyland and the Disney World parks. Disney joined the mobile platform in May 2014 and let the news spread via word of mouth in preparation for their first event involving Snapchat (Peterson. 2014).  

The project sprung from an effort to connect with fans through emerging social media and to engage the audience (Peterson. 2014). VP of digital marketing for Disney Parks Tom Aronson said: "We loved the creativity that we were seeing from users" (Goodman, 2014). During a 24-hour Snapventure, ‘Shonduras’ came in to guide audiences through the park. As expressed by Aronson: "With our own 24-hour event and their 24-hour Stories, it just seemed like a really perfect test for us." (Goodman, 2014) As they have decided to have ‘Shonduras’ and other power users as reoccurring guest stars, the results must be quite satisfying for Disney. 

Figure 1 (adapted from Huet, 2014)

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures was Snapchat’s ad buying pioneer as they purchased the first advertising spot. A 20-second trailer for the upcoming horror movie “Ouija” was shown in the millions. Even though final figures are not available and the ad does not persist, the studio does not worry. Universal vice president of digital marketing Doug Neil said the result is pleasing and the studio managed to reach a young audience, which was the goal.  (Beck, 2014)

“The people who watched the ad were ones that pressed to play so they were focused on actually viewing the content. As it turns out there were a number of people who screen captured it and it’s actually moved beyond the Snapchat window. But our goal was to get exposure in Snapchat and that was accomplished” said Neil. (Beck, 2014)

 Figure 2 (adapted from Adweek 2015)


To stand out in the advertising clutter at Super Bowl Sunday 2014, Audi wanted to do something fresh. The car brand partnered up with social media agencies to find a way to authentically connect with a new audience – the Millennials. To differentiate from the marketing messages overflowing social media feeds, Snapchat was used as the platform to generate a storytelling conversation using humorous and personal content. (Huge Inc., 2015) 

The campaign was successful as Audi drove the most online conversation of any car company on Super Bowl Sunday and they managed to create brand awareness among the targeted group. One third of this was a result from the Snapchat campaign, and the conversations spilled over to other channels as well. In total there were 37 million social impressions with 100,000 views on Snapchat and 2,400 mentions on Twitter. (Huge Inc., 2015) 

A snap drives chat: the stories goes beyond the app 

So there it is, the reason why Snapchat can be a useful digital marketing tool for brands. Storytelling in mobile apps seem to have worked for many other brands, and the trend is expected to grow in 2015. As it gets trickier to get social media users attention, it seems that Snapchat is a good gateway to the hard-to-reach teens and Millennials. 

The platform has not yet been flooded by brands and still has an organic feel to it. Although, as we all know, new does not last forever. As more brands tag along, Snapchat’s appealing authenticity, youth appeal and novelty will fade. No need to worry though, the future is still to be discovered and what that has in store for Snapchat in marketing is up to brands to decide. It might turn out to be the next personalized YouTube channel on mobile (Huet, 2014). 

Snapchat offers users the option to choose if they want to see an ad or not, and the ad only lasts for 24-hours. Perhaps it is more effective to let consumers decide themselves as the option and disappearing aspect might make people more susceptible for actually paying attention. It seems that advertising through Snapchat not only reach ‘snapchatters’, but goes beyond the app. So even though there is a lack of analytics and the targeting is poor, brands can use Snapchat as a complement to drive conversations on other social media channels. As seen in the examples of brands using the platform, the opportunities to trickle across other social media, engage consumers and spread awareness via word-of-mouth is great. This is why Snapchat can be a useful digital marketing tool and why brands should consider becoming ‘brandsnappers’. 


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