Snapchat’s created the first ever ‘welcomed’ ads – and it's making a killing

“Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It belongs to you. It's yours to take, rearrange and re-use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”

So said Banksy, in his (brilliant) book, Wall and Piece.

Advertising has had a long history of being much-maligned. Nobody likes ads, we just put up with them. We recognise that they prey on our insecurities but, by virtue of both their prominence and ubiquity, can’t escape them.

Banksy prefaced the above with this: “they leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it.”

Well, one company appears to agree that its public ads do belong to you, and are yours to take and re-use.

One company is using sophisticated technology, but not to bully you – they’re instead using it to give both parties what they want. Advertisers want reach. They want eyeballs – and more than that, they’re able to measure them. The public wants to have fun, communicate with friends and generally have as uncluttered and unobtrusive an experience as possible.

It is for these reasons I think Snapchat has created the first ever ads that people actually welcome. The first ads people are not only happy to see, but happy to share, too.

Sponsored lenses are ad campaigns in which brands pay to have customised filters included in the range of selfie lenses available that day.

Given the way you can edit Snaps, if somebody wants to appropriate and share a branded lens with, say, a giant ejaculating penis beside it, well, they can do that too. Do that on a bus stop ad and it’s ‘vandalism’.

Political correctness gone mad etc. etc…

Anywho, the branded ones are mixed in with Snapchat’s in-house ones (including the still-funny ability to face swap in a photo or video, either with somebody beside you or with the face of somebody in a photo).

According to this piece on Business Insider, advertisers are spending anywhere from $300,000 to $750,000 for a single day. The same piece says Snapchat has now run more than 100 sponsored lenses, with brands like Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, Pixar, Michael Kors, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Gatorade, and L’Oréal getting involved.

Even at the lower end of the price spectrum, we’re talking about tens of millions of pounds of revenue. Not bad considering Snapchat’s first sponsored lens debuted less than a year ago on Hallowe’en last year, for 20th Century Fox’s ‘The Peanuts Movie’.

The Taco Bell one is a good example to touch on – the lens was viewed 224 million times. Apparently, nearly half of app users who tried the lens shared snaps of their faces as tacos with their friends on the app.

As a PR man, but one conscious of the need to measure and prove the worth of my agency’s work, I’m uneasy with the thought of throwing hundreds of thousands of pounds at what is otherwise ‘awareness’ marketing, but let’s be honest – brands spend millions on nigh-on unmeasurable TV and outdoor campaigns without breaking a sweat. To add to its ‘viewed’ advertiser stats, Snapchat’s done some of its own research and, perhaps unsurprisingly, found that lenses both stick in users’ minds and generate ‘greater purchasing intent’.

All that aside, it struck me that despite being double what it would cost to reach the same number of people on Facebook, Snapchat’s hit on a very unique way to make money.

It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. Will consumers get bored? Will brands continue to throw money at it? Will Snapchat’s announcement that it will be tracking user data to show personalised branded lenses pay off?

Whatever happens, fair play to Snapchat for developing a commercial product that is, at present, seemingly working for and welcomed by all parties.

Rich Leigh is founder of Rich Leigh & Co

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