Snapchat in social media marketing: tips and examples for companies

The media hype around Snapchat appears to not just have been a flash in the pan. The app has now become one of the most widespread social media platforms. Over 150 million people use the app worldwide to take photos and record short videos. These can then be decorated with various functions and shared with your contacts and followers. The majority of users are teenagers and young adults – but the number of older users is also increasing. In addition, the Snapchat app is gaining popularity among non-English speakers. These are all indicators of a worthwhile marketing platform, especially for companies with a younger target audience. The photo and video app presents one of the most challenging channels for social media marketing. After all, Snapchat campaigns are designed to have a very short shelf life, as the unique thing about this app is that all content is deleted after a maximum of 24 hours. Despite this, there have been various diverse and successful Snapchat marketing campaigns, which demonstrate how Snapchat can be used as the means for successful and profitable advertising. Before looking into these, first of all it is important to understand how the app actually works.

What exactly is Snapchat?

Snapchat is designed for use by smart phone users, on both iOS and Android. At its core it is basically an instant, rather an image-based messaging app, which possesses various social media components. Primarily it is used for the recording, editing, and sending of short videos and photos, but it also features a messaging function for communicating with friends and acquaintances via a messenger. Once the app has been downloaded, users create their own account, which allows them to find other users and exchange contact information. That being said, the app’s approach is quite unusual when it comes to content – all created content is temporary and will disappear within 24 hours.

When you receive a picture or video from another Snapchat user, it can only be viewed a maximum of two times. Thereafter the content is no longer available as the photo/video deletes itself. There is also the possibility of creating a ‘story’ with multiple photos and/or videos – but even these Snapchat stories are only viewable for 24 hours.

The fleeting nature of the content may at first glance seem strange. After all, other social networks like Facebook and Instagram, as well as many other classic instant messaging services, place a strong emphasis on archiving content – particularly when it comes to pictures. But the disappearance of the media also has its own special allure, as it shares more similarities with natural face-to-face communication and leaves more room for spontaneity. On top of this, the fact that the photo disappears means that not every photo or video has to be meticulously planned and executed. The aim is to facilitate more relaxed communication.

The functions of the Snapchat app

Every user of the app has their own account and with it, their own personal Snapchat channel. With this you can send content to private contacts of yours within the app, or else share it with the whole Snapchat community in the form of a story. Even companies can create their own accounts and use it as a means of providing users with information, competitions, interesting content, and more. American Airlines, McDonalds, Taco Bell, and the NBA, are just some of the massive brands that have made a big impact on the app.

Furthermore, there is also a ‘Discover’ function: a platform for media companies collaborating with Snapchat with a special channel within the app. The likes of MTV, CNN, Cosmopolitan, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, Vice, and many more use this as means of communicating news and other entertaining content.

This discover section has been around since the beginning of 2015 and has enhanced the app as a professional source of information. Since then a lot of new features have been added to this section of the app. This video gives a good overview of the app’s major functions:

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In order to carry out a social media campaign on Snapchat, there are some other functions of the app that require a deeper understanding.

Taking snaps

The primary function of Snapchat is the creation of so-called snaps, which is the word used to refer to the photos and videos taken with the camera of your mobile device. These can be sent to other Snapchat users from your list of contacts. Users can further decorate these snaps with pre-made images, animations, and filters, or with shapes and texts, which can be created in the app itself.

Particularly popular are the so-called filters that scan the face of the person in front of the camera and add a digital mask, i.e. an animation, to it. In fact, many of the filters have now started to incorporate certain mimics and gestures into these animations – for example, opening the mouth or lifting eyebrows. A well-known Snapchat filter is one where, after the mouth is opened, an animated rainbow-colored waterfall flows out. This is a good example of just how quirky and curious some of these filters are.

Each snap that is shared with others deletes itself automatically after the second viewing, or else after a certain amount of time on the receiving device. An opened snap will disappear after no more than ten seconds (the sender decides how long the photo should be displayed for) and is then deleted after the second viewing. This is similarly the case with videos, which can have a maximum length of no more than ten seconds. As a recipient, you can also only re-watch the video once before it is no longer available.

Snapchat Stories

The ‘My Story’ function gives users the possibility of combining their snaps into a short story. For example, for users to document their day or their experience of an event – and then share this with other users. The content of a story is continuously added to the Snapchat Story feed, allowing for a chronological depiction of the story to unfold. As the day goes on the story can grow and grow.

With regards to the visibility of a Snapchat story, it is possible to choose whether only followers of an account can view them or if all Snapchat users will have access to it. Furthermore, it is also possible to grant access to only a selection of your contacts. Once published, individual parts of a story are only viewable for 24 hours. After this, they share the same fate as all other snaps and are deleted.

Instant messaging

In addition to all this the app also has an instant messaging feature, which allows users to be in a chat ranging from 1 to 16 people. Within this feature, you can communicate via text, voice recordings, and snaps – similarly to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. It is also possible to stage a phone call between two users, with or without a video link.

One big difference to usual messaging apps is that even the text messages sent via Snapchat messenger are not stored forever and also delete themselves automatically. This occurs once they have been read and you have left the chat. If needed though, anyone can opt to keep individual messages; for example, if important information like an address is sent via the messenger.

Background to the Snapchat app

It is primarily the disappearing content-feature that fundamentally differentiates Snapchat from other social media and instant messaging apps. This concept is particularly appealing to younger smartphone users; something which is demonstrated by the majority of Snapchat users being teenagers and young adults in their early and mid-twenties. At the same time, though, the app is gaining popularity among the over-25 demographic. This means that the age of the average user is increasing – though older users are usually digital natives and people with a technical affinity. Despite this, Snapchat still fundamentally remains a channel to reach younger users.

If you want to create a Snapchat account then you must first download the app, install it, and then enter the required information – no real complications so far. Though it can often be the case that, upon opening the app, some users find themselves slightly disorientated due to the missing classic menu view.

Using the app

Many users originally find the handling of the app quite difficult, as the way Snapchat operates is quite unique. Once the app is launched the user finds themselves in the camera mode, as this is activated automatically. The starting screen differs very little from the conventional camera view of a smartphone – only the presence of the Snapchat symbol (a white ghost on a yellow background) makes it clear that you are actually in the app. This allows you to immediately start taking photos and recording videos. Any search for an overview list with the app’s other functions or even a drop-down menu will ultimately be futile.

Instead of normal menu options, individual features of the app can be accessed by swiping in different directions. By swiping down you will be arrive at an overview of your account. Here you can, among other things, adjust your account settings or search for new contacts. On the left of the starting screen is a list of current contacts; on the right are the Snapchat stories, and underneath the starting screen is the ‘Memories’ function of the app. It takes a bit of practice to get used to the app’s design and operating system – after that, Snapchat is very accessible and easy to use.

Are snaps really not saved?

The content that is created with Snapchat (aside from the texts received via the messaging function) is not saved permanently in the app. But there are several different tricks, which you can use to permanently keep the snaps on your phone. Saving photos that have been sent to you via the app can be very easily done; all you need to do is make a screenshot of them with your smartphone. Though when this happens the sender is informed that the recipient has screenshotted the content – although it is impossible to prevent someone from making a screenshot of a photo. In addition to this, there are also apps out there, i.e. specialist apps, that save pictures and videos undetected. These apps are banned by Snapchat but they cannot prevent them.

To this effect, it is possible to outwit the short lifespan of Snapchat-created content. But even if no user makes a copy of a snap, (the company responsible for the application) have data sovereignty over all content. And all the data that is sent between users on a day-to-day basis is stored on the company’s servers. 

Today the developers of Snapchat offer users the possibility of saving their own snaps. Since mid-2016 the ‘Memories’ function allows you to save your own snaps within the Snapchat app. These pictures and videos can then be found in the ‘Memories’ folder and can be reused at any time.

What opportunities does Snapchat offer for social media marketing?

Snapchat marketing campaigns have now become a big part of the business-to-customer sector, particularly in the USA. This is demonstrated by the app’s ‘Discover’ section that combines different media outlets, and also by other marketing opportunities offered by the service that are used by businesses. One of the big advantages compared to other social media platforms is that on Snapchat content gets the user’s full attention of the user. This is because content is actively retrieved and takes over the whole smartphone screen. As is the case with many forms of social media, Snapchat offers the opportunity to run Snapchat advertising campaigns and at the same time conduct marketing over your own account. Even if a fee-based advertising set-up doesn’t usually count as classic social media marketing, due to it being so innovative, we have outlined the opportunities offered by Snapchat below.

Snapchat advertising

After Snap Inc. tried out various strategies for the monetization of the app with users (e.g. paying for the option of repeatedly viewing snaps or for the option of permanently saving your favorite filters) and they had rejected them, the company decided to instead concentrate on advertising as their main income source. There are now several different, in part very unconventional, advertising formats with which companies can showcase products, etc. within the app. The following functions show just how creative Snapchat marketing can get:

  • Snap Ads: Snap Ads are windows for advertising found between individual users’ snaps, e.g. after viewing posts from the Discovery section or after you have watched a Snapchat story. This makes it possible to show advertising videos in high quality. Usually a video is ten seconds long, or else even longer as a ‘Long form video’. With a simple swipe movement during the advertisement, users will be brought to a new screen where they can find more information relating to the ad.
    In addition to this, items and mobile websites can also take the form of Snap Ads. Furthermore, there is the so-called App Install function, which allows you to embed a download link within an ad and give users the chance to immediately download the app that is being promoted (this feature is compatible with the app stores of both Google and Apple). How much these Snap Ads cost is not public information, but it is estimated that the price will be around the $1000 mark. 
  • Sponsored Geofilter: These are illustrations which correspond to the current geographical location of the app user. As soon as a snap is taken and there is a Geofilter available in this location, it can be used to illustrate the photo or video. Different cities and places of interest make up the so-called Community Geofilter: lettering, graphics, and logos. Every Snapchat user can create and submit these snaps free of charge.
    Using so-called On-Demand Geofilters, businesses can integrate such an on-screen display into the app. This acts as an effective marketing tactic for retail stores, restaurants, or an event. If, for example, a visitor to a café takes a snap, adds the café’s logo with the help of a Geofilter, and then shares this with their friends, the user will be indirectly advertising the café.
    For not that high a price, according to reports, it is possible to make a filter available for several hours within a certain, compact area or vicinity (the price then depends on the catchment area and the time period in which the filter is available). As soon as somebody in the area takes a snap, the app automatically offers the Geofilter to them. The design can be uploaded as it is or added to with the help of the templates offered by Snapchat.
  • Sponsored Lenses: It is even possible, for a certain time period, to make your own lenses available within the app. These can be designed and created in collaboration with the developers from Snapchat. What happens here is that on the screen next to the animated mask a company’s brand or logo will appear. An example of a company on Snapchat making use of this feature is 20th Century Fox, who in 2016 marked the release of ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ in the USA by taking over Snapchat with lenses in the style of the film’s characters.
    Lenses are by far the most remarkable, but also the most expensive, form of advertising within the app. There are no official prices or figures for this, although it rumored that a 24-hour long campaign will cost you something in the region of six figures. It offers companies the opportunity to have an advertising format that users can interact and play with – without even necessarily knowing that it is an advert. This is something that is very rare in the advertising sector.

Snapchat marketing over your own account

Away from the advertising spots, it is still possible to undertake Snapchat marketing. But to do this, your account requires a certain reach. So this means that if you don’t currently have a Snapchat account, it may be worth creating one now and beginning to acquire followers. The best way to do this is through good quality content that is relevant to the intended target group, and gaining exposure to the account through a variety of channels. This exposure can be achieved through other social media outlets, your website, a newsletter, or through other advertising channels. The so-called Snapcode, assigned to every new account, can be very helpful with this. This works like a QR code: as soon as it scanned in-app by the camera, the user is directed to the corresponding profile. With this code you can advertise your Snapchat account on a website or even in the print media. There is even product packaging with these codes printed on them. Launched in mid-2016, the Memories function gives a lot more freedom with regards to the media content of a marketing campaign. In the past, the content used and published in Snapchat campaigns had to be created at that very moment in the app. Up until then, Snapchat had primarily been a live medium. But thanks to Memories, it is now possible to save pictures and recordings and use them again at a later time. It is now also possible to use previously created content for snaps and stories. On top of all this, pictures taken and videos recorded outside the app can now also be uploaded to the Memories folder. As a result of this, creating professional pictures, graphics, and videos is a lot easier. It is also now possible to take content from other campaigns run across other platforms and use these for Snapchat. As opposed to the normal black frame, content that is added to the Memories section at a later stage will have a white frame. It will also feature information about when it was created, which acts as an indicator to let the user know that this content was pre-produced.

5 of the best Snapchat campaigns in portrait

The Snapchat campaigns described below are exemplary examples of the branding possibilities that the app has to offer. Whether for an advertising campaign with interesting content or for showing the values of an organization, the app has been used by many a brand to gain attention. Some of these required a rather substantial budget (e.g. the campaigns run by Gatorade and Taco Bell). Other strategies were based more on a creative idea (like those done by the WWF or Red Bull). These campaigns can serve as inspiration for effective Snapchat marketing.


On the day of the 2016 Super Bowl, Snapchat users across America, and in parts of Latin America, had the option of a Gatorade sponsored lens. The animation that was on offer was heavily intertwined with the theme of the Super Bowl: the tradition states that the coach of the winning team of the Super Bowl receives a ‘Gatorade shower’, which involves a large bucket of the drink being dunked over his/her head.

It was this tradition that the marketing campaign was centered around: For 24 hours, Snapchat users could play around with the lens and record video of themselves in which they were victims of an animated ‘Gatorade shower’. Below you can see exactly what a snap with this lens looked like; a Twitter post from Gatorade, wherein (Gatorade sponsored) tennis player Serena Williams receives a supposed shower:

The lens proved to be a big success. According to Snapchat, it was used approximately 60 million times, and through the sending and sharing of snaps was then viewed around 165 million times.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

In 2015, prior to the release of the fifth instalment of the ‘Mission Impossible’ series, there was a month long Snapchat campaign to promote the film. Paramount Pictures (the film studio responsible for the film) created a Snapchat account and promoted it over other social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Followers of the account could take part in various puzzles and tasks that were made available for 24 hours. In addition to this, during the campaign there was also briefly a special ‘Mission Impossible’ filter available for snaps. The filter used a fade-in from the movie and announced at the start that the message would self-destruct within a few seconds.

Users received the briefing for each mission in the form of a Snapchat. In a video, the lead actor Tom Cruise would explain the task at hand and then announce at the end that the message would now self-destruct – in the exact same way that messages in the film would also do. In this way the disappearing nature of messages, in both the film and in the app, were linked with each other. The tasks and assignments communicated in the messages involved the solving of some puzzle or the sketching of a new film logo.

Those who took part in the missions were rewarded with exclusive clips from the film pre-release. The best results were also posted on social media channels relating to the campaign. In total the campaign claimed to have achieved approximately 65 million impressions.


2014 saw the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Denmark use Snapchat for an eye-catching campaign. The initiative was focused on five of the most endangered animals and involved the WWF sending close-up recordings of individual animals to the app’s users. Through the use of a countdown that lasted several seconds, the images made the viewer aware of the fact that this could be the last recording of its kind. Therefore it is now time to act before these animals will disappear, just like these brief images and videos of them. Through this the WWF was calling for donations to their animal preservation projects.

The campaign was a complete success. In just three days, the donation goal amount was reached, having been originally intended as the target for the entire month. The hashtag #lastselfie that was used in the images also made waves across Twitter. After a week there had been approximately 40,000 tweets on the topic, which meant that the campaign received huge media attention.

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The campaign made very impressive use of the framework of the Snapchat app. On the one hand, the fleeting nature of the individual snaps was cleverly combined with the images of the animals, creating a hard-hitting metaphor for their potential extinction. On the other hand, the Snapchat marketing campaign used the quite unserious selfie photo format (one of the main things that the app is used for) in addressing a very serious issue. And this also meant that it particularly resonated with a younger audience.

Red Bull

The energy drinks company is well known for pursuing marketing tactics around themes that are aimed predominantly at a younger audience – e.g. with the use of extreme sports like motocross, mountain biking, skateboarding, and snowboarding. For this reason it is no surprise that Red Bull recruited professional snowboarder Mark McMorris for one of their Snapchat campaigns. The idea was quite simple: Red Bull handed over control of their Snapchat account to McMorris for a day, who then documented his activities with a smart phone in the form of a Snapchat story:

One of the main functions of the campaign was to show Red Bull as a major player in the snowboarding industry. It is also a very good example of how the story function of Snapchat can be used for media coverage, giving the public unusual insights into certain walks of life. Achieving an even wider reach with campaigns can be done by collaborating with influencers, who due to their established fame, have a large audience for marketing campaigns like this. Red Bull is known for frequently working together with prominent personalities and their approach to Snapchat marketing is no different, as is demonstrated by this story of a day in the life of a snowboarder.

Taco Bell

The USA-based fast food chain specializing in Mexican food was an early advocate of the Snapchat movement. Since May 2013, Taco Bell have had an active Snapchat account. The first Snapchat marketing campaign announced the reintroduction of a formerly popular Burrito – the first of many Snapchat campaigns to come. 

One of their major campaigns took place on Cinco de Mayo (a Mexican holiday) in 2016. A sponsored lens on the day (May 5th) allowed users of the Snapchat app to place an animated Taco on their face. Along with this, the Taco Bell logo was in plain view and the brand’s well known bell chime was also heard:

This all-around abstract idea was extremely successful with the apps‘ users. According to Snap Inc. the digital mask was used over 45 million times, and through the sending and sharing of these snaps, led to over 224 million impressions.

How does a Snapchat campaign actually work?

Anyone looking to carry out a marketing campaign on Snapchat should follow some basic conditions. Fundamental to every campaign is that:

  • the account in use has plenty of followers, allowing for a large reach
  • the content of the campaign is made up of image and/or video material
  • the campaign’s target group is no older than 30

Content can be published either in the form of individual snaps or as a story. Additionally you also have the choice of producing the content beforehand or releasing it as soon as it’s been shot within the app. Snapchat caters for content that is both professionally produced or authentic and unedited. The color of the frame will clearly show if the content was created in advance (white frame) or directly within the app (black frame).

Furthermore it goes without saying that the content should not just be relevant to the target audience, but should also fit the established format of the app. It is also worth noting that a Snapchat story should not be too long, as the attention span of the app’s users is even shorter than with other social networks, such as Facebook or YouTube. As opposed to a five-minute long film comprised of dozens of snaps, it is instead advised that you release your content in the form of just a handful of videos.

Various forms of content have proven to be particularly suitable for Snapchat marketing. Many campaigns have involved one or more of the following themes:

  • Informative and/or interesting content re. products, projects, the latest industry news, events, or the company itself
  • Short-term content with which to maintain a company’s image
  • Exclusive announcements for new projects/products
  • Competitions and special offers

But make sure to use the correct language and forms of expression; Snapchat is after all, an app that is predominantly used by a younger demographic. Content does not necessarily have to be amusing, ironic, or overly fascinating. However, it is worth taking the time to familiarize yourself with the practices and contents of the app before creating an account for your business or deciding to start recording content. Ideally, the person in charge of the Snapchat account will be someone who already used a personal account and therefore knows their way around the app.

How does the future look?

This is just the beginning of Snapchat marketing. More and more companies are seeing the benefits of the medium and choosing to launch their own account as a means of communicating information about their products and services, and as a means of shaping their company image, too. This then creates opportunities for the future, as there is a lot to be said for establishing oneself in the ever-growing Snapchat community and building a large following through the posting of relevant content. They will certainly be doing their future prospects a lot of good, as the app is still a growing and emerging social network. For the foreseeable future, without a doubt Facebook marketing will have a bigger and wider reach than Snapchat. But it is also the case that Facebook is aimed at a different (i.e. an older) audience. For that reason, businesses and brands with a younger target group should set out to achieve a strong presence on Snapchat. Another reason to engage further with the app is that Instagram’s range of functions is constantly getting more and more similar to that of Snapchat’s. The ‘Story’ function has been available on Instagram since August 2016, meaning that self-deleting photos and videos are now also possible with this platform. It seems that the operating principles and logic of Snapchat are gradually becoming more socially acceptable and widespread. Understanding and mastering these principles means that many Snapchat marketing strategies can be translated and adapted for Instagram. This will ensure that you are well-equipped for social media marketing on two of the biggest and most important social networks.

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