Snapchat Unfiltered: A Guide for Brands

By Ashley Reed in Social Media on September 9th, 2016

Snapchat 101- Everything Marketers Need to Know

You've heard all the hype about Snapchat, but there's a good chance (if you're a marketer over the age of 20) that you still don't really know how it works, much less how to leverage it to reach the highly sought after millennial audience. Here's what you need to know about the explosive social app, including newly released features and current ad products. 

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a free mobile messaging app where users can share photos, videos, text and drawings which are deleted after a maximum of 10 viewing seconds.  

Why Snapchat?

Some may wonder, what’s the point of having an app to share photos that disappear? Well, that is one of the core features that appeals to more than 200 million Snapchat users. It’s not about the mere sharing of photos; it’s about the immediacy with which users can directly communicate to people what is currently happening in their lives. 

Snapchat enables users to turn ordinary photos in to works of art. The app offers drawing tools, emojis, text, and even rewind and fast forward for videos. The most popular feature? Adding a Filter to your selfie. And, Snapchat recently released several new features as part of what they've dubbed “Chat 2.0.”, which includes voice chat, video and audio notes, stickers, and more additions to the user interface.

How has Snapchat gained more U.S. active users in its five years of existence than LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest? 35% report using Snapchat because their parents don't, and another 30% say it’s because their content disappears. Interestingly, eMarketer projects that Snapchat will surpass Twitter and Pinterest in user size this year, but it won’t catch Facebook’s Messenger app which is headed to a nine-figure user base by 2020, growing by 27% this year alone.  

Not only have users flocked to Snapchat quickly, but they are incredibly active on the app: half of all Snapchatters use the app every single day. This amounts for over 8 billion video views per day (more than Facebook), making it the fastest growing social media platform in the world.


Millennials Dominate

Snapchat’s audience of over 200 million global users (59M U.S. users) is famously skewed towards millennials, who account for 46% of all users.  The app boasts reaching 41% of all 18-34 year-olds in the United States.SCchart

Source: eMarketer, 2016

Snapchat Users and Penetration by Generation


Snapchat Reach

How to Use Snapchat

Now, let's get back to the basics of how to use the app and navigate its features.  

The Lingo

  • Snaps: Photos or videos you send to a friend (or multiple friends). A snap self-destructs 10 seconds after someone opens it.
  • Replay: You can replay the last snap you viewed one time per day. (Note that the user is notified when you replay their Snap)!
  • Filters: A filter is essentially an overlay for your photos and videos; these can change based on special events or holidays, location, or time of day. 
  • Geofilters: These are specific filters available based on your location. The community can submit Geofilters for Snapchat approval (i.e. community Geofilters), as well as businesses (i.e. on-demand Geofilters). 
  • Lenses: A Lens allows you to add animated effects to your photos and videos. These are commonly confused with Filters, but you use Lenses while you are taking a Snap.
  • Stories: Stories are collections of Snaps submitted by users that can be viewed for up to 24-hours. In addition, live stories are compilations of Snaps from Snapchatters at events and locations around the world, curated by  Snapchat. These also typically appear for 24 hours. (Instagram recently also introduced their version of Stories, which moreover offers the same functionality). 
  • Memories: Memories is a personal collection of saved Snaps and Stories which are backed up by Snapchat. 
  • Discover: These are channels created by various publishers for a mass audience—ESPN, Food Network, Comedy Central, etc.
  • Snap Score: According to Snapchat, your Snap Score is a combination of the number of Snaps you’ve sent and received, stories you’ve posted, and other factors.

Navigating Snapchat

  • The camera view is the first to open to allow quick access for new snaps. Press the circle button once to take a photo and hold it down to take a video.
  • Swiping left allows you to send individual Snaps/chats to friends or groups of friends. This is also where you can see the Snaps people send you and reply.
  • Swipe right for Stories, where you can see your friends' stories and reply privately via direct message.
  • Swiping right one more time from the Stories page allows you to browse the Discover page to see branded content from publishers. If you subscribe to these publishers, their daily content also appears on your Stories page.
  • Swipe up to access Memories, where you can access Snaps and Stories you've saved and create a collection. 

Advertising Features

How can brands leverage Snapchat to engage with younger audiences? Snapchat offers a variety of ad products. 

Sponsored Lenses

Sponsored Lenses

  • Sponsored Lenses were introduced in September of 2015. Essentially, these are layered effects on top of your selfie sometimes tied to specific holidays and events. Sponsored Lenses are the most premium ad buy on the app, and if interested, brands can purchase a national Lens from $100,000 to $750,000, which is available to users for 24 hours.

Sponsored Geofilters

  • Sponsored Geofilters are similar to Lenses; however, they can only be used in a specific location. For instance, if you are within 200 feet of an event, you will have access to its associated Geofilter.  Any user or brand can submit a personalized Geofilter for events, which start at as little as $5  Recently, sponsored Geofilters have become popular for weddings, costing around $25 for a weekend.

Sponsored Geofilter

3V [Video]

  • 3V are 10 second videos that appear on the Discover page or as a Live story. This feature is available to advertisers on a pay-per-view model and have a flexible campaign duration.

Live Story Takeover

  • A Live Story Takeover secures 100% of the share of voice across all three ad types. This is a great way to share your brand’s perspective on a particular holiday or event.  For example, MTV hosted a Live Story Takeover for the MTV Movie Awards showcasing the red carpet back stage occurrences and exclusive celebrity appearances.

Snap Ads [Recent Addition]

  • Snap Ads, a recent addition to Snapchat's offerings,  appear in the context of other Snaps. Brands can also give Snapchatters the choice to swipe up and see more, just like they do elsewhere on Snapchat. Swiping up reveals extended content like a long form video, article, app install ad, or mobile website. This is Snapchat’s first foray into in-stream ads, as well as their first direct response ad product, allowing content to link outside of the app to a brand’s website or mobile app. 

Campaign minimums start at $25K currently and are only available through third-party API partners. 

Brands Who Got it Right

Terminator used a Sponsored Lens to promote the premiere of “Terminator: Genisys.” The Lens made Snapchatters look like the famed Terminator protagonist – robotic eye and all. This campaign was enhanced by influencer marketing by Schwarzenegger himself taking selfies using the Lens and posting them to his various social media platforms. On Facebook, this was particularly successful where the post reached over 54,000 likes. It’s important to note that 5% of all selfies shared online are taken using the Snapchat app, meaning that impressions aren’t simply restricted to that platform!

Terminator Snapchat

Gatorade was also hugely successful with their Superbowl Sponsored Lens, which drove an 8-point jump in purchase intent during Superbowl 50.

Gatorade Snapchat


For brands looking to reach a highly sought after millennial audience, Snapchat provides an opportunity to offer unique, creative content in real-time. Although advertising minimums are higher than other social networks, these will likely decrease in the coming months as the platform continues to roll out new products. If millennials are a key target for your business, you should strongly consider creating an organic brand presence on Snapchat as well as testing their advertising products.

Are you planning to establish a brand presence on Snapchat? Let us know in the comments below!