Kid brands tap Snapchat’s marketing momentum

The platform that makes content disappear is leaving a lasting impression on kids companies like Disney, Hasbro and more.
September 15, 2016

There’s a high school student in New York with a very important job on her hands, and it doesn’t exactly involve algebra homework. The 16-year-old oversees the Snapchat account for Genius Brands International’s (GBI) tween-focused SpacePOP brand. The music-themed IP launched this summer with a hefty social media mandate that spans the likes of YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, PopJam and Snapchat—but there’s something about the latter that’s different from the rest.

Snapchat’s world of scribbled animations, geofilters and 10-second disappearing videos are convoluted, raw and perfectly suited for tweens and teens who are looking for an authentic experience amidst an overly filtered social stratosphere. Which is why, despite having an in-house social media team in place, GBI thinks a young Snapchat savant can best reach SpacePOP fans through recurring snaps and unpolished videos that are posted in the name of community outreach.

And what a Snapchat community there is. More than 150 million people use the app daily, consuming upwards of 10 billion videos per day—a remarkable 350% increase over last year. According to recent Statista data, nearly a quarter of US Snapchat users are between the ages of 13 and 17. And while under-13s are technically prohibited, the platform is well-known for boasting a solid tween user base. And they’re batting their mascara-filtered eyelashes at the thousands of marketers and media outlets flocking to the app en masse in the name of boosting brand recognition and engagement. In fact, a July Advertiser Perceptions report showed the majority of social media ad spending nowadays is focused primarily on building brand awareness rather than inciting an immediate performance-based action.

“Some people who haven’t dug in yet see it as Twitter for a younger audience, but it’s actually not.”

– Dan Efergan, Aardman Animations

According to Stone Newman, GBI president of global consumer products, worldwide content sales, marketing and digtial, the app is an ideal place to build a rapport with fans. “Snapchat catches the moment, so it doesn’t feel as staged as some other platforms like YouTube and Instagram, which can conduct photoshoots before posting,” he says. “Because the content disappears, Snapchat is more instantaneous. There’s something cool about that.”

Newman says the vanishing nature of content—wherein snaps are deleted after 10 seconds, or are available for no more than 24 hours if strung together via Snapchat Stories—adds a level of urgency and repeatability to content delivery. It’s as if Snapchat feeds directly off the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) epidemic plaguing youth right now, and marketers can effectively seize that same opportunity.

While YouTube is still SpacePOP’s bread-and-butter when it comes to social media outreach, Snapchat will help the property reach girls who are already using the platform religiously. “A lot of these kids find Snapchat inspirational—and our intern lines up with the age of the SpacePOP princesses, who are slightly older than tweens, so her role makes sense,” Newman says, adding the SpacePOP Snapchat strategy will also involve using branded geofilters.

These geofilters allow individuals and companies to create a static design—featuring words or images—that is accessible within a defined location. Prices start at roughly US$5 per 20,000 square feet per hour, with a maximum area of five million square feet.

Other frequented advertising modes include Snap Ads, which are mobile video promotions within snaps, and for those with upwards of US$100,000 to spare, there are sponsored lenses. This form of activation lets users interact with a branded animation that can be shared with friends or posted to his or her own story—think Taco Bell turning somone’s head into a talking tortilla.

“Geofilters are a particularly cost-effective option. You can geo-locate to a small area, and it lets anyone showcase they are at your event. It speaks to a kid’s desire to show off—think of the selfie nation—and exercise bragging rights. It’s also a good opportunity for engagement,” says Imran Choudhry, VP of account management at Toronto-based T1, which handles marketing campaigns for kid-friendly brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels (neither of which have debuted on Snapchat in Canada yet).

Thanks in large part to the narrative effectiveness of Snapchat Stories, Choudhry says the app’s growth has been tremendous over the past few months. “Parents got on Facebook and suddenly kids don’t want to use it anymore. But on Snapchat the content disappears, so there are fewer opportunities for parents to track them,” he says.

But there are reasons for parents to be skeptical. For one, the app was hit with a class-action lawsuit in July claiming its Discover feature, which syncs with select publishing partners, exposes minors to sexually offensive content. And Choudhry says family-friendly brands have to be mindful about not crossing advertising boundaries on the platform.

“You haven’t seen very young-targeting brands tap into Snapchat yet because it does have some murkiness to it,” he says. “So the safety element steers a lot of kids brands away. At the end of the day, the platform has to align with the content.”

My Little Pony may very well be the antithesis of dark and edgy, and the brand’s recent Snapchat campaign aimed to capture its inherently friendly nature. To commemorate International Day of Friendship on July 30, the Hasbro IP used Snapchat to encourage users to Friend it Forward through random acts of kindness. Actress Vanessa Hudgens participated in the initiative, which placed a branded filter with the phrase “Friendship is Magic,” a My Little Pony logo and two characters over a user’s photo.

“A platform that’s all about social sharing and quickly connecting directly with your friends gave us an incredible opportunity for fans to engage with the My Little Pony franchise,” says Hasbro SVP of digital marketing Victor Lee. “The property has proven to resonate with fans of all ages, thanks to incredible storytelling and socially relevant themes of friendship and inclusiveness. While our toys are for kids…Snapchat allows us to reach a broad demographic, including passionate fans who are currently engaged with our brands, the coveted millennial audience that’s drawn to and hungry for nostalgia, and parents who are sharing My Little Pony experiences with their children.”

Lee adds that Snapchat has quickly become an important place for Hasbro to have honest, authentic interactions with fans of other properties like Nerf and Transformers, which also have active presences on the platform through regular behind-the-scenes snaps.

And in the spirit of honesty, Dan Efergan, digital group creative director at UK-based Aardman Animations, has been able to draw some raw conclusions of his own based on Aardman’s July geofilter campaign involving the studio’s Morph brand.

Over a two-day period, the clay character made its Snapchat debut at the Bristol Harbour Festival, which attracts more than 250,000 visitors. Snapchatters within 470,000 square feet of the festival were able to add a Pirate Morph filter to their snaps and enter a promotion to win a one-off Morph model. It was a marketing experiment for Aardman, which collaborated with UK-based Activation Digital, and one that offered a lesson in the platform’s complexities.

“Snapchat is something we have been very aware of. As marketers and IP owners, we know it’s a massive rising star for young people,” says Efergan. “But it is a closed loop, so more of a place to have a conversation with a brand—it’s not so good for making things go viral and get passed around.”

Despite the contest element involved in the Morph campaign, it generated fewer than 1,000 snaps taken with the filter, though the geofilter itself had more than 20,000 views. (The competition portion received less than 100 entries.) “The lesson? It has to feel right. Although it’s quite useful to connect on Snapchat, it is still different because it doesn’t create public noise. Some people who haven’t dug in yet see it as Twitter for a younger audience, but it’s actually not.”

Nevertheless, more Aardman brands can be expected to hit Snapchat soon, provided they are suited to the platform. “Snapchat is consistently a strong contender, so it can’t be ignored,” says Efergan.

He says Snapchat Stories, in particular, is on Aardman’s radar—it’s a feature that’s already being effectively used by Disney for a number of its characters and brands.

“We have to keep ourselves immersed in pop culture. And we do that in a unique way by telling stories to the right audience and even offering promotional content through an editorial lens,” says Emily Kaplan, director of audience development at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (DCPI). Her team publishes content for more than 200 characters, brands and films across all digital platforms.

Snapchat gave The Jungle Book's Sir Ben Kingsley a new look

Snapchat gave The Jungle Book’s Sir Ben Kingsley a new look

Due to its rich 13-plus user base and storytelling opportunities, Snapchat came to Disney’s notice in May 2015, when it launched its account with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of 2017’s Beauty and the Beast that included short messages from the cast and sneak-peeks.

Fast-forward to today and Kaplan’s team manages five key Snapchat accounts—Disney, Pixar, Oh My Disney, Disney Style and Babble—that together garner 15 million opens a month. “On Snapchat, you actually have to decide to open a story. It’s more of an engaged level of consumption,” Kaplan says.

Episodic series like Disney Doodle 101, which provides character-drawing lessons, are all produced in-house with the goal of using Snapchat’s distinct features to further familiarity with pre-established brands. For example, a recent Snapchat Stories initiative involving The Jungle Book took advantage of the app’s frame-tapping feature to let users transform live-action characters into their animal counterparts.

“The tools help you, letting you curate less and allowing a personality to come through. It’s like visual texting with friends,” Kaplan says. Aware that kids are looking for graphic, animated forms of communication, DCPI launched the Disney LOL app in June as a way for six- to 14-year-olds to view clips, GIFs and videos in an age-appropriate way. Kaplan isn’t surprised Disney LOL has surpassed expectations in its first few months. Why? “It’s like an intro to Snapchat,” she says.

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