Why Gen Z Loves Snapchat and How to Win Them Over

Originally published at https://www.nealsivadas.com on January 21, 2020.

Did you know that 90% of Americans between the ages of 13–24 use Snapchat? It’s a Gen Z gold mine.

Despite this eye-opening stat, many people still do not understand why 200 million people use the app daily. Doesn’t Instagram have stories too? Why would you want your messages to disappear? Why would you ever take a photo with dog ears?

The answer is authenticity. According to a national Viacom Gen Z study, 8 in 10 members of Gen Z responded that “being yourself” is their definition of beauty. Snapchat’s popularity reflects this belief.

Why Snapchat is Different from Instagram

Instagram often receives the denotation of being “fake” or “putting out only the best you,” but Snapchat does not. Why is that? It’s largely due to who follows your content and how long it’s up for. Here is a chart that breaks down what makes Snapchat and Instagram different.

In my opinion, people are not afraid to be more authentic on social media. Instead, I believe they are afraid of putting out anything that’s not consistent with their online “brand” or anything they’ve put out before on that particular platform.

With Snapchat, you only add people you consider “friends.” In Gen Z’s digital world, they use that term loosely, but it is generally is no more than 100–150 people. With Instagram, you are generally adding that person you met at summer camp, that classmate in your group project, your mom’s boyfriend, etc. As a result, your social brand is probably more authentic on Snapchat because your “friends” know you better and have seen more sides of you. With Instagram, some of your followers may not know you as well, so you might feel the need to be more consistent with that level of authenticity and openness.

The temporary nature of Snapchat is also a huge draw to the platform. When people click on your profile on Instagram, they can see your entire history of posts and stories, if you add highlights. It’s a permanent depiction of your brand or life. In contrast, it’s always a blank slate with Snapchat. Direct text or photo messages between you and your friends can only be seen twice and stories disappear after 24 hours. When you go to someone’s profile, there’s no history to explore. As a result, you are more impulse-based with what you post on Snapchat versus Instagram because you know it will disappear soon. And by posting non-permanent content to only people that know you better, you can automatically be a little more “real” or authentic with what you post.

Keys to Snapchat Advertising

I believe the fast, authentic communication is why Snapchat is Gen Z’s favorite app, with 41% calling it the social media platform they love the most. Not only do users love the app, but they also spent a significant amount of time on it. Besides Facebook and Instagram, no other social media has more daily usage.

So given the strong adoption and engagement, why do we not hear Snapchat in the same conversation as Facebook and Instagram when it comes to social advertising?

There are a few reasons. First, you cannot recycle content from other platforms; it will be out of place in a sea of more “raw” content. Second, it’s a little more on the expensive side; you have to spend a minimum of $50 a day for video ads and some A/R lenses and geofilters run up to $500K and $100K respectively for 24 hours. Third, it’s more difficult to develop relationships with customers; the very concept of disappearing images and messages makes it hard to “build” any history at all.

However, if you have a product or app targeting Gen Z and younger Millennials, it can provide strong returns not only for brand awareness, but also for lead generation, and there are effective ways to reach and engage millions of customers on the platform. You can even target certain demographics and interests, just like Facebook and Instagram and other platforms. Snapchat is also constantly innovating with their advertising offerings. For example, Snap created a new ad format called Dynamic Ads in October, where advertisers can now automatically create ads in real-time based on extensive product catalogs and have them served to specific demographics and interests.

Regardless of the ad format that you choose, I believe that the key to Snapchat advertising, based on my own experience and research, is to BE SUBTLE.

Since Gen Z uses Snapchat to see and show the “real” side of people, an obvious branded ad will be even more annoying and even disruptive to their experience. Practices such as product placement, relevant filters, A/R lenses that give creative control to the user, app installation promotions, raw content that looks like it was filmed with a smartphone, and quick identifiable “blurs” of content are going to work more effectively than high-quality content, in-your-face product promotions, or influencer partnerships like on Instagram.

This means that both the creative and the sound should not be like a traditional, high-quality produced ad in any way. Like a dog can sniff a bone, Gen Z can smell an ad from a mile away. In particular, Snapchat is unique from Instagram and Facebook because sounds plays by default, which makes it essential to have the right sound. Sometimes even music or no sound at all can be more effective. By being faster and more casual/conversational, you are being more native to the platform, almost like another friend to communicate with.

Effective Advertising Strategies to Appeal to Gen Z

Here are examples of advertising strategies on Snapchat that work well and encompass this concept of “subtle advertising.”

A/R Lenses centered around a familiar moment or holiday or theme

224 Million Views in 24 hours. That’s how many views the Taco Bell A/R lenses received. Taco Bell created the taco shell A/R lense in honor of Cinco De Mayo and ended up only spending $3 per 1000 impressions. It was nothing spectacular; You did not learn anything about Taco Bell from the spot, but now that tacos are in your head (literally), you might be motivated to head over to Taco Bell. The other A/R lenses were also successful, largely due to combination of brand and relevance. Kraft turned eating virtual mac n cheese into a game. Gatorade allowed you to live your own version of the iconic celebration at football games. X-Men Apocalypse gave you the opportunity to assume character ahead of the movie. Whether it’s a holiday like national sunglasses day, a moment iconic to your brand, or taking a twist on your product, working with Snapchat to create A/R lenses with relevance can be extremely effective. As an added benefit, you are giving the creative control to the user and creating user-generated content about your brand, which you can then utilize for other promotions on Snapchat or otherwise.

Snap Video Ads kept simple and to the point

Snap Ads generally only run for 3–10 seconds, so trying to tell a full story might be difficult. It’s better to showcase your product in action, get to the point, and provide a call to action. Even formats like animated videos or image stills operating as videos are common. For example, Apple Music ran a campaign where it asks user to screenshot songs they would listen to in space. This was a great tactic for music discovery, which is core to the experience of a music streaming app. The actual ad was just animated spaceship flying around, but the call to action lead users to an Apple Music space-themed playlist. I do not have the exact analytics on performance, but this is a great example of utilizing the time to show the product in action and give the user a clear call to action.

Filters that are fun or easily integrate into the image or video

Every time someone takes a snap, he or she will usually swipe left or right to find a funny/aesthetic filter or location filter. It’s a simple way to add a little “spice” to your snaps. If they land on your filter, you want to make it relevant so they choose it. McDonalds ran a campaign where they had geofilters at all 14,000 US locations for a span of a few weeks. To emphasize, it was ONLY visible in McDonald’s physical locations. It resulted in 12 million filter uses and 400 million filter impressions. Charted performance even showed that, for each filter launch, there was an initial discovery period, growth, and peak over a few days, suggesting that other users were influenced by one another. The filters themselves were simple and kind of acted as a picture frame, not impeding the original photo/person, but adding something more to a selfie. Like A/R filters, geofilters that work tend to have relevance.

Organic content that is raw and behind-the-scenes

Let’s say you go to an NFL football game. For Instagram, you might post a photo of you and your friends posing at the game and your stories might consist of a pretty sunset photo of the stadium or a video of a play. For Snapchat, you might post a video of you and your friends yelling and screaming or a selfie of you at the game. Brands should act just like people, saving the high-quality or aesthetic content for Instagram, while posting more authentic and raw content on Snapchat such as behind-the-scenes or a selfie video of someone talking. The NFL is a great example. You even get to see Paul Rudd in real time.

App Install Lead Generations that show how the App works

Of any lead generation, app installs are probably the most effective on Snapchat because it offers a seamless connection to the app store. Just swipe up! One best practice is to showcase the interface or actual use of your app in the actual ad. Fitbod is an app that uses machine learning to modify and suggest workout plans to help you reach your fitness goals. Through their campaign on Snapchat, they delivered a 54% CPI than other platforms and 31% lower CPA versus goal and acquired a significant number of new users.

Competitions that give the creative control to users

Another trait vital to Gen Z and Snapchat is creativity. Users are creating every second of the day, from sending photo messages to friends to adding filters to playing around with A/R lenses. Why make the creative when they can?

Back in 2015, Mondelez International ran a campaign in Australia where they asked Snapchat users to snap a photo of their candy bar and use Snapchat’s creative tools to make it fun and unique. The winner would receive a $10,000 prize. Since then, companies such as McDonalds and Grubhub have used this concept to hire employees, choose winners of giveaways, and create user-generated content.

Where Snap is Going

These are just a few advertising strategies that can work on Snapchat currently, especially with Gen Z, but Snapchat continues to expand and innovate in what is even possible. Across all these campaign types, there are several best practices. Make sure your content is relevant. Give creative control to the user. Be to the point and raw with your content.

Most of these marketing strategies are focused on brand awareness, but lead generation continues to be a priority, and Snapchat is also on its way to trying to create their future, mainly through the power of the camera. That is what I am excited the most about.

If you have not heard of Snap Spectacles, you’re probably not the only one. It’s A/R eyewear that Snap has been selling for a couple years now. Unfortunately, it’s not selling as many units as it was projected to.

Despite the low current consumer demand, I am intrigued.

Augmented Reality. Spectacles. Camera. Shopping. Imagine if you had google-glass type eyewear where you would look around and see different things in a room or in public. Say you are walking down the Santa Monica boardwalk and like a shirt someone was wearing. What if, when you looked over at the person, a price tag and link to purchase could pop up in your Spectacles, without you ever talking to the person. Or if you saw an object and did not know what it was, you could look it up just by tapping on it in your Spectacle field of view? Instead of voice search, what if there was visual search?

This would open a whole new method of shopping for products. You could window shop with every single object possible and never ask “what is that.” It would reinvent how you used your camera.

As a platform for authenticity and creativity, Snapchat is perfectly tailored to the Gen Z demographic. If you want to advertise to this particular demographic, there are few platforms that have the reach and engagement like Snapchat. Just ensure to create relevant, native content and constantly monitor Snap’s various innovations. You may never know what’s next.

This is part 4/12 of the “Find Gen Z Series”, a monthly blog where I detail one social or digital media platform and how to best reach Gen Z on the platform. I am no expert. All my knowledge and perspective is based on my own experience and extensive research. I just want to create an authentic and effective relationship between marketers and my generation. To learn about other platforms in the series, go to https://www.nealsivadas.com/findgenz and please reach out with any questions or feedback.

USC Student. Gen Z + Social Media Strategist. Aspiring Product Marketer. All articles published on my LinkedIn as well.