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Forget sexting — fashion brands are beginning to mine the marketing potential of Snapchat’s ephemeral messages. While brands like the buzz around Snapchat and its younger user base, they are still experimenting with the service and have yet to quantify its impact on their bottom line. The three-year-old messaging service is also still working out some kinks, recently reassuring users following Federal Trade Commission privacy allegations.
This story first appeared in the May 19, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
But that doesn’t appear to have slowed down Snapchat, which early on drew attention as a venue for the exchange of explicit photos — images sent via the service disappear after a few seconds, although there are ways for users to get around this feature and retain snaps. Brands are coming to realize that the app has something that almost no other marketing vehicle does — a lock on the consumer’s attention. Because of a “snap’s” time limitations, a recipient is forced to stop and focus when they open a message, something TV, radio, magazines and other social media cannot offer.
This ability to break through the clutter gives Snapchat a one-up on many of its peers that has helped it become the leading third-party messaging app in North America by traffic volume because it is all pictures, according to a report released by Sandvine last week. Snapchat says 700 million snaps are sent every day, but it isn’t the biggest messaging service globally. For instance, WhatsApp users send 700 million photos and 100 million videos daily.
Victoria’s Secret, Nasty Gal, Rebecca Minkoff, Free People, Wet Seal and Nars are now all using the app to complement their presences on other social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Having said that, Snapchat is unlikely ever to become a serious threat to replacing any of those platforms, especially because for now it is difficult to measure its usage base when it comes to fashion brands.
Snapchat doesn’t reveal specific figures about brands it works with, and brands must go through the app to see how many followers they have — but the service does appear to be gaining momentum.
Christian Parkes, Nasty Gal’s vice president of brand marketing, said founder and chief executive officer Sophia Amoruso originally set up what is Nasty Gal’s Snapchat account for her personal use in October.
“It snowballed. It was superfun, but supercrazy because it was direct access,” Parkes said. “She was watching them individually, and adding them manually. It started as something really fun, but then we were like, ‘Oh, this is huge.’ We had to wrestle the account from her.”
The brand took over Amoruso’s account in December and began taking a more formal approach, sitting down with the team at Snapchat to discuss ways to maximize Nasty Gal’s presence on the app.
“It’s still really new, and truth be told, they [Snapchat] are still figuring out how to build this so that it’s more user-friendly and more applicable to brands if you want to speak on a large scale, as opposed to intimate one-on-one conversations,” Parkes said.
Nasty Gal used the app during New York Fashion Week with a snap telling customers to come to a certain spot to get a $100 gift certificate to nastygal.com. The brand also hired its social media intern via Snapchat, urging applicants to send a snap to the brand’s account for consideration.
“As a brand, you can talk to the user on a really intimate level,” Parkes said. “With the exception of direct messaging, this is the most personal you can get from a social platform. Partly because it’s in its infancy, but partly because it’s least polished of any of the platforms from a content standpoint.”
Like Nasty Gal, Free People director of marketing, public relations and engagement Kathryn O’Connor sees Snapchat as “more real time and raw” than other social media outlets. She noted that content on other image-based platforms — such as Pinterest and Instagram — is largely editorially driven curated photos.
“It’s a little more in the now than some of our other more planned-out channels,” O’Connor said.
Free People has taken to Snapchat aggressively since the end of February, now posting one snap a day. The app played a role in the launch of the brand’s intimates collection in early April. Given Snapchat’s racy reputation, the brand thought it would be a good venue to give followers a preview of the line.
Rebecca Minkoff sent out snaps of its spring looks moments before they hit the runway.
“Snapchat is where we would share revelations of new things, perks and sneak peeks during important events for the brand,” Minkoff said, noting that women make up 70 percent of the platform’s user base.
“Usage differs between all three platforms [Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest] — Instagram and Pinterest are used daily, meanwhile Snapchat is reserved for momentous happenings,” Minkoff said.
Snapchat is well positioned to understand the dynamic between the different social media players, having hired Instagram’s former chief operating officer Emily White in December.
The messaging platform is inching its way into the fashion industry at a time when the app is under intense scrutiny.
Two weeks ago, the firm reached a settlement with the FTC, which alleged that Snapchat deceived users about the disappearing nature of its messages.
Snapchat said users would be notified if a recipient tried to take a screenshot of a snap; however, anyone with an Apple device and an operating system pre-dating iOS7 could take a screenshot without being detected. There are also third-party apps that aid in the capture and saving of Snapchat content.
For brands, though, this likely has little impact, since larger organizations are more concerned with their messages having a broad reach than whether or not they actually disappear.
Snapchat published a post on its blog May 8 decreeing its devotion to user privacy and acknowledging that it’s learned from and fixed its mistakes, noting that most of the issues addressed by the FTC had already been resolved.
“The [social mediums] that are getting the most engagement are mobile and highly visual,” said Maureen Mullen, Luxury Lab, or L2, director of research and advisory. “Snapchat has both of that in spades, coupled with an incredibly attractive young user demographic and independence that hasn’t been tainted by some of the more mature social media platforms.” (The company’s independent streak came into full view when 23-year-old cofounder and ceo Evan Spiegel turned down a $3 billion offer from Mark Zuckerberg to buy the company.)
However, Mullen argued that unless Snapchat is more transparent about its metrics, brands can’t have confidence that they’re reaching an audience at scale.
While Mullen is certain that one in five fashion brands who use Snapchat early will be effective on the medium, she remains wary of the service’s applicability to the fashion and retail space in the long term.
“You are going to see a percentage of brands that are on Snapchat, but a lot of brands have abandoned that new, next mentality to focus much more deeply on what’s working for them already,” Mullen said.