Snapchat Takes Turn at Couture

As the number of Snapchat users grows, its uses by brands evolves.



Snapchat aims to add to its fashion momentum with a coming-out party at the Paris couture.

“Casual,” “authentic” and “relatable” are not terms that naturally fit into the upper echelons of fashion, but they are the bread and butter of Snapchat. But that disconnect isn’t keeping brands from connecting with their followers on the platform.

Today, the disappearing messaging platform launches its first Live Story focused on the couture shows. That means that for a full day, all Snapchat users will be able to see a selection of user- and brand-generated photos and videos from the shows. The photos and videos are collected through the use of geotagging, which assigns a geographic location to digital photos and videos. This allows people in the front row and backstage to generate real-time content tied to the shows.

Some brands choose to sponsor content in the Live Stories (Snapchat did not disclose which ones), while the other content is sourced via geotagging and Snapchat curates it.

It’s a potentially huge audience for the rarified world of couture. Snapchat said that 10 million to 20 million of its 100 million users view a Live Story each day.

It’s also a testament to how far Snapchat has come. Since starting as a (not always PG-rated) teenage favorite five years ago, the Venice, Calif.-based platform has seen its valuation soar to an estimated $20 billion and, according to eMarketer, has more U.S. users than Twitter or Pinterest.

Although the fashion flock is still most loyal to Instagram — which just hit 500 million users worldwide — and Facebook has the heft with 1.59 billion users, Snapchat is increasingly finding its place in the media mix.

Designers are now using both Instagram and Snapchat for different purposes, said Emilie Fife, senior manager of digital communications at the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s. “Instagram is still the fashion platform, but what Snapchat is doing is giving a new conversation. Instagram is more curated and you can get a whole feel for a brand. Snapchat is more behind-the-scenes.”

Fife regularly works with Snapchat on curating Live Story fashion events, and said designers in the CFDA’s incubator are eager to work with the platform. “If you are featured in a Live Story, if people see your name and product, that is huge for you,” she said.

Although the comparison between Instagram and Snapchat is a natural one, brands tend to use them in concert — think of Snapchat as the younger, slightly unwieldy Prince Harry to Instagram’s more responsible and well-manicured Prince William.

Snapchat has pushed brands that have carefully cultivated a sense of fantasy and aspiration to project an image that is more insider-y and, to use the term so often associated with the platform, “authentic.” In part, that’s because Snapchat’s vanishing format does not lend itself to pre-recorded or highly stylized tableaus. If Instagram is viewed as a platform of record, Snapchat offers the feel of gossipy aside.

Fashion and beauty brands as well as retailers, which were all quick to adopt the visually stimulating Instagram, have been relatively eager to embrace the new kid on the block as well. According to business intelligence firm L2, the Snapchat adoption rate for fashion, retail, beauty and activewear brands is particularly high — and rising.

As a result, the disappearing format has brands trying to find more creative ways to present themselves.

“Even after being on the platform for a year, Snapchat is still about experimentation, as it’s a much different medium than the more ‘traditional’ social platforms we’ve been leveraging for years,” said Andre Cohen, Coach’s president of North America and global marketing. During the men’s spring 2017 show in London, Coach let BBC host Nick Grimshaw take over the brand’s Snapchat account.

“[Snapchat] keeps us on our toes and allows for original thinking, and we pride ourselves on being active consistent community participants on the platform — not in and out sporadically,” Cohen said.

At February’s New York Fashion Week, where Snapchat did a Live Story, Neiman Marcus became the first luxury retailer to participate in geofilters as an alpha, meaning before even beta testing begins, said Natalie Bowman, vice president of the retailer.

She said the NYFW geofilter helped to strengthen Neiman’s position as leaders in social alpha activations and participation. “Snapchat provides a great opportunity to reach and engage with a new, younger audience.”

Last June, Lilly Pulitzer became the first fashion brand to use a branded geofilter in all of its stores, meaning Snapchatters in the stores could use a special filter. The brand frequently uses geofilters for special events. A spokeswoman for the brand said Lilly Pulitzer’s Snapchat stories have a rate of engagement that is higher than any other social platform. Beyond Snapchat, Pulitzer is active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.

In September 2015, Burberry showed runway looks the night before the show via Snapchat, and this April, became the first luxury brand to have its own Discover channel on the platform.

Gucci often uses Snapchat to reveal new products; for instance, when Jared Leto took to the platform to proclaim his involvement in the Gucci Guilty campaign.

Everlane, a San Francisco e-tailer that is built on a culture of transparency, seems tailor-made for Snapchat. For a weekly “Transparency Tuesday,” the company will answer customer questions and has experimented with hiring through the platform. After people started submitting portfolios through Snapchat, Everlane made the process more formal and each week spotlights a new role they’re looking to fill, according to social media lead Red Gaskell.

“The novelty and limitations of the platform push us to experiment with new stories and ideas,” Gaskell said. To apply for a role through Snapchat, candidates are asked to make a 60- to 90-second story, save it to prevent it from expiring, and then tweet their Snapcode to Everlane. The brand is also active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, but “has the most momentum” on Snapchat, Gaskell said.

Brands often “double-dip,” using other platforms to help broadcast their Snapchat message. (Users have complained that finding accounts on Snapchat is too cumbersome.) Many use Twitter to share their Snapchat icon, or promote Snapchat-only content on Instagram and Facebook.

Bloomingdale’s lets its followers help create Snapchat adventures, like sending someone into the Gansevoort Hotel pool fully clothed. The retailer also has a Pinterest board called “As Seen on Snapchat” to highlight merchandise used in its online adventures. Additionally, Bloomingdale’s has directed its Instagram fans to learn more about a contest through its Snapchat account.

“We look at social media as a portfolio of channels and each has a strategic purpose,” said Jonathan Paul, Bloomingdale’s operating vice president of social media and paid media.

He said Bloomingdale’s focuses on its newest, most elevated fashion on Instagram, while curating a broad assortment for Pinterest and focusing on men’s style on Tumblr.

Last week, Urban Decay and Benefit Cosmetics bought sponsored overlays for a 24-hour period. The custom lenses let users try custom-branded image filters and promote products such as, in this case, lipstick or eyebrow products. Urban Decay’s Tina Pozzi told WWD that the brand’s Twitter and Instagram followers climbed as a result, and Benefit encouraged Snapchat users to share their images and videos on Instagram.

While brands, for the most part, seem to focus on Snapchat for building “awareness,” it’s increasingly enticing brands to participate as it flexes its advertising arm. Brands can advertise through paying for a Snap in a Live Story, appearing in a Discovery channel ad, or sponsoring a geofilter or a lens. L2 estimates that overlays like those from Urban Decay and Benefit Cosmetics cost $100,000 to $700,000 for one day. A brand might pay what L2 estimates is $100,000 to $500,000 to include one Snap in a Live Story from an event such as fashion week.

Snapchat is projected to earn $300 million in revenue in 2016, according to L2.

But even as the platform gains fashion followers, there are still issues for brands interested in using it. For example, Snapchat doesn’t provide the in-depth metrics or targeting of Instagram or Facebook, and without a “like” feature, engagement rates are obscured.

“Snapchat does not leave a lot of room for advertisers outside of big brands, as its value to its users is providing a communication channel between them,” said Ken Wisnefski, found and chief executive officer of Internet marketer WebiMax. “There’s not much data available on how people are actually using the platform and interacting with ads, so it’s hard to gauge its effectiveness at this point. I believe in its current form, Snapchat is overvalued at $20 billion, but that could change if it can figure out a way to make more space available with better reporting to marketers.”

The platform could start to become attractive to more marketers as its user base widens.

“We’ve noticed an interesting shift in the age groups on Snapchat,” said Toni Box, senior director of social media at PMX Agency. “Today, it’s much broader than it was about six months ago. It’s no longer just Gen X or Gen Y that’s engaging; we’ve actually been seeing some Boomers join.”

In April, a Piper Jaffrey survey found that U.S. teens described Snapchat as the “most important” platform for them. It is estimated that in 2015, 58 percent of those in the U.S. ages 18 to 24 were on Snapchat, while 27 percent of the 25 to 34 range were using it. That’s compared to Instagram, which also sees major adoption in the younger demographics: 55 percent of U.S. adults 18 to 24, and 57 percent of those 25 to 34.

“Brand adoption is certainly increasing, but I wouldn’t say that companies are shifting dollars out of the big social networks to replace them in Snapchat,” Box said. “What’s appealing for brands is the opportunity to form a more personal, one-to-one connection with customers. They’re realizing the platform can help to foster the important relationships that eventually lead to brand affinity and loyalty.”