Social Media

How Snapchat utilizes lenses to turn users into brand evangelists

Snapchat and NFL team up
Snapchat and NFL team up

Snapchat announced Friday a partnership with the NFL on a sponsored lens, which allows users to superimpose an NFL helmet on photos of videos of themselves, to send to their friends.

It's the first lens that pops up when you open the augmented reality features on Snapchat's camera. For the 150 million people who use Snapchat every day, who watch more than 10 billion videos per day (3 ½ times the number of views last year), these lenses give users something fun to share as a video. But as a sponsored product, lenses can also be the holy grail for marketing.

If the NFL lens hooks users, it will have a rare and remarkable impact for the league and Snapchat: Convincing users to merge themselves with a brand, play around with a logo and then send a video of themselves, swathed in a brand image, to their friends. In the era of skippable TV commercials and internet ad blockers, sponsored lenses not only turn consumers into brand evangelists, but they do so in the most personal and powerful of ways.

Today's NFL sponsored lens is one of more than 100 paid lenses that Snapchat has run since last Halloween when it launched the ad product. Sources tell us that brands pay on average $350,000 to $650,000 for one lens just to reach Snapchat's U.S. users, with the option of paying more to distribute in additional markets. And Snapchat says these lenses pay off for marketers: users play with sponsored lenses for an average of 20 seconds, before they send out what's effectively a commercial, to their friends.

Snapchat's been working with a wide range of brands, from the SweeTarts lens Nestle ran Thursday, to high-end Tiffany and Burberry lenses. And the social network has been working on a number of measurement metrics to show the lenses impact.

The most popular lens: one for Taco Bell on Cinco de Mayo, which was viewed more than 224 million times that day. Snapchatters played with the lens for an average of 24 seconds and 49 percent chose to share the lens with friends.

The lens with the most engagement was Gatorade's sponsored lens which showed Snapchatters dunked to celebrate the Super Bowl. Users played with it for an average of 30 seconds, and Snapchat says it drove an 8 percent increase in purchase intent of the beverage.

Jaap Arriens | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Snapchat's lenses are not without their share of controversy, drawing criticism earlier this month for including a lens that some users said mocked Asians, which the company pulled down, saying it would never return. This came after a Bob Marley lens to celebrate the late artist's birthday came under fire for effectively giving users blackface. It's certainly an area the company is going to have to watch carefully to avoid a misstep for one of its paid products.

And Snapchat's success with these lenses has drawn competition: In March Facebook bought a start-up called Masquerade, which lets users create live filters for selfies.

Sponsored lenses are one of three ad products that will reportedly drive Snapchat's revenue to $300 million this year, up from $50 million last year (Snapchat won't comment on revenue). The centerpiece of Snapchat's ad strategy is video ads, which can run in the app's live stories, in its Discover section, and between users friend's stories.

Lenses' sister product is sponsored geofilters, which are like stickers that can be applied to a photo after it's taken. They are purchased based on location — so a music festival, sporting event or conference could pay to offer the option of a logo to add to photos taken there.

Snapchat shares the example of one Spotify purchased for the entire U.S., promoting the addition of The Beatles catalog. Spotify says the promotion drove users subscription intent by more than 50 percent. Investors who are awaiting an eventual IPO from Snapchat will be curious to see how much revenue each of these three products generate.