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Brands Experiment With Photo-Messaging Service Snapchat, Facebook Poke

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Creating an advertisement with a shelf life of a few seconds is seemingly antithetical to a brand's typical goal of making a lasting impression on consumers. But with the growing popularity of Snapchat -- a mobile app that allows users to send photo messages that self-destruct after a period of 10 seconds or less -- brands have begun trying to find ways to take advantage of users' desire to share short-term visual messages.

"It's just kind of where our users are going at the moment," Adam Britten, community manager for New York City frozen yogurt chain 16 Handles, said. "A lot of our social-media fans are teenagers and we noticed on Facebook and Twitter that they were using it. We figured, 'Why not?' and we gave this a chance."

Experimenting with the potential marketing uses of an emerging social platform can be challenging because they are typically not mature enough for advertising. Snapchat and Facebook's rival app, Poke, have the added risk of being perceived as overtly sexual messaging services. Still, the sheer popularity of Snapchat and Facebook Poke has begun attracting marketers.

Mr. Britten is the engineer behind 16 Handles' recent Snapchat promotion, which, according to him, makes 16 Handles the first brand to conduct a marketing campaign through the service. The "Snappy New Year" campaign urges the company's Facebook fans to send a Snapchat photo, or "snap," of their frozen-yogurt purchase to the company's Snapchat account. Participants then receive a coupon via Snapchat that can be redeemed at the register.

"My mom shops at Kohl's and gets discount cards she can only scratch off at register. I was trying to create the digital version of that," Mr. Britten said.

A similar campaign was originally planned for the company's Twitter account, but Mr. Britten said Snapchat was more fitting because images disappear within seconds. On Twitter, it's easy for photos of coupons to be copied and circulated to people who weren't intended to receive them.

16 Handles did not have a Snapchat account before the campaign started on Jan. 1. Now, the company has sent and received more than 1,400 snaps with users.

On December 21, Facebook released Facebook Poke, a messaging service virtually identical to Snapchat, and it too has already caught the attention of marketers eager to be the first to use it for advertising.

Grey Tel Aviv, part of WPP's Grey network, launched a video campaign for a onetime sale for client Delta Lingerie on rival service Facebook Poke. A 10-second video of a model putting on Delta Lingerie was sent to the brand's Facebook fans and was erased after viewing.

"As a brand, when you do things differently, the campaign can have a wide impact," Grey Tel Aviv's head of digital Dan Eblagon said.

The campaign has generated a lot of "free media," Mr. Eblagon said, including coverage on an Israeli news website, fashion blog and Israeli broadcast network Channel 10.

That doesn't mean either campaign has been a success, however. Mr. Britten said that it's difficult to gauge how well the unprecedented 16 Handles campaign is performing because there's no basis for reference. Furthermore, snaps and Facebook pokes cannot be shared, depriving marketers of the precious social-media metrics they typically use to judge users' engagement with a brand campaign.

Some marketers think it's a mistake to use these channels that, despite their popularity, are still in their infancy.

"The products are so focused on user experience that I would say marketers should stay away for the time being," Ian Schafer, CEO of digital agency Deep Focus, said. "[They're] not marketer-ready yet at all. I would wait to see how that behavior evolves."

Marketers using these channels risk being too closely associated with sexting, sending sexually explicit photos via smartphones. Snapchat and Poke are seemingly designed for users to securely send sexual messages to one another. Mr. Britten said that while he's aware Snapchat is perceived by some as just a sexting platform, he sees it as a platform where users depict themselves more honestly than on Facebook.

Grey Tel Aviv, meanwhile, wanted to take advantage of the sexual implications of the platform with its suggestive ad.

"It all came together," Mr. Eblagon said. "It would've been ridiculous not to use this opportunity."

Facebook declined to comment for this story. Messages sent to Snapchat requesting comment were not returned.

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