A few months ago, Shaun McBride, a prolific and popular Snapchat user, went to Bangkok courtesy of Marriott. He let his fans dictate his agenda, sending collages of visual messages, or snaps, at each tourist stop. "At the end of the day," he said, "I'd give a shout-out to Marriott for hooking me up with the hotels."
That kind of brand marketing thrives on the platform, explained the 27-year old, who was commissioned for similar work by Disney and has worked for AT&T and Samsung. To demonstrate what he won't do on Snapchat, he adopts a salesman patois: "Ten dollars off at your next stay!"
Brands must be hands-off, giving social-media savants like him one brief: "be true to yourself."
This was the overarching message from Mr. McBride and a trio of even younger players gathered on Wednesday by 360i, the Dentsu Aegis digital agency, for a panel on "Gen Z Influencers." The agency roughly defines the generation as those born between 1997 and 2002, and while the influencers in question might not be in the generation, they're definitely reaching them.
And marketers want to reach them, too, which is why they are increasingly turning to content creators with fame on mobile platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Vine. And they're shelling hefty fees to do so -- sometimes as high as five figures per snap, photo or video. The market's potential became clearer two weeks ago, when Twitter agreed to buy Niche, a digital talent agency for social influencers.
It makes sense. The influencers, like the YouTube stars before them, understand the platforms. And they can often execute two of the most desirable, difficult tasks for advertisers targeting younger audiences: mobile and native.
With his off-kilter images, Mr. McBride, who tucks his stringy, long hair in a backwards cap and cultivates a surfer dude image, has amassed a huge following of over 350,000 Snapchat "friends" known as "Shonduras." His most-engaged fans, he says, are often "14-year old girls."
Joining him on stage was another Snapchat celebrity, Christine Mi, 21, whose repertoire is blithe depictions of herself as historical figures or paintings. She has worked with ABC Family, 20th Century Fox and AT&T using Snapchat's Stories feature, when she is not studying at Yale. "I want the brand to become an enabler," she said, noting that those she has worked with gave her flexibility on the platform.