How Instagram Selfie Filters Could Ding Snap's Ad Business

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Instagram is a more natural place for animated filters than Facebook.
Instagram is a more natural place for animated filters than Facebook. Credit: Instagram

Copying Snapchat's best features is becoming a national platform pasttime. Instagram announced its new selfie filters today, leading many observers to wonder if advertisers might be willing to jump ship from Snapchat.

It's certainly possible, said one top ad buyer: "It depends on the price."

Snapchat invented the lens, a feature that superimposes special effects over people's faces, and can charge brands $750,000 to sponsor them.

On Monday, it introduced sponsored world lenses, which project augmented reality deep into videos, transforming the whole landscape instead of just selfies and friends' faces. Those cost an extra $100,000 on top of the cost of the lens, which runs for one day, according to ad buyers.

On Tuesday, however, Instagram introduced its own version of lenses for faces, which it calls augmented reality masks, transforming users' faces into puppies and pixies. They aren't available for advertisers to sponsor yet, nor do they extend to landscapes.

But the trend here is pretty clear: Hot pursuit.

Instagram parent Facebook has been chipping away at all the features that made Snapchat a standout in the mobile messaging space. Facebook has already incorporated vertical and disappearing video stories into Facebook proper, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instgram. This year it also came out with augmented-reality masks for Facebook that are similar to Snapchat lenses, and has dabbled in branded executions. One promoted NBC Universal's "Minions" movie, for example.

Those were unpaid, but Facebook has been signaling that it will sell sponsored masks, and now that masks are on Instagram too, that's where advertisers will want to be. So in addition to the vicious competition for users, the threat to Snapchat is that Instagram could drive down the cost of its most valuable ad experience.

"Instagram is a better place than Facebook for lenses," the ad buyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity after working with Snapchat and Facebook on their ad experiments. "The way people use Instagram, it's just more of a camera app."

Stories, where users post short video clips to a running diary throughout the day, has taken off on Instagram, where it claims to have 200 million daily viewers for the feature.

Snapchat is focused on its 166 million users and their deep engagement with the app, spending on average more than 30 minutes there.

Still, the more ubiquitous lenses become, the less power they have, which could be a problem for Snapchat.

Snapchat charges a high price for its lenses, while Facebook debuted its lenses with a free test. Also, Facebook now has a platform for developers to build augmented reality experiences for its camera, compared with Snapchat's more closed ecosystem.

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