Snapchat creates augmented reality ads for dummies that basically give the technology away
Snapchat says it has developed a self-serve ad program that lowers the price for brands to try augmented reality to about $5.
On Thursday, Snapchat released a tool that simplifies the process of creating Lenses, which are the AR filters popular among the app's users. Snapchat is calling the program Lens Web Builder, and it basically makes AR accessible to smaller brands that do not have tens of thousands of dollars to develop the technology on their own, which could appeal to small- and medium-size businesses.
"If you're an advertiser of any scale, you have access to hundreds of templatized AR experiences," says Jeff Miller, Snapchat's senior director of creative strategy. "It takes about five minutes."
The Lens builder works like this: Advertisers access it through Snapchat Ads Manager, the self-serve platform where they go to create ads and set up ad campaigns. The advertiser picks the AR template—whether it's virtual sunglasses or bunny ears—customizes the basic design with a logo or brand name, then pays to promote the Lens.
Snapchat has been considered a pioneer in the space of augmented reality, ever since it released animated filters in 2016. One of its early popular filters would morph people's faces with rosy cheeks, enlarged eyes and a rainbow stream flowing from their mouths. By 2017, the company invented Sponsored Lenses, the ad format for AR filters.
Movie studios, sports drinks, retailers and other marketers have used the technology in innovative ways, as when BMW created a 3D virtual car that looked like it could be on an actual showroom floor. Gatorade made a Super Bowl filter that digitally dunked the sports drink over people's selfies.
Early on, the price of AR campaigns was prohibitive, $500,000 in some cases, because the technology was new, digital advertising agencies were just learning how to build them and Snapchat was known for setting high rates to reach its young audience.
Now, it's $5 to get started running an AR campaign, Miller says, and it takes five minutes to build a Lens. It used to take about eight weeks. It's free to use the Lens building tool, but then the marketer pays to promote it on Snapchat, with a $5 minimum buy-in, Miller says.
"What this is doing is continuing to reinforce the AR format as a scalable, mature ad format like any other on mobile," Miller says.
Clay Weishaar, creative director at production company Unit 9, says that Snapchat is making Lenses more accessible. "I am all for democratization of technology," Weishaar says. "For so long, it’s been a bit elitist."
Snapchat is not the only company racing to push adoption of augmented reality. Facebook, Google and Apple all have AR creation kits for developers. Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by the social network, promote the technology through a platform called Spark AR Studio. Google has inserted AR into YouTube videos.
On Thursday, Fast Company reported that Apple's next iPhone will have a more sophisticated 3D camera that will make AR more compatible with its devices. Apple's augmented reality platform is called ARKit, which is for developers to build apps that incorporate the technology.
Snapchat has been fastest to insert advertising into AR, however, with the most options to connect brands with the creators that make Lenses, and with its self-service ad platform. Snapchat also has video ads and six-second commercial breaks that run during shows produced by media partners, but AR is one of the most popular activities on the service.
Snapchat has reported that, on average, 75 percent of its 218 million daily users play with Lenses daily. Snapchat is still growing its ad business, too, generating $1.7 billion in 2019, up 45 percent from 2018. For more growth, it needs to tap into the small- and medium-size businesses that would be the ones most likely to use a simplified Lens ad.
While the new Lens builder is for the most basic types of augmented reality, Snapchat still relies on a cadre of what it calls Official Lens Creators to design more sophisticated concepts.
The new Lens builder tool will encourage more brands to dip their toes into AR, which could mean more potential future clients for Snapchat Lens creators like Cyrene Quiamco. "It's kind of hard for brands to shell out $10,000 or $20,000 on it without knowing what AR is," Quiamco says. "So, this is a great entry point for brands and eventually they will want more customizable Lenses."
Last year, Ad Age reported that Snapchat would pay $750,000 to Lens creators in 2020, including for work commissioned for brands. Miller says top brands will still need the services of creators even with the access to easier AR. "For bigger advertisers and large-scale brands, they're going to want more bespoke creative," Miller says.