Teens around the world consistently rate Snapchat as their favourite app, Facebook views it as its biggest future threat, and it's growing at unprecedented speeds with explosive engagement rates—and yet, most marketers are at least a little unsure about what drives Snapchat’s appeal.
Snapchat is a vastly underestimated platform and a real game changer. There is simply no other social-media app like it. The content’s ephemeral nature enables users to share their real, unedited selves without worrying that their snaps will be linked to them forever, unlike the legacy of posts on Facebook or Instagram. It gives users a raw experience, enabling them to live in each other’s everyday journeys. And with only 12 percent of snaps ever shared with more than one person, this journey is an extremely personal and intimate one. That's part of the reason our understanding has been so limited up until now.
Snapchat enables users to transform the mundane into visually creative artwork. The app offers levels of control, play and creation that other social-media platforms can’t match. No Snap is ever the same, and each one is personalised with doodles, stickers, and filters. This potential for uniqueness translates to more nuanced emotional depictions—something other social-media platforms are just beginning to catch on to, like Facebook’s recent ‘Reactions’.
The content is all completely user-generated, giving a perspective on live events. The app places its users at the centre of exciting, momentous occasions such as sporting championships and elections, as well as smaller personal moments like waking up or the first bite of a burger.
So, why is Snapchat record-breakingly popular?
Firstly, Snapchat is an unedited satirical you. It brings realness to communication—a kind of antidote to the curated, manicured and filtered worlds of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Content is honest, raw and always in the moment. If Facebook and Instagram give the staged version of events, then Snapchat gives the live backstage drama, the sweat and tears behind the perfectly toned abs.
Best of all, you can ensure that this real, unedited version of you travels only as far as you wish it to. Users securely share intimate moments of their day with those they choose, and because the content disappears within 24 hours, it’s a worry-free platform. Snapchat allows for deep intimacy, but with control.
This article is part of the Cultural Radar series
Secondly, Snapchat’s portfolio of filters, accessible face morphs, artistic tools, and text inspires creativity. Emotional reactions are accentuated and enhanced in a more distinct and complex way than a single emoticon could ever portray. This brings colour, vibrancy, personalisation and dimension to the flat conversation of text. It animates, entertains, amuses, surprises and delights.
Despite enabling a more nuanced depiction of emotions, the actual emotional meaning behind a snap can sometimes be ambiguous. For teens, the app’s informality means that a snap is not an outright declaration that you like someone, and unlike a text, it’s gone before it can be overanalysed. That's another reason for its popularity, and why Gen Zs use it to ‘flirt and divert’.
Thirdly, the app provides its users with a way of staying connected with the world in an easy, quick and accessible manner through its ‘Discover’ and ‘Live’ feeds. News channels such as Buzzfeed and Vice are particularly popular in Indonesia, India and the UK, while Cosmopolitan has gained popularity in the US.
The presence of celebrities’ personal stories on the platform means that users also get a peak into their everyday lives. At its best, Snapchat gives users behind-closed-doors access into the private, intimate worlds of the rich and famous. These qualities of instant accessibility and intimacy in the celebrity world are precisely what makes the app feel so authentic in the world closer to home.
Finally, with parents and extended family now on Facebook and even Instagram, Snapchat is a rare separate space that Gen Zs can claim as their own. Something understood and used only by them. It gives teens the privacy and distance from their parents they crave—it’s their personal hide out.
By revolutionising the format of communication, Snapchat challenges the use and status of familiar tools like Facebook and Instagram, which now feel like more mature, polished spaces. Snapchat’s agility is what keeps it relevant with its audience. The app is constantly innovating and listening to its users’ needs and desires to create new filters such as the face morph, or new stickers branded with youth vernacular like BAE, which speak directly to Gen Z.
Marketers might want to think about the kind of freshness, creativity and innovation that they can bring to Snapchat. And about how their brands might create tonalities and visual aesthetics when playing in this space to be more playful. They might follow the lead of asosfashion, dominoes_UK and lushcosmetics and offer behind-the-scenes access, letting users into their own spaces with intimacy and immediacy, in the true spirit of the medium.
Marguerite Vernes, Holly Dellamura, Lee Fordham, and Veronica Marquez all work in various capacities with Flamingo in London and New York. Snapchat is apparently so difficult for 'older' people to understand that it requires four adults to do so.