Who will make the next dancing hotdog? Maybe you. That’s the hope of Snap, which for the first time in the company’s history, will allow anyone with a computer and a little spare time to make its addictive Lenses–those 3D, augmented reality figures that can show up in your snaps. To date, Snap has made over 3,000 of them on its own.
But there’s a catch: While anyone can make a “World Lens” object, which is an augmented reality thing that floats inside your video frame, only marketers will be able to make Snapchat’s real pièce de résistance, the selfie lenses. Rainbow puke aside, they can be both highly lucrative ads for Snap and seem to drive the majority of user engagement across lens types. Put simply, people like taking selfies, but even if they don’t record a video, the like to look at themselves through Snap’s silly augmented reality effects. Taco Bell sponsored a Taco-head lens that was viewed 224 million times in a 24-hour period, as Snapchat users literally wore the Taco Bell brand as their face.
The announcement comes on the heels of Facebook launching a very similar initiative within Messenger. Right now, social networks are racing to rule messaging-based ads. And so far, augmented reality filters seem like the most promising way in.
To open its platform, Snap has shared its own creative tools and repackaged them for anyone to download for free in a desktop app called Lens Studio. It’s an app that allows you to create, and even animate, 3D figures in whichever software you prefer to use like Blender or 3ds Max, then import that data so it can live and breathe inside Snapchat. Once you’ve created a lens, you can easily share it. You’re provided a Snap Code (essentially a QR Code) that you can send to friends, or, when you use the lens yourself and share the video, other users will be able to tap the UI to adopt it themselves.
Snap declined to comment, but the strategy here isn’t all that difficult to deconstruct. Opening lenses up to the community increases the user’s stake in Snapchat’s most iconic feature. By creating and sharing their own lenses, users will push their creations to go viral, all while filling Snap’s troughs with countless free, new attempts at the next big hit, like the aforementioned dancing hot dog that was viewed 1.5 billion times. To date, Snap’s own creative team has implemented every lens you see. That brought plenty of controversy to the company for lenses that came off as pretty darn racist. Though allowing users to make their own lenses could come with problems of its own.
But amplify this idea to marketers, and mix in Snap’s more valuable selfie lenses, and all the businesses and creative agencies in the world can create their own custom advertisements, without having to go through collaborations with Snap’s own team. This means the potential funnel for sponsored lenses increases immeasurably at a time when Snap needs to prove to Wall Street that it can make money.
Snapchat’s growth has largely stagnated and its earnings aren’t meeting expectations. But the potential of 178 million daily users, 84% of whom are between the ages of 13 and 34 in the U.S., actively interacting with an ad that lives on their face, will surely woo marketers, especially with this more open toolset. The question, of course, is just how much? Could this be Snap’s YouTube moment for augmented reality experiences, in which the community takes over creative in a massive, self-perpetuating cycle? Or will rendering 3D figures on PCs prove too much of a hassle for Snap’s mobile-obsessed audience?
“We want to emphasize that this is just the beginning,” says Eitan Pilipski, VP, Camera Platform team, when I pose the question. “We want to put it out there and learn.”