The crown jewels of millennial social media are finally up for sale, and not just to brands. Starting today, every Snapchat user can stamp their name on the company’s most successful product: the face-distorting, ferry-rainbow-ironman-vomit filters known as Lenses.
Now, using a special template tool on iOS or the web, anyone can create a personalized Lens to be offered to anyone else who is at a particular place at a particular time (for instance, to everyone attending your birthday party, or just everyone who is hanging out on your patch of the beach). For prices starting at $10, you’ll be able to customize a selection of 150 filters produced by Snap, which include various animal faces, morphing effects, and worn objects like crowns. You’ll also be able to add custom text, like, “It’s Gabby’s Sweet 16 Backyard Monster Truck Rally Featuring Ja Rule!” The sky is the limit.
Even if you’re not a regular Snapchat user, from a strategic perspective, this is a Big Deal worth noting. Of Snapchat’s 187 million daily active users, 70 million people use Lenses every day. Two months ago, Snap opened up its World Lenses for anyone to make, but crucially, that didn’t include the option for making the more premium augmented selfies. And from my time reporting on the company, I found that they really are most powerful engagement tool in Snap’s arsenal, a magic mirror that’s convinced all of us at some point to see we’d look like with doe eyes, a fire-breathing mouth, or even someone else’s face on our body.
Culturally speaking, the selfie silliness cut through the Snapchat’s early pigeonholing as a mere app for sexting. It also expanded how we think about self-portraiture in the modern age, as an entertainment medium rather than mere vanity. And all of this plays perfectly into Snap’s business plan. When a Lens is deployed as a sponsored ad, it’s hard to think of anything more intimate than wearing a product, like a Taco Bell taco, on your face–which happened, by the way, 224 million times in a 24 hour period a few years back. And even if you don’t share these moments when you play with Lens, it’s okay with Snap–it’s still engagement.
The question is, will enough people make custom Lenses that Snap will generate meaningful revenue out of the deal? Keep in mind that not all custom Lenses will cost $10. That’s merely the starting point. By extending both time and geofenced radius, the prices go up. In other words, Snap might make money through a lot of users making cheap Lenses once a year. It could also make money off of a few power users frequently making expensive Lenses again and again.
As for its potential impact on Sponsored Lenses, the maximum geographic reach for individual use is 1.8 square miles, which is well beyond the bounds of a house party, but still nothing close to what Snap offers its commercial partners. Only Sponsored Lenses can blanket the entire U.S., which seems to be how Snap is protecting the sanctity of sponsored content–scale.
Snap has been struggling since going public and facing increased competition from Instagram, but its recent Q4 results proved that the company can still grow in both users and revenue. It’s a bit crazy to consider, but with 184 million daily users, even a 10% adoption of customized Lenses is worth tens of millions in revenue. But can this tool generate a hundred million or more for Snap? That’s what will be key to watch. Because while Snap will undoubtedly build out this tool over time, offering us new personal Lenses with seasonal themes to make our own to keep us coming back, it can only play its big trump card this once. And if it fails to win people’s hearts and cash in a big way, Snap may have to reinvent itself again.