Making a Spectacle – A Snapchat marketing case study

When Snapchat officially changed its name to ‘Snap Inc’ earlier this year, many took little notice. As the company gears up for a potential IPO and begins to court advertisers, it seemed like a functional name change, designed to appease or appeal more to Wall Street.

But it’s turned out to be much more than that.

It’s been a huge breakout year for Snapchat. The brand has come into mainstream consciousness and moved past the point of being a fleeting success story that might float off into the ether, like so many viral apps before it. It’s now a tech giant, with genuine claims around the honeypot that is digital brand advertising.

Snapchat’s ability to roll out lenses andUX improvements faster than we’ve seen before has resulted in plenty of talk ability . Perhaps the best compliment that you can get is when Facebook tries to steal and replicate your product features, a reoccurrence throughout 2016.

But Snapchat’s biggest marketing success story in 2016 hasn’t come from the app. With the name change comes a widened focus on hardware and products beyond mobile, and the first cab off the rank is the unforeseen and incredibly successful launch of Snapchat Spectacles.

Spectacles is a pair of Snapchat-connected glasses that can record a video with a duration of 30 seconds long. They may seem like your ordinary pair of cool sunnies, but each pair actually contains a camera with high-tech features like wireless charging, Wi-Fi and a Bluetooth. When you press record, a blue light flashes and it’s simple to instantly upload video to the Snapchat app.

The product looks cool (to my untrained eye), and it’s really fun. Unlike other ‘camera in glasses’ products (which we’ll get to later), you might actually get complimented for wearing these specs.

But it’s nothing earth shattering when it comes to technology, and a cynic might say Spectacles is a faddish product designed to lock people further into using the app regularly. (They’d be right too.)

So why the incredible hype?

The simple answer is brilliantly structured, carefully cultivated ‘viral marketing’.

Usually I hate that term, but in this case, the ‘v’ word is apt.

Here’s how they did it.

1) Understanding the quirks of their target audience

One of the main selling points is simplicity and friction removal.
Snap is aiming to remove the last layer of friction associated with recording video – having to hold your camera up and press a button.

This might sound minimal and trite, but to the most expectant group of consumer there’s ever been (Adam Morgan calls this generation the ‘children of Uber’, weaned on apps that do everything for them), a more immediate way to record video is welcome. It’s an extra 2-3 seconds saved from not having to fumble for your phone, open the app and record, plus it’s a handsfree experience, meaning you can record things without needing to hold a phone in front of your face.

The product also might actually help people to be ‘more in the moment’, because once you press the button, the recording starts, and that’s no intermediary between you and your experience, just a pair of lenses.

2) Perfect product positioning

Of course, the obvious comparison to make is Google Glass. A similar, albeit more expensive and expansive product, Glass used a completely different launch strategy, which many believe led to its ultimate failure. It quickly became uncool, something that your nerdy uncle might wear to dinner. And more importantly, because there were so many potential usage cases, it became unclear what Glass was actually for.

Snapchat have learned from that, and every communication from the company has been purposely very measured and clear with regards how the product is presented. They’ve done a great job of setting expectations from the get-go.

Spectacles are cool. They’re a fashion item. They’re a fun ‘toy’ and they’re not for tech geeks or CEOs, they’re for heavy Snapchat users like you. They’re a status symbol, but not ostentatiously priced.

And they’re not for answering email, watching YouTube videos on the go or anything else you can do with Glass. The use case is simple – record video and share it quickly to an app you already use – Snapchat.

There’s no confusion on the user’s part. People can make up their mind quickly, they either see a value in the product or they don’t. And that’s welcomed.

Like all great companies at the moment, Snapchat has made it easy for people to say yes or no and then move on. Simple.

That’s a great lesson to brand and product managers. While it’s often easy to fall prey to scope creep, often, a clear, pared back proposition is often most effective.

3) Identifying the right early adopters

Snap didn’t make the product available to just anyone upon launch. Google made that mistake and ended up with the creepiest middle age white guy photo of all time ruining their carefully cultivated brand impression.

Only the biggest Snapchat influencers have gotten access to the glasses, while all product imagery focuses on cool young ‘millennials’ having fun with the specs, another carefully choreographed detail.

Even the media have found it tough to get their hands on the specs, and the secondary market for them on Ebay is huge. Normally, not giving media access to your product would be suicide. But in this case, Snap weighed the pros and cons and decided that creating intrigue was the best policy.

It worked.

4) Creating demand through artificial scarcity

Creating value through the medium of scarcity is a well worn path, both by tech brands and fashion brands. It’s a simple premise – when we are deprived of an option, we see it as more valuable.

Even if it’s irrational, we want something we can’t have.

The appearance of scarcity positively impacts our perception of value – it’s the tenet that the high fashion industry has based itself on in recent times, or why there are mile long queues to get into certain exclusive nightclubs at the weekend. Google have also employed similar tactics to launch tools like Gmail and Google+.

One Plus and The Fifth Watches are also good examples.

Snap has taken a leaf from this playbook. The strategy seems to be to only sell a limited number of glasses as a way to get demand pumped up. The product is, for now, only available through a vending machine called the ‘Snapbot’, which has predictably attracted enormous queues. The machine itself is an extension of the personality that Snapchat infuses into everything that it does. Equipped with a motion sensor, the Snapbot appears to be sleeping, then wakes up to display sample video clips from the glasses whenever anyone walks by. Three simple coloured knobs allow the user to pick their hue — coral, black or turquoise — before the glasses appear to vend out of the bot’s smiling “mouth” (after the payment of $130 of course!).

Already, the machine has appeared in various random locations, including Venice Beach, the Grand Canyon and a remote location in rural Oklahoma, stopping for only 24 hours before popping up in another spot.

All of this allows Snap to control the number of Specs on the market and the experience of purchase, in the same way retailers like Warby Parker strive to own every part of the buyer journey.

5) Baked in virality

Of course, this approach to distribution comes with its own PR benefits, in that every time the bot moves, the media interest gets re-inflated. It’s PR 101, but it sure is working to create hype.

That’s not the only way the brand has ‘baked in virality’ into the product. In a similar manner to how Vine gained traction by allowing frictionless sharing to Twitter and making its video clips immediately noticeable, all video shared from the Specs comes with a distinctive circular crop.

This too is a careful detail that plenty of thinking has gone into.

Because of the distinctive style, when video is taken from Snapchat and shared on another social network, it’s obvious where it comes from. In essence, Snapchat has branded every piece of video that comes from Specs by making it a distinctive asset compared to every other type of online video. That’s a smart ‘growth hack’. When video from Spectacles starts going viral (which it will) then they’ll reap the benefits of this ongoing built in brand reminder.

Another plus to this tactic is there’s no need for traditional media spend. If owned (Snapbot/product itself) and earned (launch coverage/Snapbot location coverage) media are doing the work for you, then why bother spending on ads? Snap can postpone media investment until they have wrung as much benefit as possible, using their tie instead to perfect the product experience before going mass market.

This is very much a prototype version of the product too, and given the old adage that ‘those adopting your product earliest will have the most tolerance for its flaws’, the metered rollout strategy is also a way for Snap to improve its hardware on the fly. Heavy media support is the last thing Spectacles needs to be a success at this stage.

In Summary…

Of course, Spectacles are at the lower end of the wearables category, and their primary purpose is to keep Snap in the public eye, while pinning existing users into the Snapchat platform even further.

The tactics used are a mix of old school P.R. and basic consumer psychology, so there’s nothing new here. But there are some good takeaways for modern marketers from the rollout.

Through careful choreography, Snap has managed to create one of the biggest tech launch stories of the year.

That’s a perfect tech marketing case study and more importantly, it gives the company serious momentum leading up to 2017’s potential IPO.

Now, anyone know where I can get a pair?


Esports in Ireland: Quantifying the opportunity


Picture the scene….

All Ireland Final 2030.

A packed Croke Park with thousands in the stands and thousands more watching online.

A fancied Dublin team laden with sponsorship takes on the outsiders from Cork.

The crowd roars as the teams enter the field.

The commentators get excited as they describe the action for those watching live.

And the players proceed to take their seats in front of their consoles.

The Irish ESports League All Ireland Final is about to kick off…


Sure, that’s a bit of a facetious scenario. But it’s not as far fetched as you might think.
Globally, esports isn’t a niche area any more, it’s a phenomenon. And it’s not just for nerdy white males under the age of 18 either.

In South Korea, the world’s competitive gaming capital, top video game players are household names. Millions of people tune in to watch game competitions on television.

In the US, colleges have begun competitive leagues that attract thousands to large stadiums, usually reserved for basketball or football. 

Electronic Sports League, one of the biggest esports leagues, had 73,000 attendees at a tournament in Poland in March.

Gaming is an important and growing culture base. 64% of Americans play games on a regular basis (console, mobile or other). 20 of the top 100 YouTube channels with the most subscribers worldwide are gaming related.

That’s a serious opportunity.

Media brands getting on board

And the TV numbers are enormous too. By 2020, a conservative estimate is that esports viewership will exceed 10% of US sports viewing and could outstrip the average viewership of most established US sports.

Amazon’s purchase of live streaming service Twitch in 2014 (where you can watch other gamers compete live) was the first big ripple in the media pond. The acquisition cost 1 billion, and Twitch now receives an estimated 40 million unique users daily.

But there’s plenty more growth to come. Big media brands are hopping onto the bandwagon. ESPN has already launched a dedicated esports channel.


Another signal of growth is Facebook getting on board. Through Facebook Live, which the company is pushing heavily already, the social superpower has partnered with gaming company Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft). Gamers will soon be able to push a button to live stream their play in HD via their personal Facebook account.

Given Facebook’s control of web attention. This could represent a tipping point.


The global potential is simply enormous. As broadband gets better, online play across the world becomes much easier. There’s also plenty of choice for everyone, no matter your interests or skill.

At the top end, the three largest esports games measured by player base, audience size, and total annual prize pool are League of Legends (LoL), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive(CS:GO), and Dota 2. Each is hugely popular, both in terms of the size of the game, but also in fan numbers. League of Legends had unique viewer counts of 32 million, 27 million, and 36 million for its past three finals.

But the other side of esports is friendlier to the less hardcore gamer. Pick up and play games like Madden or FIFA are also widely played. In March, FIFA ran their annual Interactive World Cup (FIWC), which is the Guinness World Record holder for the largest video gaming tournament (2.3 million players tried to qualify).

Traditional sports franchises are taking note too. In July, Man City signed up an 18 year old to represent the club at EA Sports’ Fifa tournaments. Others, like NBA side Philadelphia 76ers are acquiring whole teams.

For players, one of the main points of attraction for esports is its flat hierarchy. In traditional sports like football, getting to the top is a long, arduous process fraught with injuries and the vagaries of luck. In esports, amateur players can compete against the best based on merit alone, and no matter what age, sex or nationality they are. Like we’ve seen in vlogging for example, the barriers to becoming a celebrity and potential stardom are low. Everything is within reach, and that’s a big selling point.

Brand involvement

Of course, with attention and millions of eyeballs, brands soon follow. Like ‘traditional’ sport, the opportunities for sponsorship are lucrative. Tech/telco brands in particular have been quick on the uptake. Samsung are major sponsors of the leading South Korean gaming team, operating a ‘patronage’ model that’s similar to Formula 1 sponsorship. Meanwhile Vodafone Spain sponsors a team ‘G2’ and has its own reality tv show on MTV called “Gamers”, which brings celebrities to their gaming house in Madrid to participate in various fun and challenging activities.

Large consumer brands, particularly those focused on youth segments like Coca Cola, McDonalds, Red Bull and Mountain Dew have also begun testing the waters with branded events, advertising and sponsorships.

As with all sports, gambling is another obvious source of revenue. Sky Bet has been taking bets on esports since last year, and given the volatile nature of gaming, in-play spectator betting is a bit market. Again, the expected numbers here are already huge, and only going to get bigger.


Esports in Ireland?

So what about the Irish slant? While slower to mature, Irish esports is certainly growing and becoming more organised. Events like ‘G-Series‘ attract hundreds of players and thousands of online spectators.


YoutuberJackSepticEye has built his following through humorous commentary on live gaming streams, while Ireland’s first professional gamer Jordan Crowley has already won 80,000 euro in global prize money. 

The potential market for fans is also enormous. We’re already a nation of gamers. We’re well connected and brand spending on sport sponsorship is already large.

At the moment, esports is following a familiar path for any quick growing sport (think UFC, NFL or even football). It’s finding its feet, trying to regulate itself and plenty of big players are vying for a slice of the pie.

A full Croke Park is a while yet, but if the trajectory continues, it’s only a matter of time.
Further Reading:
Activate Tech & Media Outlook
The next wave of growth for esports



The curse of collective stupidity

“Football is a simple game complicated by idiots”
Bill Shankly

‘“All of us are not always smarter than one of us, leaders need to distinguish between the wisdom of crowds and the madness of crowds.”
Paul Gibbons

“People are idiots. People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis, you can’t trust people Jez”
Super Hans


Ever wondered why large companies are so stupid?

How can large international businesses stuffed with the smartest of people be so consistently idiotic?

We see it in advertising a lot. Just ask Sprite.

The answer is the curse of collective stupidity.

You’d think that if you were faced with a strategic decision or business problem, putting 20 smart people onto the project team would be better than 2 right?

Paradoxically, that’s often not the case.

Speaking from experience, a lot of the time, the more people you throw at a project, the stupider the collective becomes. People fall prey to biases like groupthink, social influence and extroversion bias. You see it every week in The Apprentice. 20 ostensibly smart people are thrown into a task and almost without fail they do something dim witted. Something they’d never do on their own.

Decision making, particularly when it involves fraught, highly subjective issues like creativity, often becomes illogical. If you asked one person individually to analyse some of the decisions, they’d be aghast. Democracy might be fair, but it’s not always right, and that’s why many big companies are collectively dumb, slow and inflexible.


The irony is that 1 smart person is often smarter than 20 smart people. When you’re a small, or solitary group, you can be decisive, you don’t have to rely on mass communication which leads to things getting lost in translation, and most importantly, you don’t have to rely on misaligned KPIs. That’s the main scourge of multi discipline teams in big companies.

Large groups often knock the edge off great ideas. The best creative thinking exists at the margins. Groups in big organisations are not set up to welcome this type of innovation. They’re literally set up to strive for ‘average’ thinking, and this results in plumping for the safe, watered down route. The status quo.

As Paul Feldwick says in ‘The Anatomy Of Humbug’

“Companies who try to be clever and are too anxious about getting it wrong generally handicap themselves”

The humble wasp

According to Prof Sean O’Donnell of Drexel University in Philadelphia, modern businesses could learn from wasps. O’Donnell and his team has conducted recent research showing that wasps live in large, social colonies, and can “share” brainpower between themselves.

“By communicating and responding to colony mates, a social insect is under less pressure to assess and respond to its environment on its own. Group members can share information and help each other solve problems.”

The “distributed cognition hypothesis,” assumes that was group members can rely on social communication. Instead of individual cognition, they share the cognitive load.

That’s the ‘hive mind’ at work.

But the opposite happens in most organisations

Despite existing in a volatile, constantly shifting environment, great ideas get stuck in a never ending pipeline. Information that needs to be shared never gets verbalised and people leave meetings confused, without any recourse for clarity because they feel stuck in their own bubble.

On the face of it, companies can’t afford to ignore this, and yet they are.

And that’s why across every sector of business that you can name, from media to transport, retail to media buying, incumbents, encumbered by collective stupidity, are being picked off by new entrants.

The curse of collective stupidity is a powerful force.