The world is in danger: The evil Pants Co. wants to hypnotize everyone watching TV into working on the weekends. The Shorts Guys can save the weekend, but they'll have to travel back in time to stop Pants Co.'s CEO's dangerous plan.
If it sounds like the plot of a whacky homemade skit, that's because it is. Chubbies, a five-year-old apparel company that made its name by selling brightly colored men's shorts, has turned this story into a weekly mini-video series on its Snapchat account. And according to the company, it's worked well—many of its followers on Snapchat are watching it and even tweeting about it.
Chubbies is of course just one of the many companies experimenting with marketing on Snapchat beyond purchasing ads. Instead, they're trying to create interesting and entertaining videos and photos that entices consumers to add them as a "friend" on the app and most importantly, think of them as hip brands.
Chubbies decided to start posting content on Snapchat because it's increasingly where its customers are spending their time, co-founder Tom Montgomery told Fortune. Currently, Snapchat has more than 150 million daily active users globally, and says it reaches 41% of all U.S. 18 to 34 year-olds.
Founded in 2011 by four college friends from Stanford University, Chubbies has long used social media as part of its marketing efforts, largely because its customers are young. The company's marketing campaigns are usually humorous, emphasize Chubbies' bright clothing, and emphasize that Chubbies is a brand that doesn't take itself too seriously. For example, Chubbies produced a video showcasing a men's synchronized swimming team for the Olympic Games this summer, which garnered over 24 million views on Facebook.
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So it's no surprise the company has turned to Snapchat as a way to entertain its target market. It has experimented with ways to market its products on Snapchat such as exclusive discount codes and products that are only available through its app.
Snapchat declined to share how many companies have created accounts on its app, though an increasing number of brands are joining the craze, from news outlets, to fashion companies, and even candy companies.
Snapchat began in 2011 as a mobile app for sharing photos and short videos that disappear after the recipient has viewed them, an answer to growing teenage concerns about permanent online social networks like Facebook potentially haunting them later in life. Since then, it has added a hub where users can find short news articles and videos from publishers like People, Vice, and CNN. It's also added features like Stories, which are collections of photos an videos that disappear after 24 hours, among others. Earlier this month, parent company Snap, which recently released its long-rumored video-recording sunglasses, reportedly filed to go public next year.
But Snapchat's unpolished and candid format also puts Chubbies, which has raised $14 million in funding, on an even playing field with competitors with bigger marketing budgets. While social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram let brands publish highly produced professional video and photos, there's no way to do that on Snapchat aside from paying for ads.
“A great video editor has no value on Snapchat,” Chubbies co-founder Tom Montgomery told Fortune.
So this is where Chubbies' creativity comes in. As it shot the third installment of True Thighs a couple of weeks ago an iPhone, its four-man team came up with clever hacks to use Snapchat's limitations. For example, the characters spoke faster so they could cram their lines into the 10-second limit for each video. The company's low budget prop closet provided wigs, fake mustaches, a volleyball, and a mannequin's legs. The team built a “time machine” using cardboard, and shot scenes throughout the office, in a nearby alley, and even on the roof.
As for the magical bag of cash the Shorts Guys chased around during the episode? It was added in “post-production” by pasting a large cash bag emoji before the videos were published on Snapchat. If you're not familiar with Snapchat, users can decorate their photos and videos with emoji and other illustrations before they post them.
And because there are over a dozen 10-second videos per episode, the Chubbies team has even found a trick to upload all the videos at once: Keep the smartphone used to film the Snapchat videos on “Airplane mode” while shooting videos, then disable the feature when done.
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With that said, Snapchat still frustrates some companies that use it for marketing. For one, while they can see how many times each photo or video has been seen by followers, Snapchat doesn't tell them how many followers they have overall, unlike other social media services. According to Montgomery, Snapchat used to provide him with an update when asked, but that's no longer the case. Before starting the True Thighs series, Chubbies had about 12,000 followers, according to Montgomery. That number has since grown, though the company doesn't have an official count.
It's also more difficult to measure the effect of the content it publishes on Snapchat than on other social media channels. On Facebook, Chubbies has devised a strategy to test the three to five videos it creates weekly with a small pool of fans and decide if it wants to distribute it more widely on Facebook. On Snapchat, its only indicator of success is the total view count and any praise its followers post on Twitter about its videos. The company says that about 80% to 90% of followers that tap to watch its new posts stay on to view more than the first photo or video.
And that's exactly how Snapchat intends things to be.
Unlike other social media companies, Snapchat doesn't really believe that users should be “friends” with brands, a spokesman told Fortune, so it's not making it any easier for brands to build a following. Rather, companies are supposed to buy ads. Currently, Snapchat offers a few different formats: Ads that can be inserted in Stories (collections of photos and videos from users), sponsored “lenses” (animated overlays for photos and vidoes), and sponsored geofilters (overlays for photos and videos only available in certain locations).
The only exception are celebrities, whose accounts are marked as "official" when users add them to their lists of friends on the app.
So if companies want to interact with users in the “organic” part of the app, they're left to their own devices. If they succeed at creating compelling content and amass a large following, good for them, says Snapchat.