Snapchat plans advertiser-supported ‘sponsored lenses’

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Credit: NiemanLab

Snapchat has found a new way to monetize its service — and this time it’s not undermining the reason it’s become such a popular social tool in the process.

The Financial Times reports that Snapchat wants advertisers to pay for “sponsored lenses” that change the way its users’ selfies look. Citing the ever-popular “people familiar with the matter,” the report says the feature should debut on Halloween, which seems like a good time to launch a tool devoted to making things look weird.

Sponsored lenses are said to cost $750,000 during important dates like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. They’ll cost $450,000 during other days — an option which could make it attractive to companies looking to promote new films, albums, or other content that is tied to a specific date but doesn’t coincide with any holiday.

Advertisers who want to reach Snapchat’s valuable millennial user base have other options, too. They can pay to create special “geofilters” that allow people to modify their photos with stickers unique to specific locations. They can also pay to show ads in the app’s Discover section, with Snapchat taking varying portions of the revenues.

All those ads live alongside other, non-sponsored features inside Snapchat’s app. People can use lenses to change their selfies even if an advertiser didn’t pay for it, modify their photos with geofilters from places unaffiliated with any business, or watch a couple dozen videos through Discover without encountering a single ad.

These sponsored lenses would follow another new revenue scheme: Asking people to pay for the ability to re-watch the ostensibly-ephemeral content sent to them. The feature is available for free, but consumers are asked to pay 99 cents to receive three more of the “Replays,” as they’re called. A used-to-be free feature went freemium.

That change is worrisome. As I wrote when Snapchat changed the feature:

Snapchat has now popularized and, indeed, monetized, a concept that runs counter to the notions that made it popular in the first place.

Today it’s paying a little less than a buck to re-watch some videos or take another peek at a photo. What might it be later? A few dollars to view a snap more than twice? Doing away with the restriction when teens don’t pay for Replays? Perhaps that won’t happen, but it seems more likely than it did yesterday.

Features like these new sponsored lenses are a little less hostile to Snapchat’s original vision. Besides looking like a goofball for a few seconds — double if someone uses one of their precious Replays to view the snap again — they’re harmless. They’re also fun, and they fit with Snapchat’s monetization strategy to date.

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