Interviews

Snap Inc. helps brands leverage AR to connect with customers

Snapchat is taking its visuals to a new level with AR and a number of programmes and projects around it. In an exclusive conversation with BroadcastPro ME, Mike Evans, Software Engineering Manager at Snap Inc, talks about how Snap is helping companies leverage AR to augment their brands.

Snapchat is taking its visuals to a new level with AR and a number of programmes and projects around it. In an exclusive conversation with BroadcastPro ME, Mike Evans, Software Engineering Manager at Snap Inc, talks about how Snap is helping companies leverage AR to augment their brands.

What are the various ways in which Snapchat is using augmented reality with its users and business partners? What are the most popular AR tools within the Snapchat portfolio today?

Snapchat is a fundamentally different platform to anything else out there today. It has always opened to the camera, inviting people to express themselves, be creative and explore – and this positively impacts the engagement we see. We’ve long believed that augmented reality is a powerful tool for self-expression and communication. We’re taking a step-by-step approach to innovating iteratively along this path, with real-world consumer experiences and insights taken into consideration alongside hardware and software technology advancements.

Snap is focused on three core building blocks of AR: understanding the world through our Snapchat camera, providing a platform for creators to build AR experiences, and investing in future hardware that will transcend the smartphone. For us, it’s not about technology, but the experiences you can create. We made the deliberate decision to invest early in making AR technology accessible to all, and our growing creator community is validating this decision. We’re at the beginning of a very exciting shift in computing – in the future, computing will be overlaid on the world around us, not constrained to a screen in our hand. It’s very early days for AR as an industry, but we’re excited by the acceleration we see in the industry today.

Our creation platform, Lens Studio, is our AR creation tool where people can make, publish and share AR experiences. A more recent addition is Snap Camera, which is our new desktop app for Lenses that we released in October 2018. Here, we are extending Lenses beyond Snapchat on mobile to Mac and Windows PCs for use in video streaming, e.g. Twitch, and video conference – Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. Snap Camera also offers our growing Lens creator community a new distribution channel and new audiences for their Lens creations.

How is Snap approaching animation design today? How are these capabilities available for developers, broadcasters and Snapchat users in general?

Whether you’re a broadcaster, designer, advertiser or just an avid Snapchat user, the primary space for animation and AR creativity is Lens Studio. This tool gives developers, creators and brands the means to build and distribute their own Snapchat AR experiences. This is supported by easy-to-use templates and guides, as well as a scripting API. In this instance, broadcasters can work with agencies – or with one of our official partners – to create an AR experience. This is an easy way for them to dip their toes into the world of AR and experiment. We also have a Lens Creative Partners programme. These certified creators are experienced in developing quality AR and have completed a rigorous course about the development process, creative best practices, ad policies and buy models for sponsored AR Lenses on Snapchat. So essentially, advertisers and publishers have access to Lens Studio, allowing them to craft immersive stories for their customers through promoted ads or organically through Snapcodes. A great example on the publisher side is from the Economist, which brought its story about the future of food to life with an immersive AR experience on Snapchat that reached thousands of people.

Snapchat has extended Lenses to Mac and Windows PCs for use in video streaming.

What AR tools and capabilities does Snapchat offer creatives in the Middle East today? How is this AR developer community evolving, and what volume of AR content is being created on platforms like yours?

Our full suite of AR creation and consumption tools are available: Lens Studio on the creation side and Snapchat and Snap Camera on the consumption side. We see a lot of activity from Lens creators in the Middle East. While we don’t share specific numbers by region, over 300,000 Lenses have been submitted via Lens Studio, which have been viewed more than 35 billion times, and the Middle East is certainly a region where Snapchat is very popular. Several of our Official Lens Creators are in or from the Middle East – one example is Georgio Copter from Lebanon, who was Snapchat Artist of the Year from the first annual Ghosties Awards, and also Othman Abdullah Akhodair from Saudi Arabia, who recreates 3D models from photos of Saudi treasures for the tourist mission in the UK. Othman realised how incredible Lens Studio could be when he garnered 20,000 views for a single Lens in one day while showcasing his work in Dubai. We also have the likes of Ahmed Ali and Mohammed Al Asmer, two very high-profile Lens Creators operating from the region.

Do you have any figures that show how AR features and tools are driving deeper engagement between media owners and audiences?

Media owners across the world have seen great engagement with their audiences. A great example is LADbible Group in the UK, which recently partnered with the world’s biggest illegal wildlife trade conference to drive mass awareness through immersive storytelling on Snapchat. Extinct allowed users to playfully immerse themselves in the powerful experience of becoming an elephant in AR. However, there was a provocative twist; the elephant’s tusks begin to disappear, and the user is confronted with the realisation that one of the world’s most iconic species is under serious threat of extinction. It was viewed over 80,000 times. Another example is from one of Germany’s biggest publishers, Bild. They created a ‘Valentinstag’ Lens which had more than 59,000 views in Germany.

What technology powers Snapchat’s AR efforts?

In terms of design, Lens Studio is very similar to the creation tools that our own Lens designers use. For the end user, however, using AR is as simple as selecting the Lens you want from either the carousel or Lens Explorer (a tool that allows users to find and play with Community Lenses). Snapchat opens to the camera, so Snapchat is designed to make it incredibly straightforward to engage with AR – so much so that over 70% of our daily active users play with or view Lenses every day.

Snapchat users can create their own Face Lenses in Lens Studio, build digital masks and access new 3D templates.

What are Snapchat’s plans to upscale AR to drive more business, especially in MENA?

AR is becoming a larger part of advertisers’ media buying plans in MENA. A part of this increase is driven by an increase in flexibility for buying and creating AR Lenses for Snapchat. For Lens creation, Snapchat recently announced the launch of dozens of certified Lens Creative Partners globally, some of whom I referenced earlier. On the buying side, Snapchat released the ability for advertisers to buy AR directly through self-service tools, making AR just as easy and efficient to promote as a regular video ad.

Is your AR feature available to Middle East users at present?

When launching Lens Studio in 2017, it was open to everyone. In the beginning, however, those who were not a Snapchat partner, or an agency could only create World Lenses (digital objects around you). Last year, we made Snapchat even more creator-friendly with the ability for anyone to make their own Face Lenses in Lens Studio. We also unveiled seven new templates in Lens Studio to support creators to build digital masks, and there are now 30 templates in total. Lens Studio now enables any user – professional or not – to create AR objects that are static or animated, 2D or 3D, and responsive when users interact with them through their phone screens.