Snapchat’s Lens Studio app opens augmented-reality format to everyone, including self-serve advertisers

Snapchat’s Lens Studio desktop app

Snapchat’s Lenses have largely been responsible for popularizing augmented reality. Since the mobile app introduced Lenses in September 2015, its in-house team has created more than 3,000 Lenses, and on a typical day, roughly 70 million people interact with Lenses for more than three minutes on average, according to the company. Now Snapchat is democratizing the format so that anyone, including brands, can create their own Lenses and attach them to posts, as well as ads on Snapchat.

On Thursday, Snapchat launched Lens Studio, a desktop app for Mac and Windows that anyone can use to create augmented-reality Lenses that can be applied to photos and videos shared on Snapchat. Snapchat’s Lens Studio is similar to Facebook’s AR Studio, which the company unveiled in April for developers to produce “camera effects” (Facebook’s version of Snapchat’s Lenses) and made more widely available earlier this week.

There are limitations to the types of Lenses that can be created using Lens Studio and how they can be distributed on Snapchat. But there are also loopholes built in that, for the first time, will enable any advertiser to incorporate a Lens in a Snapchat campaign without the involvement of Snapchat’s sales team.

Lens creation

For starters, most people will only be able to use Lens Studio to create Lenses that use a phone’s rear-facing camera (called “World Lenses”) but not ones use that use the front-facing camera (called “Face Lenses”). In other words, people will be able to make Lenses that can add a 2D or 3D object to a person’s environment, such as an AR version of a car in their driveway or a dancing mascot in their living room, but they will not be able to make the selfie masks that have been the hallmark example of Snapchat’s Lenses.

Companies that are part of Snapchat’s new Lens Studio Partner program will be able to use the app to create Face Lenses. For this program, Snapchat has struck deals with seven companies that specialize in augmented reality and that brands can hire to produce their Sponsored Lens campaigns: Avatar Labs, Fisherman Labs, Haus, Media Monks, North Kingdom, Trigger Global and Vidmob. Previously, advertisers needed to work with Snapchat’s in-house creative team to produce a Sponsored Lens.

Snapchat is loosening the velvet rope around its Sponsored Lenses in another way. The company no longer requires an advertiser to spend a minimum amount to run a Sponsored Lens campaign, but brands must still go through Snapchat’s sales team to place the buy.

Lens distribution

Short of paying for a Sponsored Lens campaign, the options for brands and other creators to share the Lenses they create through Lens Studio may seem limited. They can either distribute Snapchat’s QR code-like Snapcodes, which people can scan using Snapchat’s in-app camera to unlock a Lens, or they can circulate a custom URL that deep links to Snapchat’s app and unlocks the Lens. Those two options open up many opportunities.

Snapcodes can be posted anywhere an image can be shared, be it on another social platform, a brand’s site, a billboard, a TV spot or a product’s packaging. Similarly, deep links can be shared anywhere a link can live — including as an attachment to a Snap Ad, Snapchat’s vertical video ad format.

Lens promotion

Lens Studio creates the first opportunity for advertisers to incorporate a Lens into a Snapchat campaign without needing to go through Snapchat’s sales team. Advertisers have already been able to attach Lenses to Snap Ads, but they had to work with Snapchat’s creative team to produce the Lens and its sales team to place the buy. Not anymore.

Brands will be able to promote World Lenses produced through Lens Studio by attaching deep links to those Lenses to Snap Ads bought through Snapchat’s Ad Manager or its advertising API, a Snapchat spokesperson confirmed. That way, brands will be able to promote and extend the reach of their Lenses.

When people use a Lens unlocked via Snapcode or deep link, it will be added to their Lens carousel where the regular Snapchat-created and Sponsored Lenses can be found. The Lens will appear in the carousel for 24 hours, the typical lifespan for any Lens. However, since the Snapcodes and deep links remain active for one year, the Lens can be re-added after that 24-hour window.

In addition to Snapcodes and deep links, people will be able to spread Lenses within Snapchat. Once a Lens is activated, an “i” icon will appear on the screen that a person can tap to share the Lens in a private message with friends on Snapchat. In turn, those friends will be able to share the Lens with their friends and on and on, paving the potential for a brand’s independently produced Lens to attain the level of popularity previously limited to a Snapchat-produced Lens like the dancing hot dog or the Gatorade bath.

Creators will be able to track the popularity of their Lenses within Lens Studio, where Snapchat will report stats, including the number of times a Lens was viewed and the number of times it was shared.

About The Author

Tim Peterson
Tim Peterson, Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat's ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar's attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon's ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube's programming strategy, Facebook's ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking's rise; and documented digital video's biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed's branded video production process and Snapchat Discover's ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands' early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo's and Google's search designs and examine the NFL's YouTube and Facebook video strategies.