China’s social media sphere contains so many popular photo apps aside from WeChat, it can be a headache to pick the right ones that are a good fit for a brand’s marketing strategy. But, in recent months, there’s one app that’s gained particular traction in China’s market that could point to opportunities for brands.
That is, if they can get around the one thing that its critics can’t get over: it’s basically a mirror image of Snapchat.
South Korea’s Snapchat lookalike is called Snow, and it recently made headlines when it was revealed that Facebook tried to purchase it. The deal didn’t go through because its parent company Naver—the South Korean tech company behind Japanese messaging app Line—thought there was still more ground to cover. Not only has it been popular among South Korea’s smartphone users, but China loves it too, with at least 20 million downloads in the country. It got particularly popular over the summer—Business Insider reported in July that it was the 19th most downloaded free app in the iPhone store. Now, it’s no longer in the top 50, and instead, photo-sharing apps like Meitu and BeautyCam have taken these high-ranking spots. Still, the recent interest in the app as well as its latest source of funding means marketers may not want to ignore it just yet.
But first, the clone issue—numerous media outlets have done breakdowns of just how similar Snapchat and Snow are. Both have face swap, similarly designed stickers and filters, and a face detector that allow the users to do things like grow a pair of dog ears and distort their features. A couple of differences include Snow’s ability to let the user create a GIF to send in a message, share a video, and photo filters, which are a particularly coveted feature for Chinese users. Snapchat, like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, is blocked in China, so it’s not really uncommon to find copycats (China’s Weibo has been compared to Twitter, while social network Renren has similarities to Facebook).
Possibly to take extra precaution against also getting blocked in China, Snow recently released an app specifically for the China market without its “story” function, or the in-app messaging capabilities that, like Snapchat, are only visible for 24 hours after posting. China’s version of Snow instead lets users connect the app with their WeChat accounts, meaning they can only send photos, GIFs and video created on Snow through WeChat. In contrast, Chinese photo-sharing apps like Nice and In give users the option to use either WeChat or the app’s own social network.
Snow, like many of the other photo-sharing apps in China, has marketing potential for brands through the sale of its stickers. Currently, it offers more than 700 stickers and more than 30 filters, and adds new options on a regular basis. Luxury fashion brands have already been forming partnerships with similar Chinese photo-sharing apps—for example, Michael Kors worked with In for its travel campaign to create Spring Festival themed stickers, while French cosmetics brand Guerlain once created special photo frames for POCO’s Beauty Camera app. A commenter on Snow’s page on the Google Play store already offers ideas, asking if Snow could add a Disney Princess sticker for her nephew.
So far though, only mass-market brands have worked with Snow, including Nike, Burger King, and Nescafe. However, another possible appeal for luxury brands is that Snow also does collaborations with K-pop bands, and currently features stickers from boy band B1A4. It’s no secret that K-pop has attracted tons of fans in China, and for companies looking for unique avenues into China’s social media networks, this could open the door for product endorsements.
Luxury brands have already been taking advantage of Snapchat’s marketing capabilities, with Burberry using it to promote its fashion shows and Valentino giving fans a sneak peek into its showroom, so it could only be a matter of time before China’s young users see similar campaigns on Snow.