Snapchat’s New Celebrities: Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

Not all that long ago, the rise of the YouTube celebrity was weird and daunting. Then came the age of Vine, whose stars rose to prominence in videos so fleeting they raised what then seemed an existential question: “How could you possibly get famous on the basis of six-second clips?” Next up were Instagram personalities-as-photo-celebs.

Inevitably, it’s now time for the most transient social media platform of them all—Snapchat, with its blink-and-you-missed-it “ephemeral” snaps—to take its turn in the spotlight. Because Snapchat is now spawning a rising group of “stars” who are gaining traction, working with brands, and (of course) making money.

Forbes reports that advertisers are paying up to $30,000 to Snapchat celebrities for promoted snaps. TV networks and brands like Disney, Major League Soccer, and Taco Bell are working with big Snapchat users to create snaps aimed at teens and young adults aged 13 to 25.

In the same way that advertisers partner with YouTube celebrities in order to access a fanbase of millions of young audiences, brands are now reaching out to Snapchat for a window into the ever-elusive world of the complicated teen mind. With over 4.6 million members and 350 million photos shared daily, it’s clear that brands will be seeking out Snapchat sooner rather than later.

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Snapchat, of course, is best known as the home of the disappearing “snap”—basically a captioned photo you could send to a friend, who’d then have between one and 10 seconds to view it before it vanished, seemingly forever.

But last October, Snapchat expanded into Vine-like territory with Snapchat Stories, a way to string together photos and videos in order to create longer narratives. Longer, that is, in a relative sense, as Snapchat Stories still disappear after 24 hours.

That’s long enough for some entrepreneurs, who’ve strung together snaps and stories to build their own Snapchat followings. Some of these creators earn up to $100,000 a week on this ephemeral platform.

Shaun McBride, better known as Shonduras, to may be the first person on Snapchat make a business out of taking pictures and sketching quick, colorful cartoons onto them. McBride has amassed more than 140,000 followers, and has partnered with brands like Disney and Taco Bell to create Snap advertisements.

McBride’s picture-doodle mashups are fun and visually arresting. His subjects range from himself (ice-fishing for octopus, for instance) to a mournful-looking dog decked out as a Yoda-like Jedi (complete with lightsaber) to a towering unicorn vomiting a rainbow over a mountain range. 

Why do brands like snaps? Largely because they take up an entire mobile screen and force the viewer to absorb the information quickly. That makes them a perfect vehicle for a short, punchy advertising message designed to stick with the viewer long after the ad itself has disappeared.

Jerome Jarre, originally a Vine celebrity with 6 million followers, cultivated a following of 1.2 million on Snapchat. He’s also the co-founder of Grapestory, an agency that signs Vine and Instagram celebrities (much like YouTube’s “multi-channel networks”) and connects these stars to branded deals.

Social media networks like Snapchat will always be crawling with their own homegrown stars. It’ll often be difficult for outsiders to understand where their popularity is coming from—and it’s not always clear that big brands themselves get it, either. Still, they’re willing to fork over lots of money in hopes of associating themselves with the popularity of social-media users with big followings.

Images courtesy of Forbes

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