Snap Inc. is going to great lengths to make sure its techie toy for the face, Snapchat Spectacles, lands with a bang.
The San Francisco-based social media platform announced its first product, Spectacles, in September. The sunglasses, which sell for $130, come in three colors — black, teal and coral — and resemble an unassuming pair of shades you might pick up at Urban Outfitters. The fashionable look of Spectacles was no accident: Snap worked with Vergence Labs, a startup specializing in high-tech but still appealing eyewear, in creating them.
The main difference between fashion sunglasses and Spectacles is, of course, that the latter is equipped with a camera for recording everything the wearer is seeing in 10- to 30-second snippets.
Snap Inc., which declined to comment for this story, could be on track to normalizing the behavior of using a wearable that sits in front of your eyes — something that Google Glass infamously failed to do. To get Snapchat users excited about that prospect, the company has strategically released limited quantities of the glasses to the general public in selective and sometimes secretive locations, sold through branded “Snapbot” vending machines. The rollout has been executed with the similar elusive precision of a limited-edition sneaker or streetwear drop.
“In general, when there’s exclusivity built up around a product, demand becomes crazy,” said Jeff Carvalho, partner and executive editor at Highsnobiety, a digital publication covering streetwear brands and culture. “It’s a pretty impressive marketing vehicle.”
Snapchat’s strategy around building buzz around a release and creating demand is a multifaceted playbook that even a tech giant like Google could learn a thing or two from.
Release products for the user, not insiders
Snapchat told publications that inquired about the testing the new Spectacles that if they wanted a pair, they would have to get in line like everyone else, according to Carvalho. A Highsnobiety team member eventually waited in line for seven hours in New York City to get his hands on the Spectacles.
Carvalho’s ultimate review: “Do you really need a pair? Certainly not. But if you’re looking to elevate the experience on the platform, especially for Snap influencers, it can do that for their work,” he said. “It’s a tool that could become quite important.”
The get-in-line mentality toward tech and industry insiders democratized the way Spectacles are released into the world, the same way new sneakers are released. Everyone can get a rare edition of Nike Air Jordans if they get in line early enough — same goes for Spectacles, which also have an accessible price point.
Rewarding passionate users for their loyalty builds a positive bubble around a new product, said Evan Asano, CEO and founder of Mediakix, an influencer marketing agency.
“We haven’t seen big Snapchat stars getting gifted them. That makes it not feel like an exclusive product reserved for celebrities and editors,” he said. “They’re given out organically, broadly and haphazardly to people who use Snapchat. Google Glass, on the other hand, relied on PR pushes with big names and that isolated the product.”
Create a self-generating press machine around the next drop
The Spectacle-peddling Snapbots have two permanent locations: one in L.A. and one in New York City, where 200 new items are released daily. Other Snapbots have popped up in locations like Florida and Arizona, the exact whereabouts announced on the website and on Twitter 24 hours in advance.
Right now, if you check the map on Spectacles’ website, all you see is a series of question marks and a graphic of a Snapbot snoozing.
The Snapchat Spectacles “map,” shrouded in mystery.
“Every time the Snapbot popped up, there were articles written about it,” said Asano. “In the beginning, they were selling for up to $2,000 on eBay, and the resale angle still didn’t get a lot of coverage. People were more interested in where the bot would be next. It self-generated buzz.”
Right now, about 900 results turn up on eBay for Snapchat Spectacles, and the resale price has considerably dropped, to around $300 a pair, as more have become available.
Drive home a clear use case
Snapchat Spectacles give users one reason to wear them: taking hands-free Snapchat videos.
“With Spectacles, you automatically have a use case: There’s passion and engagement with it that ties directly to social media,” said Asano. “There needs to be that tie-in for it to work.”
Snapchat has laid out a simple use case for Spectacles in a way that Google Glass never did. Without a compelling reason why, people are reluctant to attach a piece of technology to their faces, as demonstrated by the wearable flop.
“Snapchat understands its user,” said John Sampogna, co-founder of the agency Wondersauce. “This is an example of them saying, ‘We get what our user wants, and we’ll give them something that they’ll eat up.’ A vending machine is gimmicky on the surface, but it’s for people who are intrigued by interacting with new things in a social way. It’s so on brand.”
All things have to come to an end, though, and as the buzz around the Snapbot dies down, Snap Inc. can do a few things, according to Asano. It can take Spectacles international, and it can also begin to build upon its capabilities.
“Spectacles could change media, as well as Snapchat,” he said. “You could build VR into it, interact with other apps. It could be the most innovative and disruptive tech product since God knows what.”