Ephemeral Content: What It Means For Brands

Ephemerality’s biggest weakness is also its greatest strength


The latest in the ever-growing list of marketing buzzwords is ‘ephemeral.’ Brought into the public consciousness by Snapchat, ephemeral content is any material that is impermanent. Where most marketing exercises are concerned with creating timeless content that generates engagement over as long a period of time as possible, ephemeral content is as short-lived as it comes. The opportunities presented by Snapchat’s meteoric rise are still yet to have properly come into focus, and brands are experimenting with how best to engage with an ever-growing ephemeral audience.

Snapchat’s popularity comes from, among other things, the lack of pressure associated with posting on it. Take Facebook as a contrast. Users from all age groups will be connected with relatives and colleagues, as well as their peers, on the world’s most popular social media site. This changes how users post. Knowing that your boss could stumble upon something they shouldn’t is, for example, enough of a reason for younger generations in particular to post incredibly selectively on Facebook. Posts are also actively pushed to other users in the form of the news feed, and they encourage interaction in a way that Snapchat doesn’t.

The ephemeral messaging app is quite the opposite. The longest a post can last for is 24 hours and then it disappears forever, with the poster informed of every screenshot. You can’t ‘like’ a Snapchat post and if it’s ill thought out then its damage won’t be truly lasting. The younger generation has grown up acutely aware that their information is stored, and Snapchat offers a refreshing respite from an already considerable digital footprint.

What’s interesting about this ephemerality, though, is that it has a seemingly contradictory effect. In a way, its biggest weakness becomes its greatest strength. Because posts disappear for good, there’s an exclusivity to viewing them, and users are more keen to keep up to date lest they miss some good content. Flicking through Snapchat or Instagram stories becomes a routine for many, and brands can exploit this. By telling interesting, or candid, or funny stories every day, brands can become part of that daily routine and develop a connection with their audiences.

Main Course record label offer releases of their artists new records for free during their first week. The Soundcloud release is exclusive, ephemeral, and means that fans will want to keep up to date for fear of missing out on an a steal. Ephemeral content doesn’t necessarily have to go through Snapchat; brands can offer content for a limited time and, if it can bring audiences to their own site, they can be redirected to profitable areas.

We’ve entered into an engagement economy. When Bill Gates said that ‘Content is King’ he didn’t mean that content alone would increase revenue. The most valuable commodity on the internet today is attention, and getting a customer’s attention time and time again is the holy grail for digital marketers. The spending power of Millennials is set to surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to Accenture. Now is the time for brands to actively reach them.

The key thing to remember when creating ephemeral content is that, like a lot of good marketing, it must be truly native. For ephemeral content to work, particularly on Snapchat, the brand must assume its audience’s familiarity with both its work and the medium on which the content is being consumed. Take the World Wildlife Federation as an example. A particularly moving Snapchat campaign saw pictures of endangered animals like bears and tigers overlaid with the caption ‘Don’t let this be my #LastSelfie’. The pictures conveyed everything the charity needed to, and their seamless nativeness meant that they resonated with users more deeply than an ordinary marketing message could.

It’s unlikely your brand will have a message as emotive as that of WWF, but that’s not a problem. What brands should be focusing on is finding innovative ways of exploiting a medium by producing content that is as native as possible. In a world of ad blockers and declining interest in display advertising, users will reject any message out of line with the other content on the medium. Understanding why the users are there in the first place is key to delivering a message that offers true value and will, as a result, get true engagement. 

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