We wanted to tell teenagers about child sexual exploitation. There’s no better place to find teenagers than Snapchat. But is it possible for a disposable channel, best known for its puppy ears, to educate teens about something so serious? With 94% of viewers watching all 18 episodes in our story, Leith strategist, Claire Wood, shares the lessons we learnt.

Earlier this year, we ran a campaign for the Scottish Government to tell adults — mostly parents — about the risks of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

CSE is a particularly horrible crime. Whilst cases involving gangs and trafficking hit the headlines, it often begins with an adult — who might only be 19 — approaching a teenager and fooling them into thinking that they’re in love.

Whilst parents need to know that social media and smart phones make it far easier for perpetrators to ‘groom’ children than the days when you’d just avoid the ‘man in the raincoat’, it’s also important that young people know what to look out for.

But the biggest challenge with talking to kids about CSE is that they all assume that it won’t happen to them. They’re too smart, they think (don’t we all?). They wouldn’t be fooled by someone pretending to be something they’re not. But working with our client, the Scottish Government and stakeholders Barnardos, Aberlour and Police Scotland, we learnt that it’s disturbingly easy to persuade a teenager that you’re looking for love when you’re looking for something different altogether.

Because it’s such a complex and nuanced subject, we spent the awareness raising phase of the campaign wishing for an opportunity to tell more of a story than our teen-facing posters did.

It doesn’t take a genius to hit on a solution. Anyone who’s spent any time observing teenagers with their mobile phones will know that Snapchat plays a big part in their social media lives. But the Scottish Government doesn’t have a presence on Snapchat. Trying to create a Scottish Government branded account that appealed to teenagers felt — let’s say — optimistic. Until we had a brainwave.

Young Scot is a national youth information charity. They provide 11 to 26 year olds with information and advice about life — health, money, relationships, education, careers, all sorts. Lots of young Scots own a Young Scot card which gets them discounts at places like TopShop. And lots of young Scots follow their Snapchat account. Bingo.

We met them. We proposed using their Snapchat account to tell teens more about CSE. They thought it could work. Now we just needed an idea.

Our initial exploring suggested that Snapchat had only been used once before to share a “public information” message. The New Zealand Transport Agency made a film in 2014 warning young men about the risks of drug driving. This was a pretty straight-forward story to tell. You smoke, get high, drive, smash.

Our story was more nuanced. We wanted to get across multiple ideas:

1/ The perpetrator could be attractive

2/ The teenager might feel attracted to them

3/ The perpetrator might push their luck, asking for things that make the victim uncomfortable

4/ But then they might win the victim back by buying them presents

5/ Ultimately, the relationship might look like love but will end up in a very different place.

We took a look at how other people are using Snapchat for inspiration. And we learnt eight things…

1. Authenticity is everything

You can’t fake it on Snapchat. The point of the channel is unadulterated you. The messy bits as well as the photogenic bits.

If you’re my girl crush, Karlie Kloss, you’ve got so much going on that you don’t need to fake anything. This woman has stacks to talk about.

Others are less well off. I started following Julieanna Goddard as she was reportedly changing the way brands use Snapchat. Though I’m not sure I agree, I haven’t unfollowed her and 299,999 other people (according to her publicist) clearly hang on her every snap.

If you, as a brand, are going to try and talk to any target audience on Snapchat, don’t plunge in presuming it’s the same as any other channel. Because it has its own set of rules that are well worth observing in action before you pitch up to the party.

2. Make it bitesize

You’ll have seen all those dark stories about how our attention spans are shot to pieces by social media. It’s almost like Snapchat was invented for us. (Oh wait, it was. Your longest snap is 10 seconds. Which is as great a discipline in film form as your 140 character limit on Twitter. Whatever story you’re telling, you need to tell it in ten second slices.

This was a tough ask for our creatives who are used to the luxury of (slightly) longer slices of film. It took some head scratching to fit our story into these tiny disposable chunks.

3. Play to your strengths in a way that works for the channel

Marriott could have posted lengthy stories featuring details of their bedrooms, restaurants and hotel lobbies. But reflecting on what (most) people share, they’ve wisely drafted in travel bloggers and entrepreneurs to showcase the destinations in which you happen also to find their hotels. New Mexico today. 🌴 .

NASA don’t post selfies of their astronauts with puppy ears or a Taco for a head. But they did post live from the 100,000th orbit of the International Space Station with just the slightly geeky but amazing tone that you’d expect them to adopt IN SPACE.

Image: thenextweb.com

We could have featured someone from Police Scotland or Barnardos talking about common features of CSE cases to convey the same information to teenagers. But that’s not what people do on Snapchat. They use Snapchat to tell their own stories. So we told ours from the point of view of a teenage girl.

4. Don’t forget it doesn’t last

Until the advent of Snapchat memories, their stories were as enduring as the channel got.

Each post is available for 24 hours from the time it’s posted. As YouTuber Casey Neistat says in this film for Fast Company, it’s what gives the channel its urgency.

This feature made it particularly appealing for our CSE story. All our research suggested, as our poster says, that when a teenager gets involved in one of these exploitative relationships, they often know, somewhere deep in the pit of their stomach, that what they’re doing is a bad idea. That they’re getting involved in a Bad Romance. But it suits them not to listen to their gut instinct. But they might not broadcast their new relationship in the same way that they would with a new boy or girlfriend of the same age.

Our protagonist sharing snaps of her new relationship in this ‘temporary’ channel felt true to life. She boasts about the good bits, she dithers about the bits she’s not sure about and it’s only when she’s very much out of her comfort zone that she asks for help.

5. It needs to be relevant

To keep your followers interested on Snapchat, you’ve got to know what they want. Which is why I’m curious about this Vogue film.

Great use of the format. But are Vogue readers really burning to know whether Robert Pattinson prefers fish and chips or a big mac? Even in the New York Film Festival.

The Leith team who worked on this story were all a (little) bit older than the teenagers we wanted to educate. So we made sure that we consulted actual teenagers to get the script right before we started. What sort of gifts (from the perpetrator as part of the ‘courtship’) would teenagers find desirable? (Michael Kors bags or Pandora bracelets, apparently.) What wouldn’t a teenage girl drink at a party? (Lager - so we gave her a bottle of lager at the perpetrator’s house party.)

6. It’s ok to make people wait — if the pay off is worth it

When I found myself waiting — yes, WAITING — for the new story from Burberry, authored by Brooklyn Beckham, I knew I’d got it bad. They trailed it in ye olde print media and across social media. They do the same thing with the launch of their new collections. It’s smart. Then they drip fed me snippets of Brooklyn romping with the beautiful ones in the cobbled back alleys of London town. And it was wonderful. If the content is interesting and / or desirable enough, you’ll wait for the reveal.

Telling our CSE story over two days felt like a bold step. Would we manage to hold our teenage audience’s interest over 48 hours given that their attention span is a luxurious 8 seconds? 94% of viewers who started our story watching all 18 episodes until the end feels like an approach that works.

7. You can’t out-emoji a teenager — so don’t even try

If you’ve been anywhere near social media — or anywhere near a text exchange with a teenager, you’ll know that emojis are a thing. If you’ve had sight of the new MacBook Pro, you’ll Know that emojis are a thing. When Chris and Rufus wrote the original script for the Snapchat film, they doffed a cap to emojis. For example:

Episode 6

This is a photo of her wrist with a new charm bracelet on it. She written on it:

Caption: Got me this! (Various loved up emoticons).

Our two teenage actors beat us old ones hands down when it came to filming the story, out-emoji-ing even the most emoji literate amongst us (like Leith’s Jennie Pike). For us old ones, a picture of me with a horribly elongated head is humorous enough. The young ones would embellish it with all sorts of captions, creatures and pizza slices. It comes back to authenticity. To make our film feel like it really came from the teenagers featured in the story, the on-screen embellishments were vital. All credit to our actors for hauling us into the Snapchat century.

8. Don’t assume people want to watch it

The beauty of Snapchat used to be that it didn’t feature advertising. Until it started selling filters to brands which was acceptable, even fun, as they produced them in house and they tend to be fun. (Who wouldn’t want to catch playing cards in their mouth — Catch Me If You Can 2 — or make their head into a taco?)

To my horror, last night I got served an ad. In the middle of a bunch of stories from people I follow. Suddenly there was a pint of Budweiser being poured from a tap into a branded glass. That felt just like the invasion of my world that they promised just two years ago that they wouldn’t do. Aside from the perfect timing (9:30pm on a Thursday night), it felt intrusive and ignorant (don’t they know I would never drink Budweiser??).

Winning hearts, minds and attention on Snapchat

To win hearts, to win views and to win attention to the end of a story, you need to make sure you’re relevant, real and either entertaining or informative. As with most other media channels now, viewers have a choice. To fast forward or not. In the case of Snapchat, to swipe or not to swipe.

If you’re going to try and win people over in this continually evolving channel, do your homework. Don’t presume people will be interested. And if you tell them something they didn’t know before in a way that feels like it’s part of their world, they might just reward you with their attention.


Find out more about the making of A Bad Romance here: