How Snapchat Turned Us Into Mobile Billboards

August 2016 was a frustrating month for Under Armour. Despite shelling out big bucks to endorse Olympic superstar Michael Phelps, their logo was missing on the athlete’s sweatpants when he appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine. What was in its place? The trademark swoosh of rival athletic wear company Nike. According to analytics firm Apex Marketing Group, this faux pas created approximately $453,000 worth of free brand exposure for Under Armour’s biggest competitor. With an estimated net worth of $94 million, largely from endorsement deals, Phelps is a very expensive posterboy for Under Armour, and probably produced more than a few smiles for Nike’s marketing department. The good news? More affordable influencer alternatives are getting easier to find- including options with surprisingly high returns. In fact, if the latest report from social media marketing and tech firm HelloSociety serves as any indication, the days of celebrity endorsements might be endangered.

Recently, HelloSociety found Micro-influencers (<30k followers) to be more effective in social media marketing campaigns than high profile celebrities — and by no small margin. Studies show that engagement is over 60% higher, and recommendations from these micro-influencers are considered to be far more authentic. So much so, that brands willingly pay thousands of dollars a month for products like Julius by Thuzio, in order to find and book the most relevant influencers.

With so many channel options to choose from, brands might wonder which social platform has the most potential to leverage the power of micro-influencers. The good news is that they don’t need to look any further than Snapchat. The engagement brands have gained with Snap’s sponsored lenses and geofilters is both unprecedented and unparalleled. The vast majority of Snap’s 160 million daily active users are not endorsed celebrities, or even getting paid at all for that matter. Yet, they are more than happy to distribute logo-heavy content because it immensely increases the entertainment value of their photos and videos.

The high entertainment value of Snap’s lenses and filters is contagious. So contagious, that users end up promoting products that they might not even be interested in. For example, Taco Bell’s Cinco-de-Mayo lens turned users’ faces into giant taco shells. It was played with for an average of 24 seconds by each user and created 224 million views. Was everyone who sent this Taco Bell branded Snap a loyal T-Bell customer? Most likely not, but the lens provided enough amusement to enjoy widespread broadcast on mobile devices throughout almost a quarter of North America, regardless of consumer preference. With the multitude of ignored billboards present across the country, this overwhelming response is very solid evidence for how influential a brand’s logo can be when presented in the right context.

Despite Snap’s success at using personal networks to rack up an incredible number of impressions, some critics doubt that those impressions translate into actual sales for brands. Let those doubts be erased today. Last year, Wendy’s geofilter promoting their Jalapeno Fresno Chicken Sandwich drove 42,000 customers into their restaurants- and they’re not the only ones seeing tremendous ROI. Skateboard inspired shoe company Vans performed similar wonders with their last Snap campaign, creating a 34 point boost in purchase intent. That’s 2.5 times greater than the standard mobile retail benchmark!

With so many users happily adopting branded Snapchat filters, it seems to contradict the modern idea that consumers are generally repelled and annoyed by advertising. Could it be perhaps — that it’s not advertising that consumers dislike, but rather intrusive messages that don’t provide them with any tangible value? The Wall Street Journal believes that this is the crucial differentiating factor.

It’s hard to believe that any consumer would sign up to become a mobile billboard for free, but Snapchat has done it. Advertisers, you’re missing out. if you haven’t already, start taking notes!