Just as Snapchat had really started to establish its presence in Asia, along comes a regional competitor (or some would say clone) to take Asia’s ephemeral, vertical video, puppy faced, rainbow vomiting crown.
The app is called Snow and hails from land of K-Pop cool, South Korea. This is important for two reasons. Firstly thanks to Korean dramas, K-Pop and plastic surgery, it’s seen as the aspirational compass for a lot of young Asian girls and where girls go, guys often follow. (Something Snow has picked up when marketing the app, see the video at the bottom of this Verge article.)
Secondly it has been created by Camp Mobile, which is a 100% owned subsidiary of Naver Corp. Naver has Korea’s biggest search engine and messaging app ecosystem (Kakao Talk). LINE messenger is also a Naver owned subsidiary and is the biggest messenger app ecosystem in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and is pretty massive in Indonesia too. This is important because Snow seamlessly integrates with LINE and Kakao, making it easy to share Snow selfies and videos on this platforms and organically attract new users through peer endorsement (and FOMO).
Thanks for the pre-amble, but who’s winning?
The below data from App Annie charts the daily performance of Snapchat and Snow in the Play store over the last four months and it offers some striking insights.
Snapchat Play Store ranking by market:Snow Play Store ranking by market:
Snapchat was generally performing well and back in June, taking no4 position in The Philippines, no15 in Japan and no25 in Indonesia out of all apps in the Play store. This is no given, particularly in Japan where whilst Twitter and Instagram perform well, Facebook and especially Whatsapp don’t have the scale they do in other developed markets. Thailand performance was less impressive and it hadn’t made a dent in Korea.
We can see that in May and June, Snow really started to take off, reaching no1 on the Play store in Japan and no2 in Korea with Thailand being a respectable 53. What happen after is very interesting. From early June onwards Snapchat essentially tanks in Japan and Thailand the decline correlating with Snow’s increased popularity. In Indonesia Snapchat generally holds up with Snow making modest gains and in selfie obsessed Philippines Snow is added to people’s selfie and filter app arsenal but not at the expense of Snapchat (that continues to perform well). In Singapore and Malaysia (not shown to try and keep the chart readable) things are also heating up with Snow edging Snapchat in Malaysia and the reverse being true in Singapore.
Why is Snow becoming popular?
There are a few reasons why I think Snow has eclipsed Snapchat in Asia.
- Cultural fit / the K-Factor – Young Japanese and Thai are heavily influenced by Korean popular culture. Snow has filters and stickers featuring Korean celebrities, Korean snacks, soju etc.
- It integrates seamlessly with other platforms including Facebook, Instagram but more importantly with Kakao and LINE. This really helps with discoverability especially as pretty much everyone with a smartphone in Korea uses Kakao and everyone in Japan and Thailand use LINE. As they’re all owned by Naver there is cross promotion of products (such as LINE avatar on Snow)
- Snapchat simply hasn’t focused much on Asia and is seemingly more focused on fighting Instagram in the ‘moments’ war and scaling their ad sales operation in Western markets.
- Snapchat is banned in China, Snow isn’t. China’s cools kids also look aspiringly to Korea. However it’s surely a matter of time until the great firewall melts Snow’s Chinese aspirations, something Navar are well familiar with as Kakao and LINE are already blocked (allowing WeChat to reign unopposed)
What will happen next and what does it mean for marketers?
It’s difficult to call, as if Snow gets banned in China and Snapchat ramps up in Asia, things could change very quickly. Snow is very ‘inspired’ by Snapchat, but then so is Facebook Live by Periscope which itself (arguably) followed Meerkat. If Kawaii girls in Japan haven’t heard of Snapchat but discover Snow through messages they receive from their friends on LINE, you’d have to favour Snow. However there are a few big movements in the works that could influence the outcome and that will make things very interesting for marketers.
Snapchat is ramping up both in terms of becoming more locally relevant and in scaling up its ad sales. The above left snap shows a filter at the world’s largest pedestrian crossing in Shibuya (ironically where the LINE HQ is). 9 months ago, filters were only available in the popular, touristy areas of Tokyo. Now they are becoming much more widespread (such as the one on the right in Iwakuni in southern Honshu I took a few weeks ago). I’ve also noticed in Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, Singapore that filters now call out districts (Sukhumvit, Rockwell etc) like they do Fitzrovia or Notting Hill in London. This increased focus on being more culturally relevant will make the platform more sticky if they can drive downloads and they are hiring local expertise to help.
Advertising opportunities will come with scale. Up to now Snapchat hasn’t been able to satisfy marketers desires to advertise on the platform, particularly in Asia where there are currently no opportunities available. However they are now beginning to allow snap ads (vertical video ads in stories) to be sold by third parties via an advertising API. It’s surely a matter of time until this becomes available in Asia.
The big development last week for Snow was Naver’s announcement that it will it spin off into a separate company. Naver followed a similar strategy with Snow’s developers Camp Mobile and their most famous spin off to date, LINE that successfully IPO’d this year. In doing this, it gives Snow the agility to run without the bureaucracy and processes of a large established multinational but with funding from the parent company. As LINE did with stickers and official accounts, I can see the Snow team commercialising the formats its users love (filters, stickers) sooner rather than later.
What’s for sure is we have a battle on our hands. And we haven’t even talked about the biggest open smartphone market in the world, India…
N.B. Credit to PabloLamilla, for the header image.