snapchat AR

Snapchat AR: how brands can create their own branded lenses

By Cristina Ferrandez

With more U.S. users than Twitter and TikTok combined, and a 22% year-over-year gain in 2020, Snapchat offers a unique opportunity for brands looking to make their mark in the field of social commerce. Fortunately, the platform’s innovative AR features make it easy to set up a custom branded Snapchat campaign. 

Snapchat’s 280 million daily active users are younger than users on most other social platforms. For example, Snapchat is preferred by more 13- to 34-year olds than either Instagram or Facebook. This generation of users is comfortable with new technology (including AR) and ready to shop for easily attainable, attractive products. In fact, AR is one of the most-accessed features on Snapchat, with three-quarters of all users using AR an average of almost 30 times a day.

Keep on reading to find out how Snapchat AR works and how your company can easily utilize the platform’s built-in tools to create your own branded campaign.

How Snapchat AR works 

Snapchat has been revolutionising AR for years, going back to the launch of its wildly popular AR dog filter in 2016. Since then, Snapchat has provided users with the ability to tweak both their appearance and environment through “Lenses”.

Steady innovation is the name of the game for Snapchat, however, so let’s take a moment to catch up with what the platform has to offer today.

Snapchat AR Lenses

On a basic level, Snapchat’s AR Lenses fall into one of two categories: Face Lenses and World Lenses. 

Face Lenses

snapchat AR
Face Lenses (Source)

Face Lenses give users the opportunity to modify their appearance through their device’s built-in camera. With Face Lenses, users can see themselves as dogs, adorned in flowers, or even with rainbows coming out of their mouths. 

For makeup companies, including L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, Face Lenses are significant assets due to the way they allow users to virtually try on a brand’s makeup line. However, we’ll cover more specific examples of how companies are using Face Lenses below.

World Lenses

snapchat AR
World Lenses (Source)

While Face Lenses turn the camera onto users, World Lenses do the opposite. With a World Lens, users can reimagine the environment around them by prompting any one of a number of effects. 

Companies across multiple industries have gotten creative with World Lenses. To take just one example, in 2018, Bareburger presented users with the ability to see their potential meal in front of them using an AR World Lens.


snapchat AR
Snappables (Source)

Snappables are essentially interactive Lenses that allow users to play AR games against their friends, giving them a high social component. For example, users can form a rock band, play basketball, or participate in an emoji dance-off.

Each Snappable is controlled using touch, motion, or facial expressions.


snapchat AR
Shoppables (Source)

In 2020, Snapchat launched its first Shoppable campaign, giving users the ability to virtually try on Gucci shoes and purchase them directly through a “Shop Now” button. While Snapchat has had numerous “try on” Lenses in the past, Shoppables make it much easier to buy products immediately after trying them on with AR. 

Since the Gucci campaign, other brands (such as American Eagle) have also created Shoppables in the hopes of helping users make the leap to becoming a customer.

Lens Explorer

snapchat AR
Lens Explorer (Source)

Although Snapchat has a list of default Lenses in its carousel browser, users can find other lenses through Lens Explorer. 

By clicking on a special smiley icon that appears when the carousel is active, users will see a list of thousands of Lenses made by other users. Specially featured lenses are available to browse in the “Community Lenses” section of Lens Explorer. 

When uploading a lens, users can pick “Lens Boost” for the possibility of being featured in the Lens Explorer carousel. Lenses discovered in this fashion can be added to the user’s personal carousel for the next 24 hours. 

AR Bar

snapchat AR
AR Bar (Source)

The AR Bar (currently available on iOS) is a discovery tool that lets users:

  • “Create” Lenses that can be edited or changed.
  • “Scan” the world around them to find appropriate lenses to use.
  • “Browse” the Lens Carousel.
  • “Explore” the Lens Explorer.


snapchat AR
Snapcodes (Source)

Snapcodes function similarly to QR codes in that they can take users directly to brand websites. Importantly, Snapcodes, which can be included on physical posters, in digital images, or on websites, also allow users to unlock exclusive Lenses

Examples of Snapchat AR Lenses

Below are some case studies of brands that have used Snapchat’s AR Lenses successfully. 

NYX Professional Makeup

snapchat AR
NYX Professional Makeup Snapchat Lens

In 2020, NYX Professional Makeup partnered with Poplar Studio to launch a one-of-a-kind Snapchat AR experience for Halloween that intertwined with their “NYX Professional Makeup Haunted Dollhouse” campaign: a virtual haunted house for users to explore, with the goal of keeping users engaged as long as possible while exposing them to NYX branding.

Each of the five rooms within the haunted house featured a unique doll with a makeup theme designed by renowned makeup artist Mimi Choi. After unlocking a specific doll, users could apply the makeup look to themselves using a Face Lens. The global campaign resulted in 3.4 million impressions.

BBC – His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials Snapchat Lens

BBC Creative aimed for a similarly engaging approach when promoting the His Dark Materials series. 

The team at Poplar Studio developed an AR lens that allowed users to transform themselves into the character Iorek, an armoured bear from the TV show. The Lens also featured the snowy north in the background.

Taco Bell – Cinco de Mayo

snapchat AR
Taco Bell Snapchat Lens (Source)

Taco Bell created a global sensation with its Cinco de Mayo Snapchat Lens. When it launched, the Lens, which let users give themselves a taco for a head, attained more than 224 million views in the first day.

With so many people viewing the Lens for an average of 24 seconds, this example highlights the difference in cost between Snapchat and traditional marketing. The average cost of custom filters for brands during holidays is $750,000, which is about $8.68 per second viewed. In contrast, a 30-second Super Bowl ad spot in 2020 was $5 million (or $166,666 per second viewed, based on 111 million viewers).

Verizon – Black Pumas 5G Concert

Black Puma Eric Burton dancing along in 3D Bitmoji form. 
Black Puma Eric Burton dancing along in 3D Bitmoji form (Source)

In late 2020, Verizon teamed up with Snap Inc. to create the 5G Landmaker Lens. Made exclusively for Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband customers, this Lens enabled users near the New York Public Library to overlay a psychedelic performance of “Colors” by the soul band Black Pumas. 

As users watched the area around them explode in animations, the Black Puma’s Eric Burton danced along in 3D Bitmoji form

Forbes named this creative offering one of the most inspiring Snapchat campaigns of the year.

London City Painter

London City Painter Snapchat Lens
London City Painter Snapchat Lens (Source)

Graffiti is the hallmark of artists on streets everywhere, but it isn’t loved as much by city officials. As a way to enable Snapchat users in London to express themselves freely on the famed city’s streets, Snapchat developed City Painter

What began with the city’s central street (Carnaby Street) has expanded to the surrounding neighbourhoods. In addition to seeing everything other users have painted, individuals can use City Painter Lens to compete against one another to cover more ground.

How to get started with Snapchat AR

With so many companies running excellent branded campaigns, it’s time to have a look at how you can get started with your own Snapchat AR lens. 

Lens Studio

Lens Studio
Lens Studio (Source)

More than a million Lenses have been created using Snapchat’s own Lens Studio, demonstrating that virtually anyone can develop and launch a unique Lens. 

Snapchat have developed their own free visual AR creation software, Lens Studio, which doesn’t require programming skills (although scripting is available).

With Lens Studio, you can incorporate pre-made textures in the Materials Library or create your own in the Material Editor. The behaviour of models can be modified using scripts, and Lenses can be readily tied to real-world landmarks (such as the New York Public Library). 

Sponsored vs Community Lenses

There are two types of Lenses on Snapchat, Sponsored Lenses and Community Lenses.

Sponsored Lenses

Sponsored Lens from Cadbury's
Sponsored Lens from Cadbury’s (Source)

Sponsored Lenses are paid campaigns that appear in the carousels of users who fit the campaign’s target demographic. 

With Sponsored Lenses, brands can include direct links, which means that customers can go directly to the website where they can purchase the product. 

Sponsored Lenses stay in a user’s carousel for the duration of the paid campaign. For a more permanent option, Community Lenses are the way to go.

Community Lenses

Community Lenses
Community Lenses (Source)

Community Lenses are free to post but harder to get out in front of your desired audience because users can only access them through a specific URL or Snapcode. 

Once accessed, Community Lenses will last for 48 hours in a user’s carousel, after which they’ll disappear (while remaining discoverable on Snapchat forever). 

More importantly, however, Community Lenses don’t allow for the inclusion of an external URL link. This can make it more difficult to direct users to a purchase point. 

Get started with your first Snapchat AR campaign now

Creating a Snapchat AR Lens that grabs users’ attention, let alone converts them into lifelong customers, is no easy feat. If you’d like expert guidance on how to create a successful Snapchat AR Lens, get in touch with the team at Poplar Studio today.

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