Snapchat’s revamped strategy for a “poor” country India

A deep dive into Snapchat's stealth mode growth which includes partnerships, campaign, publisher relation and competing Instagram, TikTok

Snapchat users

“Be careful with your words. Once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten.” - Unknown

Snapchat (ephemeral messaging app) CEO Evan Spiegel might regret his 2017 statement (alleged). Speaking to Variety, Anthony Pompliano recollected that at a user growth meeting in 2015, Evan made it clear that the app is for rich people and it won’t expand into poor countries like India and Spain. Snapchat’s parent company Snap Inc was quick to dismiss all the claims and described Anthony as a “disgruntled employee fired for poor performance.”

The news spread like a fire on social media and #boycottSnapchat was trending. Users also made sure to give the app a one-star rating on Apple and Google App stores. Snap Inc released a statement saying, “Those words were written by a disgruntled former employee. We are grateful for our Snapchat community in India and around the world.”

But the damage was done. Poor Snapdeal, the e-commerce company became the scapegoat. Indians were hurt and in anger, Indians uninstalled Snapdeal.

Fast forward to August 2019:

Snapchat released a press release stating that the daily active users (DAU) has jumped 40% year-on-year in the June quarter, and the company has set up its first office in the country to support business growth.

The company also introduced four Indian languages(Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, and Punjabi) and plans to launch an additional five languages before the end of the year.

Prior to opening a new office space in Mumbai, Snapchat hired Durgesh Kaushik as its first employee to lead the app’s expansion and growth in India. However, in 2018 Raheel Khursheed announced, he has quit Twitter and joined Snap as Country Expert in India.

Looks like Snap has found greater trust in Durgesh - ex-Facebook, JIO, and an entrepreneur.

Strategic partnerships

Both Snap Inc and Spotify(the audio streaming app) are spreading their wings in India. Leveraging each other to engage with Indian users, both came together during Diwali.

Snap Inc added a new AR(augmented reality) based landmarker lens for Gateway of India on Snapchat. Landmarker lens is built around monuments using Snapchat’s Len Studio - a proprietary desktop platform for creators that allows them to design 3D models of landmarks and add special effects around them using AR. Introduced in April 2019, monuments from 11 countries have been added. Taj Mahal and Gateway of India are the two in the list from India.

The Spotify lens added some unique AR experiences with special 3D effects, which users can access by pointing the phone’s camera on the monument. Spotify also created playlists listed as ‘Diwali Shuffle’, ‘Diwali Drive’ and ‘Diwali Bash’, which users can add to the AR experience before sharing it with their friends and family on Snapchat.

Similar activation was carried out with Chineses handset maker OnePlus. During the Diwali season Snap Inc and One Plus created similar AR landmarker lens for the Taj Mahal, Gateway of India, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Tower Bridge in London. The AR effects added firecracker and lighting displays across the four historic monuments.

Snap Inc has also partnered with other streaming apps in India such as Gaana and JioSaavn. For instance, the integration with JioSaavn will allow users to share what they are listening to from the JioSaavn app to Snapchat. The partnership also includes the use of creative tools in the form of Lenses and Filters as well as content with Publisher Stories.

New Lenses are going to be around exclusive music and artists every month allowing Indian mobile users to engage with and share their music creatively.

There is a similar partnership with Gaana, where users of the audio streaming app can share whatever they are listening to the app. I am not sure if Gaana is using the creative kit like JioSaavn is doing and creating Lenses for users.

Publisher tie-ups

Teens spend time on Snapchat has always been the company’s pitch. According to a report published by Sproutsocial shared, “Snapchat’s key demographics are 13 to 29-year-olds. 69% of 13 to 17-year-olds using the app and 68% of 18 to 29-year-olds using it.”

With teens spending more time on Snapchat, the company launched Discover for publishers. Over the years the platform has revamped Discover to keep a balance between engagement and returns. However, ROI has always been the question for publishers and players like the New York Times and CNN decided to stop their investments on the platform. Nonetheless, there are early adopters like Cosmopolitan and some new players are finding ROI.

In 2018, the company tied up with more than a dozen media brands, creating localised and tailored content for Indian Snapchatters. The partnership included names such as Brut India, HuffPost India, The Logical Indian, Pocket Aces, TVF, etc.

Recently Snap Inc expanded its publisher partnership by adding Worldwide Media to its list. According to the press release: Worldwide Media will bring three shows to Snapchat - Getting Chatty with Katty, Famously Filmfare (Filmfare India) and All about Makeup (Femina).

T-Series, India’s leading music label and film production house has also partnered with Snapchat. T-Series is bringing a weekly series of candid interviews with Bollywood celebrities.

Brand campaign

In addition to strategic partnerships and publisher tie-ups, Snapchat extended the Friendship Day global campaign to India. ‘Real Friends’ campaign was about celebrating real friends and friendships. To make an impact, the brand decided to sport friendship quotes by various eminent personalities.

Here is one for India:

Was that a dig on Instagram? Your guess is as good as mine. #RealFriends was also sponsored on Instagram by Snapchat.

Evan considers TikTok as a friend but Instagram is no friend.

Revamped Snapchat strategy

Snapchat’s revamped strategy for India is due to two reasons:

  • Indian’s growing on Snapchat
  • And the growing competition from Instagram and TikTok

In 2018, CEO Evan wrote a lengthy memo to its employees for working on achieving full-year profitability in 2019 and focussing on new strategic goals. In his 6500+ word memo, he also addressed the growth challenges his company faces from around the world.

“Growing in new markets like India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil or the Philippines will require us to solve problems that are preventing users from unlocking our core product value. These problems are very different from the problem of “aging up” in developed markets. The opportunity in terms of incremental user growth is enormous because these countries have very large, youthful populations. While serving these users will be an investment in the short term, adding users in these geographies helps us to deepen our moat, and we are already seeing “export dollars” come from advertisers in other countries into these markets via our self-serve tools.”

According to Statistica, new markets are slowly catching up for Snapchat and India(15M) is as important as any other country after the U.S.(97M)

Worldwide Snapchat Users 2019

Meanwhile, Snapchat finally released its rebuilt app for Android users. As reported by The Verge, the app with no changes to the UI is meant to be faster, less laggy and less buggy than the older version.

Snapchat may consider TikTok as a friend but at the moment it is the fastest-growing Chinese app in the U.S. and India. Moreover, TikTok was the most downloaded social media app in the world for the month of September, according to estimates from Sensor Tower.


A whopping 44% of these downloads were concentrated in India, writes Scroll.

“With the app’s rising popularity, Indian users have been spending more than 30 minutes a day on TikTok, ahead of both Instagram and Snapchat.”

Besides TikTok and Instagram are going regional in India to proliferate their growth. Instagram launched ‘Born on Instagram’ to highlight the company’s focus in the regional markets and at the same time providing stiff competition to TikTok. (Read: Born on Instagram - Instagram’s strategy to compete with TikTok in India)

Initially, TikTok launched #EduTok offline by forging collaboration with leading social enterprises such as Josh Talks and The/Nudge Foundation. The program is aimed at supporting first-time Internet users to gain knowledge by giving them access to high-quality educational content created by creators and organizations. (Read: Why is TikTok investing in #EduTok program in India)

Regional is the way forward for content creators and brands in India. (Read: How regional is defining India’s digital future) Snapchat has joined the race along with Instagram and TikTok. The recent developments, strategic partnerships, and campaigns highlight the company’s seriousness at markets beyond U.S.

Snapchat’s Q3 earnings should boost morale - it added 7 million daily active users and revenues are up by 50%. TC writes that 5 million of the 7 million new users came from the Rest of the World, with just 1 million coming from North America and Europe regions.

“That’s in part thanks to better than expected growth and retention on its re-engineered Android app that’s been a hit in India.”

Thank You! Evan for taking India seriously (India has more than 600 million young minds, armed with smartphones and cheapest mobile data in the world.)