The Snapchat Spectacle

We’re now living in a world of mobile vending machines. Snapchat has gotten some recent attention with its yellow, futuristic one-eyed vending machine known as the Snapchat Bot. If you haven’t heard about the Bot and Spectacles, let me fill you in. 

Recently, Snapchat became the first social media platform to produce its own hardware — sunglasses with a camera embedded so you can capture images and video that sync directly to Snapchat. And sorry, no selfies with the Spectacles, which I find interesting, considering that selfies are one of the most common ways people use Snapchat.

But what I find most intriguing about Spectacles isn’t the product itself, it’s how it was launched. Creating anticipation and demand for a new product isn’t easy and Snapchat may have pulled it off. The idea of using a traveling Bot to dispense the Spectacles in a vending-machine style has ended up making quite the spectacle (if you will). Plus, the fact that they don’t disclose the Bot’s location until 24 hours before its next appearance has created conversation (and demand) among people who want to be among the first and limited group to try out Spectacles. People are waiting to see where the Bot will stop next and then lining up for hours — yes, hours — to get their own pair.



Limiting availability has given way to perceived demand because, really, how many glasses can they sell from one vending machine?

Snapchat has capitalized on FOMO. Even if it’s only a few hundred people lining up in each city, their excitement on social and digital channels is viral and, by default, creates demand for everyone else hoping the Bot will pay their city a visit. This cycle occurs over and over as the Bot goes to new locations, further feeding the feeling of scarcity.

But there is a fine line between creating excitement and avoiding disappointment. I’ve read stories of people driving hours to a Bot location, only to wait in line even longer and then learn that the Bot has run out of product. The hype and feeling of exclusivity they’ve created is incredible for consumers to make that journey only for a mere chance of going home with Spectacles. I was curious to see what they would do to avoid anticipation turning into frustration, so I wasn’t surprised when they announced a temporary Spectacles store in New York, where a Bot will be restocked when it runs out of product. Also smart. 

In many ways, this is what Snapchat is all about — delivering on a sense of community, creating opportunities limited by time and generating a sense of unpredictability. I imagine they’ll move to selling Spectacles online eventually, but by starting out selling small quantities in only a few physical locations, Snapchat has successfully created high demand for Spectacles, illusion or not. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.

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