Kansas City Diaries: can brands beat Snapchat at its own game?


Kansas City Diaries is an exclusive article series by Natalie Pool as she goes undercover at VML’s global agency headquarters in Kansas City, USA, to find out how organic search, Snapchat and other technologies are changing the advertising and marketing industry.

Snapchat is not what you’d call a brand-friendly platform. In fact, it actively discourages brands from creating organic content and makes it purposefully difficult for users to find you (unless you’re Kylie Jenner, arguably the biggest brand on Snapchat right now). And without reporting metrics for organic content, it’s tricky (but not impossible) for agencies to prove its value to their clients.

That did not stop full-service agency VML, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri from launching their tourism client The State of Tennessee on the app. The goal? To connect with the ‘young and free’ audience that flock to the chat app like moths to a flame.

So how do you build a following without throwing media at the challenge? Well, you throw time, effort and country music’s biggest superstar at it.

The campaign kicked off on 3 October 2016 when Garth Brooks announced a special musical celebration of his seventh album going diamond — a Beatles-beating record.

And he agreed to celebrate such a traditional feat of selling full-length, real-life albums by embracing millennial tech and giving away 5000 tickets to fans who follow Tennessee on Snapchat and tune in at specific times throughout the month of October. It is, by all accounts, a match made in Midwest heaven.

Snapchat vs Instagram Stories?

“We pitched the idea before Instagram stories launched,” says VML Senior Social Strategist Alyssa Murfey. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I’ve never seen reach that quickly,” she says of the reaction to the announcement. “We’ve seen nine times more engagement than Instagram stories.” (Actual results are at this stage are, quite literally, a State secret).

For Alyssa, Instagram Stories is a much more passive sneak peek to in-feed posts while Snapchat is an immersive broadcast channel.

How to snap up an audience

The Tennessee team built up to the launch with a teaser announcements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, driving people to join the Snapchat account with a link and a handy ‘How To’ guide for users new to the platform. (Alyssa even called some fans with instructions on which way to swipe — a sure sign that Snapchat’s that this campaign is skewing Snapchat’s demographics).

Instagram Stories is a much more passive sneak peek to in-feed posts while Snapchat is an immersive broadcast channel

Garth Brooks himself announced the sweepstakes in his regular Facebook live video, which sent thousands of his die-hard fans to Snapchat, some of whom booked their ticket to Nashville before even winning concert tickets. (Advantage: Tennessee Tourism).

The announcement is supported by exclusive content chronicling Mr Brook’s relationship with Tennessee with interviews and snippets from iconic venues like The Blue Bird Café in Nashville, created by an on-the-ground Creative Team. There are also artist takeovers from a host of country musos even South Africans will recognise (think Dolly Parton and Reba Mcentire).

Dashboard confessionals

As for measuring success, it’s come down to a manual process of screen-grabbing results before they expire and capturing them in a spreadsheet.

It’s a project that ticks all the Snapchat boxes of unique and immediate content, participation, calls to action and live event coverage. It does however raise questions within the team pouring their heart and soul into the campaign.

  • Just how many followers will drop off after the concert?
  • How do they keep those still there entertained?
  • And what exactly is the ROI for the client?

“We have a lot of great content lined up once the concert is over,” reveals Alyssa.

And it’s clear that a passion level is key to Snapchat success. If the content doesn’t grab people on a deep level, it will fall flat.

Learning curves

Now three weeks into the campaign with the live event happening on 24 October in Nashville, Alyssa has had time to reflect on the good, the bad and the country.

“Garth has incredibly passionate and loyal fans so as expected, there’s a mixed batch of emotions when people did or didn’t get tickets. There were some learning curves to address, especially with older audiences who are newer to the platform.”

But once they were reeled in with the chance of winning tickets, people started enjoying the content that had nothing to do with the giveaway.  They’ve got to experience the Tennessee spots special to Garth and have been inspired to travel.

“We’ve heard over Twitter that people are traveling from as far as Ireland for this event,” says Alyssa.

“We hope to build off of this momentum and continue to offer unique perspectives of the state that tie into people’s passions.”



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