Snapchat, the ubiquitous photo-messaging app that has captured the attention of supposed ‘hard-to-reach’ millennials now allows community groups, individuals and businesses to overlay a “geofilter” enabling Snapchat users to add a brand asset to that individual's snap. The availability of a geofilter depends on the location of the individual.  

The use of geofilters to build brand awareness and hone brand engagement has exploded in recent years. Some music festivals have touted Snapchat as a key reason for their increase in ticket sales. Brands and events now see geofilters as a key weapon in the marketing arsenal but with this new technology brings new challenges.

Last week, Christchurch-central Snapchatters would likely have discovered that a prominent gentleman’s club had cast its geofilter over an entire area of central Christchurch. This might well have caused some concerns for other brands that have contracted with Snapchat that have a different market profile. 

Brands are now wondering – does anyone own this ‘virtual real estate’ that the geofilter ‘exists’ in? Can they exclude other brands from a defined area they want to advertise in?

A business, individual or community will enter into a contract with the app provider to facilitate image overlays in the user’s use. In Snapchat's case, the terms of use explicitly acknowledge that there are likely to be more than one geofilter available in a location at any one time. So long as another brand’s geofilter asset complies with Snapchat’s advertising policies and terms of use, there is little a brand can do.  If a brand would not want to be associated with certain types of business or promoted at the same time as their competitor then they will need to negotiate this term and therefore the right to not have that type of business also given a right to cast a geofilter within the particular area.  For example, if a brewery were to secure exclusive pourage rights for the cricket, the brewery and the organisers would need to ensure that the apps they are promoting on at the cricket don't allow a competitor to promote itself through those apps when the user is shown as in the venue.

It is fundamental that no one owns ‘the sky above their head’, however, new technologies such as geofilters will continue to raise new challenges for brands and it is important for businesses to structure their relationships effectively (and ensure their contracts reflect this) when considering digital marketing strategy.