Photosharing app BeReal is this year's social media craze, but with no ads, influencers or paid content, brands could be locked out of a platform that is fast becoming a GenZ favourite.
Styled as an antidote to toxic social media, BeReal's focus on authentic moments of everyday life have helped it to runaway success. Downloads of the app, originally developed in France, have rocketed from a few thousand to 15 million this year. Youth across the US and Europe have taken to the app, which sends users a request for a photo at random times of the day, giving them just two minutes to snap what's around them – a computer screen, a half-drunk mug of tea, their bedclothes. The app simultaneously snaps a selfie of the user on their smartphone's reverse camera and both images appear in their feed. The aim is to capture people in their natural habitat without giving them time to pose, primp and prettify. This is real life, claims the app, not the fake world of Instagram or TikTok. There are no filters, no short-form video and no likes, ads or influencers.
If the zero ads platform takes off – and there are predictions it could quickly grow to tens of millions of downloads – brands could be excluded from a crucial medium for connecting with new generations of users. Yet without brands, the app may struggle to monetise its service and pay back the hefty investments needed to fund its growth. Handling 15 million photo uploads in a two-minute slot is already putting huge pressure on BeReal's servers. Managing the growing computing power will require significant funding. A report in the Financial Times suggests the app is preparing to sell add-ons in a similar way to metaverse app Discord, which charges for extra content such as digital stickers. Some at BeReal believe that allowing advertising and paid influencers would ruin the user experience.
Test and learn
Even in the absence of advertising, there are ways brands can get involved. Fast food chain Chipotle – which prides itself on the authenticity of its ingredients and food – shared a promotional code in its BeReal feed in May, offering the first 100 people to use the code on the chain's app a free entrée.Zoe Osinnowo, head of influencer marketing at FCB Inferno, says BeReal's development across markets should not be dismissed by brands. "Although opportunities for brands are currently limited, now is the perfect time to test and learn while the platform is still in its relative infancy. At this stage, there is more scope for marketers to trial how the platform works alongside consumers." She believes BeReal will "inevitably" allow sponsored content on the platform and brands which have built up a following on the app will be primed to plan campaigns geared to success.
An attraction for brands is the theme of authenticity promoted by BeReal.This taps into one the biggest trends of modern marketing, with the authenticity craze witnessed in brands such as Ben & Jerry's and Innocent Drinks and the ubiquitous beards, craft breweries and vintage clothing of modern youth. Authenticity contrasts with the unreal world of the internet and BeReal's strength is that it has found a way of uniting the two. "We have seen consistent pushes for social media to be more realistic over the years, with consumers withdrawing from the overly edited, staged and unrealistic that we see on platforms such as Instagram," says Osinnowo. By contrast, BeReal provides an opportunity for users to experience a realistic insight into the accounts of friends and strangers.
Meanwhile Hannah Campbell, founder of youth marketing agency One Twelve, says that with nearly a quarter of Gen Z ranking authenticity as important - more than other products or company attributes such as design or social impact (Source: CM Group) - BeReal is in with a chance of becoming one of the top 3 social platforms. "It encourages authenticity and also community, which is becoming increasingly important given how isolating the internet can be," she says.
If BeReal follows the example of other platforms such as Instagram, Clubhouse and Twitter that waited to build a wide user base before monetising their offer, then welcoming brands is inevitable. However, this would go against its raison d'etre and the terms and conditions of its app. Overturning its founding principles might not wash too well with users. Even so, there are still plenty of ways brands can get involved with BeReal, says Campbell. "Brands can use the two-minute window to go behind the scenes and show the workings of the brand such as meetings, sneak peeks of new products and photo shoots. Showing the brand in an authentic and unpolished way can drive brand loyalty and positively impacting brand perception," she says. Brands can also use the app to fuel "scarcity-driven hype" and offer codes or clues for a chance to attend secret events, access secret websites or get codes for exclusive products. Another strategy could be to promote user-generated content, allowing a brand to have a continuous presence among its target audience while allowing users to see the brand in an unfiltered light through other consumers.
An alternative source of funding for BeReal could include voluntary subscriptions – which has worked for brands such as The Guardian. The business model could focus on building subscription-based communities around specific interests and causes. Whatever the business model, influencers and brands are likely to find ways to use the platform to make money and advertise, just as alcohol brands are not allowed to advertise on TikTok but have found creative ways to have a presence on the app. "It will be interesting to see whether BeReal folds and allows them on or outsmarts the influencers and brands and keeps them off," says Campbell.
Meanwhile Seun Areoye, a copywriter at Amplify and editor of culture magazine GAUCHOWORLD, is positive about BeReal's potential for brands. "Post-pandemic, we've seen the rise and fall of Clubhouse and the rise and rise of TikTok. There's an appetite for fun and fast content, and that's effectively what BeReal offers. So the sky really is the limit." "It's super lo-fi content, so you can be more playful with your brand with a lower level of risk," he says. But if BeReal sticks to its knitting and continues to exclude advertising from the platform, flouting the ban could drive the app to clamp down on their presence. It remains to be seen whether BeReal will keep it real or seals the deal with brands.