By Joan Kennedy for Business of Fashion
The new social media app has skyrocketed in popularity over the past year, and brands are still working out whether they have a place on the platform.
Gen-Z has a new favourite app. And where Gen-Z goes, fashion is sure to follow.
The French app BeReal, which rose from obscurity in mid-2022, sends one notification — and one notification only — at random times each day. Users have two minutes to take a snap with their phone’s front and back cameras simultaneously, which is shared to a photostream with friends.
BeReal combines the ephemeral quality of a Snapchat photo with the spontaneity of an early TikTok, or ad-less 2010s Instagram. Users often say they see it as a respite from endless feeds, filters and FaceTune.
As of August, BeReal counted 86 million monthly active users, according to data analytics firm Data.ai. That’s small by social media standards — TikTok has over 1 billion active users. But it’s growing fast: this time last year BeReal had 580,000 active users. On Wednesday, it was the No. 3 app in the Apple store’s social media category, sandwiched between WhatsApp and Facebook (Gas, another newcomer where users pay each other compliments, held the top spot).
Those active users are an irresistible target for brands struggling to reach new audiences and rising advertising costs on bigger social networks. Some have jumped in: E.l.f cosmetics offered skincare kits to the first 150 followers of its BeReal account in August and promised more exclusive drops and inside looks at life as an E.l.f. employee.
“Rather than asking, ‘Why should brands be there?’ it’s like, ‘Give me a reason why we shouldn’t,’” said Laurie Lam, chief brand officer of E.l.f. Beauty.
In another endorsement of the concept, both TikTok and Instagram have developed copycat features, TikTok Now and IG Candid Challenges (which Meta told BoF Instagram is testing internally).
But whether the app that caught consumers’ attention can keep it remains to be seen — as does what sort of value it can create for brands, which have seen fast-growing social media upstarts fail to live up to their promise before. (Remember Clubhouse?) Mastering a new type of content isn’t easy, either.
“It takes someone from the brand team to really understand what’s happening within the space,” said Oluwafemi Okusanya, founder of Fourth Frame Studios, which produces content for brands.
Why Being Real Is Harder Than Expected
BeReal’s bread and butter are spontaneity and casualness. What makes it fun for users could make it a headache for brands. Despite the ad-hoc nature of the app, which would seemingly mean a low lift without needing to spend on big campaigns, its unpredictability requires users to be ready to jump to action at an instant.
“A brand who has to go through legal, and go through brand messaging and the brand team and development and all these things — for them to be so instantaneous, it’s very difficult,” said Okusanya.
One way E.l.f. gets around that is by putting different employees — from managers to interns — in charge of the account on different days, so when it goes off, the designated employee snaps a photo of what they’re doing. And there’s no pressure to be right on time, said Lam. (BeReal’s two-minute posting window is optional, though the app flags when a user has posted late).
Getting it wrong could just make a brand look out of touch. On Twitter, Pacsun has replicated the front-and-back photo format with the caption “It’s time to BeReal” — though, the result, showing TikToker and model Amelie Zilber posed in full make-up, felt manufactured in a way that’s hard to imagine being well received on the app. The brand has a BeReal account linked in its Instagram bio.
TikTok has a similarly unstaged feel to its content, so brands that managed to loosen the reins on their tightly kept images will have a head start on BeReal. In its new report on Gen-Z, BoF Insights detailed how Gen-Z’s treatment of and taste in apps like BeReal requires a “laissez-faire approach to marketing.” In other words, if brands want to participate, they need to get used to putting out less polished, idealised versions of themselves.
Even if BeReal is as ephemeral as its disappearing posts, learning that laissez-faire approach to marketing is becoming more crucial for brands that want to build cachet with younger consumers.
Still, there’s not a real definition of what success on the app looks like. BeReal is plagued with glitches, doesn’t do ads, and its path to monetisation is not yet clear.It will be especially hard for brands to track the impact of their posts: they’ll have to deploy a more flexible attitude to return on investment.
“A lot of brands want innovation as part of their story and part of their brand … Being a first mover to a new platform can give you credibility for some consumers,” said Tom Hyde, vice president of strategy at creative agency Movers+Shakers, which works with E.l.f.
Not For Everyone — Yet?
It’s not hard to imagine brands using the limited-post app to do limited-edition drops, create hype and build out a sort of insider community feel.
“People are often seeking to go behind the scenes and get closer to the designers, the creative process and production,” said Hyde.
But the platform, especially now, is not for everyone. Tackling BeReal will be easier for small brands with less complicated chains of command, said Okusanya. Brands that take a more “authentic,” friendly positioning will fit in best. As Lam said, it works for E.l.f because E.l.f. tries to position itself as a “friend” and test out new formats early on. The brand was quick to TikTok and Twitch, for example.
For more luxury, aspirational brands, BeReal makes less sense. Though, Hyde says, even then there’s a way to do it.
“Both those representations of the brand can complement each other: to show the high-sheen, aspirational part of the brand and the authentic, human side as well … The BeReal consumer is looking for something from a brand distinct from their Instagram experience, or their in-store experience,” said Hyde.
While Chipotle is one of the biggest names carving out a home on BeReal, it’s harder to imagine Chanel buying in. For brands somewhere in the middle it could be the next big thing, or just another wave.
“Sometimes being part of it is better than being perfect,” said Hyde.