While it seems virtually every screen we interact with has become fodder for advertisers, tech entrepreneur, Vivian Rosenthal, found white space somewhere obvious, the chat box.
“People are already spending all their times in messaging channels, and now brands are playing catch up to put themselves into the conversation," says Rosenthal, a forward-thinking tech entrepreneur with a background in architecture. “We are providing technology for brands to enter a channel where there are already billions of users."
Rosenthal's platform, Snaps, is billed as the first brand marketing platform for mobile messaging. She asserts that with Snaps, everyday people who are chatting with friends can become brand ambassadors simply by sending an emoji. Since 2014 Snaps has been making branded stickers and emoticons for more than 100 brands like Nike Jordan, Coca Cola, Viacom, L'Oréal, Coach, Burger King, Toyota, Dove, Dunkin' Donuts, Sephora, and Macy's, as well as celebrities like Kevin Hart, looking to get into the branded emoji game (a la Kim Kardashian's Kimoji line, which famously crashed the app store when it was released.
“For us it's really about being the go-to solution for brands that need to find a compelling strategy and tech platform to reach millennials in the messaging space," says Rosenthal. “We are looking to drive powerful experiences for clients and consumers and exploring further investment from different verticals in different brands."
"When we decided to make KEVMOJI, all I knew is that we had to do something no one else was doing," says Kevin Hart about his move into the branded emoticon space. “So here we are, literally changing the face of iMessage by creating a real experience through emojis and stickers, rather than in animation. With the launch of iOS 10, my production team, HartBeat Digital along with Snaps, is revolutionizing the kind of content I'm able to share with my fans."
With a combined network of more than 2 billion global users and over 120 keyboards in the market to-date, Snaps has three different product suites; a branded keyboard, branded stickers, and Facebook Messenger chat bots on Slack and Kick, Imessage.
Because of the nature of sending branded emojis, Rosenthal says the overall affect for advertisers is surprisingly effective, as it opt-in for consumers. Rather than bracing for or ignoring a pop-up ad you might see on Facebook, customers tend to engage more authentically in the messaging space.
“It's very different than traditional social ads," says Rosenthal. “You will not see ads like in your Instagram feed. Instead, you unlock your sticker pack and opt to send a Starbucks emoji to a friend. It's someone raising their hand saying 'I want to be a brand ambassador.' The engagement has been so meaningful because it's opt-in, peer-to-peer sharing. Because of that it's [a recommendation that has] been vetted, pre approved."
There has been much discussion as to whether or not social media ads are successful, and the overall belief is that in order for them to work there must be authentic engagement. In addition, ads that work on mobile tend to be even more effective. While there has been some question as to whether or no branded keyboards are working to increase sales for brands, there is no shortage of corporations trying their hands at it. In 2016 alone almost 300 companies launched their own versions of emoji keyboards.
“There has been a huge movement away from the traditional broadcast model of social into a more private messaging channel," says Rosenthal. "With chatbots, the opportunity out there is really powerful. One-to-one marketing in scale can reach millions, but it's still a personal experience. It offers the ability to reach out and touch someone in a way you can't do in social."
Since this is still relatively virgin territory in terms of monetization, Rosenthal says the long-term goal is to eventually bring shopping directly into messaging.
“One one hand you can look at it as pure brand engagement and on the other hand, we are seeing some clients looking to drive commerce," says Rosenthal. "Going from conversation to commerce is the promise of messaging. That's the direction we're going in."
Rosenthal, who originally started her company as an AR platform, said she realized she was ahead of her time in terms of customer understanding and usage. She says the idea was originally centered on virtual pop up stores and geosense, which were very appealing to brands and retailers but premature for consumers.
“One of the things that I learned through this whole thing is that there's this thing called product market fit, which means, is the timing in the market right for what you're trying to create," says Rosenthal. “The AP platform was really early. We saw it come to live with Pokémon Go and that was four years later, goes to show you can have a good idea, but it could be too early to market. It was a great lesson and I ended up pivoting the action into the messaging space, as data supported that's where people are spending all their time. I learned first-hand what it meant to have something too soon for customer adoption."
“And then we pivoted into messaging, which is the opposite," says Rosenthal. "The consumer adoption is already there."
“We've seen brands on our platform use the messaging space in an impactful way to drive ROI, which depending which vertical, has different key metrics," says Rosenthal. "Because the messaging space is quite fragmented, they need to have a strategy for each different one. They need to do a lot of things concurrently. We saw this in social. Now we are seeing the same kind of thing happening in the messaging space."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.