Why Snapchat spent $100 million for emojis

Snapchat reportedly acquired Bitstrips, an emoji and avatar company, for $100 million. Will the bitmojis be worth it?

Jae C. Hong/AP/File
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel poses for a photo in Los Angeles.

Snapchat users are about to have a more personalized experience, including customized comical avatars.

The company acquired Bitstrips inc. – a Toronto based emoji and avatar company – known for its app Bitmoji, which allows users create and customize cartoon avatars. Snapchat reportedly paid $100 million for the acquisition, Forbes reported.

The app – with avatar options including a wide range of face shapes, hair colors and cuts, eye shapes, and eye colors – could attract more advertisers and deepen the integration of ads into the Snapchat experience, writes Paresh Dave of the Los Angeles Times:

Bitmojis essentially make users part of an ad, and that's no different than what Snapchat already does. Features such as Snapchat Lenses animate selfies, placing movie characters and products in photos before they get sent to friends.

"The Snapchat advertising ecosystem puts the emphasis on creation of content – geofilters, lenses and potentially branded bitmojis – and even in their video [ads], they're serving ads in content that they are encouraging users to create," said Nick Cicero, chief executive of Snapchat-focused ad agency Delmondo. "Bitmoji could be another great piece in that creation toolkit for users."

“I can’t even tell you what our inbox looks like in terms of partnership requests. All of the movies, all the television shows, all the fashion houses, all the pop stars, they all want to be Bitmojis because we somehow became the determinant of who has made it,” said Jacob Blackstock, chief executive of Bitstrips, to Forbes.

He added, "I believe we have an incredibly lucrative business model. We can get brands into the most impossible spaces to get into, which is private conversations. That is gold."

Bitmoji, launched in 2014, has maintained a position in the top 100 best apps in Apple’s app store. Bitmoji users in the United States spend roughly eight minutes on the iPhone app, according to mobile app intelligence firm Sensor Tower, and about four percent of users who downloaded the app continue to use it after one month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Emojis have become so popular that the Oxford dictionary declared the “face with tears of joy” emoji as the 2015 word of the year, while the Guardian wrote President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address using emojis, IPWatchdog reported.

Politicians have gotten into the emoji lovefest. President Obama, in welcoming the Japanese Prime minister last year, expressed his gratitude for Japan’s contribution to American culture. “Thank you for all the things we love from Japan. Like karate and karaoke, Manga and anime, and, of course, emojis," he said, as reported by the Washington Post.

Hillary Clinton tweeted last August asking college graduates to express their feelings about student loans using three emojis.

In February, music rapper Future created his own line of emojis to represent cartoon versions of his life, the Guardian reported.

“We feel like emojis are a great way to create an experience around our music through the most used form of communication,” Future told the Guardian.

Other details of how the bitmojis will integrate into Snapchat are still unclear, but speculation runs rampant, reported Dave Paresh of the Los Angeles Times:

Bitmojis could add a way to express how users feel when they aren't taking a selfie. Snapchat allows people to place standard emojis on photos and videos, but bitmojis purport to do a better job of showing emotion because there's a face – albeit a cartoonish one – attached. Snapchat could even generate revenue here, by charging users for special-edition bitmojis just as Bitstrips has done. 

The bitmoji also could come into play in Snapchat's text chat feature, which is tucked away behind the image-sharing elements. Snapchat is said to be working on a major overhaul of texting that would bring audio chat and more. It's easy to see bitmojis being a part of that too, giving people a way to communicate visually without having to take photos themselves.

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