- Spectacles resembled an ephemeral 1970s fad. The devices failed to attract interest from Snap’s youthful users. The big question now is whether CEO Even Spiegel can keep the company cool in the face of Wall Street pressure.
I don’t know much of anything about Snapchat because I’m frankly just too old to get it.
But I have a 14-year-old daughter, and she and her friends get Snapchat and then some. They use Snapchat constantly – it’s by far their most beloved app.
But their enthusiasm isn’t helping Snap succeed as a public company. On Tuesday, Snap reported third-quarter results that disappointed Wall Street. The company also took a $40 million loss on Spectacles.
When Spectacles broke cover, I seriously wondered whether my daughter and her crew would take to them. At $129 a pop, they weren’t a super-major outlay for a parent or even for a teen with some money saved up. I prepared myself to be asked for a pair as a holiday gift.
At the time, I thought there was something oddly brilliant about Spectacles. To me, they proved that CEO Evan Spiegel was able to leverage his youth – he’s in his mid-20s – to dial in to some interesting business opportunities.
Mood rings and pet rocks
That said, Spectacles didn’t look to me a like a built-to-last kind of thing. Actually, they very much reminded me of a bunch of el cheapo fads from my pre-digital youth in the 1970s. You may have heard of some this goofy stuff, like pet rocks and mood rings.
Spectacles looked large and kind of silly – Spiegel called them a “toy” – and they came in basic black as well as two offbeat colors, the always popular teal and coral. They could record only up to 10 seconds of video, so they were clearly useful only as a Snapchat accessory. You played around with them for a few months and then moved on. Fad finished.
They were almost designed to not stick around or be improved. And Spiegel was too cool to have missed the negative reception that Google Glass received.
One thing I’ve noticed about digitally sophisticated kids who aren’t yet of driving age is that they cycle through their enthusiasms quite a bit faster than previous generations. This appears new because they’re all using the mobile internet, but it also feels very ’70s to me. That was a decade when all kinds of trends came and went rapidly, in music, culture, fashion, and even politics.
I tried this theory out on my then-13-year-old, and she agreed that Spectacles were possibly a neat gimmick – they reminded her of some other recent fads, like hoverboards, something I hadn’t thought about but Spiegel probably had.
But here’s the thing: Spectacles were ignored by my daughter’s cohort. They love Snapchat. But they showed zero interest in Spectacles.
Snap is still cool
So Spectacles flopped. That doesn’t mean Spiegel wasn’t on to something. Despite Snap’s struggles, its app is still about a million times cooler than Facebook or Twitter. The teens are making tentative forays into Instagram, but they seem wary of it, whereas they continue to obsessively engage with Snapchat.
It isn’t hard, especially in light of the news coming out of the 2016 election, to see Facebook and Twitter and companies that sold their souls to the markets – Twitter because it was getting desperate, and Facebook because it needed to FACEBOOK, strategically sacrificing its early disdain for advertising so it could reward investors.
I wonder if Snap will again leverage Spiegel’s seemingly innate sense of teen culture to introduce another faddish device. After all, Amazon has experimented will all manner of stuff, showing the failure doesn’t mean a broad initiative is conceptually flawed.
Then again, Spiegel badly misjudged a core audience with Spectacles. Do that too many times, and you won’t be cool anymore at all.