Since she snapped those scandalous videos of Kanye and Taylor Swift's phone call, Kim Kardashian West has held the unofficial title of most influential celeb on Snapchat. Her snaps fueled news stories for days and showed that the app has power far beyond funny dog faces and geofilters. But last night, Kardashian West was dethroned (briefly, we would guess) by another prominent Snapchat celeb, DJ Khaled. Historically, ad spots shown during the VMAs can cost brands almost $700,000 for 30 seconds. Last night, a video from Khaled's Snapchat (shared by the rapper earlier that day) was, very oddly, one of those 30-second spots. The ad, for Nike's iconic black-and-red Air Jordan XXXI "Banned" sneakers, features Khaled waxing poetic about the much-anticipated kicks. "Is this real? Is this magic?" Khaled asks. Yes, it is real — and a really big deal.
While a growing number of brands are paying for advertisements on the app itself since it launched ads within stories earlier this summer, this is one of the first times (and certainly one of the biggest times) that Snapchat has been used as the platform for a mainstream ad. Nike could have used its 30 seconds of screen time to show a professionally produced ad, but instead, it used a somewhat shakily filmed Snapchat video with no narrative arc, no snarky ending, and no editing — just Khaled talking loudly about sneakers while putting his face close to the lens. The ad was probably a play towards the younger audience that tends to watch the VMAs, which is also the audience that makes up the majority of Snapchat's user base. More than 60% of 13- to 34-year-old smartphone owners in the U.S. are on the app. And the choice of using DJ Khaled in the spot is no coincidence, either. The rapper is a big Snapchat personality: He has more than 7 million fans on the app. He dispenses his "major keys" to life (what others would call words of wisdom), which have included gems such as "don't panic" and "the key to success is more water." Khaled told Katie Couric that his success on Snapchat is largely owed to the fact that he lets fans into his personal life, whether this means showing them his musical garden or talking with them while lost in the ocean on his jet ski. Khaled, who hosted the VMA pre-show, snapped his preparations, first moments on the red carpet, and the entire show and its afterparties. But the way that he appeared in the Nike advertisement, in a Snapchat video of his own making, is what's so unprecedented. It helped to make the VMAs, an event that some have said feels old and outdated, suddenly feel cool again. An ad like this, lifted from Snapchat, is cheap, raw, and real in the same way that reality TV felt when it first landed on our screens. Could the ad usher in a new era of advertisements? A trend of less polished, Snapchat-style ads on everything we stream? Most likely, yes. DJ Khaled, you’ve just dropped a major key.