Which Disney Princess are you? How would you look on the cover of Vogue Magazine? Nando’s Lemon & Herb or Extra Hot? How do you morph into your favourite wrestler? The people have questions and as always, the internet has provided answers. This time, in the form of Face Filters. And they are everywhere.

The evolution of Face Filters 
Given their recent proliferation on Instagram, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Face Filters are a new phenomenon. In the last few months, we’ve seen the likes of Nando's, Louis Vuitton, EA Sports and our own client, adidas, put their best face forward with an Insta Face Filter. Social media is now awash with every type imaginable, from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

Face Filters were originally one of Snapchat USPs, but Instagram moved into the space with its own in 2017. Then in 2018, Instagram started allowing ‘creators’ to make filters, before letting brands into the space a year later. Since then it’s taken some time to get the ball rolling. But as of this year, that ball has well and truly picked up momentum and continues to do so every day. 

Creator-driven culture 
Face Filters provide a digital beauty aesthetic that feels at home in categories from sci-if to high fashion. Sometimes it’s ‘Vaseline couture’ - a way to make real life more slick and glossy. This side of it is driven by creators like Johwska, known for their distinct face-warping style and the colour/neon-heavy Ramen Polanski (aka Jade Roche). Then at other times - particularly when it comes to the ‘What am I’ type filter, it’s low fi and focused on the banter element. 

Creators are reaping the rewards from this trend. The man behind the well-known Disney Princess filter – photographer and videographer Arno Partissimo – grew his following by more than 570,000 in the space of a week following his filter’s launch. 

A bit of imagination, perhaps some lols along with design skills and you have yourself a creative opportunity. 

Creator Liam O’Neill (@liamo.studio) describes the impact on the creator community as “giant outpouring of creativity, coming from all over the world. If it’s cool, weird or funny you can make and publish it and get instant feedback from people.” According to O’Neill, Face filters are such a mash-up of different forms of creativity, from 3D to illustration to fashion and creative code, that the end products feels like a new form of creative expression.

Face Filters have also democratised meme culture for social media users. They’re incredibly easy and accessible. Where you previously had to make the effort to find a gif, maybe personalise it by adding some copy - now you can literally just hold up your phone and become part of the moment.  

Wear a brand like never before
Brands - always keen to jump into a new trend that’s getting hits on social - have been making more filters by the day, with varied results. Some have gone for face transforming special effects, some a ‘random selection’ game style activation. Either way, it’s all about putting your best face forward.

For example, FIFA EA Sports allows you to play on the FUT Card reveal behaviour by revealing your stats at random. WWE’s impressive effort allowed you to become your favourite wrestler. Nando’s gets bonus points (and probably more airtime than it really deserves) for moving quickly, but its attempt is a little more meh - it allows you to have a level of spice allocated at random. 

adidas Football (our client) launched its biggest game changing boot launch in years with the new Predator Mutator. It’s a mad boot covered in spikes. It’s a boot with such a powerful history, nostalgia but also so future and people want to be associated with it. Perfect for the surreal beginnings of the Face Filter platform. The likes of Pogba, Pjanic and Guendouzi all wore “demon skin” driving 3 million impressions of the Face Filter in just 48 hours. 

Brands: make your own 
Face Filters are currently a big opportunity for most consumer brands. It's rare to have a medium where people can wear the brand without buying it. Those moving now are capitalising on borrowed cool while innovating in a fast moving space. 

But that’s not to say there aren’t a few caveats. Finding them isn't easy - first someone has to follow your account, then open up stories and swipe to find the Face Filters and then explore. So brands need to be able to drive use of them through other media, don’t rely on people coming to you. 

For those who do decide to go ahead, there are a few key considerations to consider. Firstly, base your filter on an existing social behaviour for strong organic usage - know your community inside out and tap into what they’re already doing and talking about. Think about what unique elements of your product can you wear to make your filter a distinct representation of your brand and products - although remember it’s a story; don’t expect to publish a filter on your channel, go viral and sell a million units. It’s important to buy yourself time in production to make it stand out as much as possible - it’s a new space but is already starting to pick up momentum. If you’re only just starting to move now, you’ll need strong creative.

Finally, get a collaborative creator who knows the platform inside out - as we did with Liam O’Neill for adidas. Creators are key here - they’re the driving force behind the best of these. Work with someone who has a natural affinity for your brand and its aesthetics. O’Neill’s tip for brand briefs is for clients to keep an open mind and budget time for experimentation; it’s such an open and diverse medium that no idea is too wild.

And my tip for the future? Face Filter games - this is where the best creators are currently moving the goalposts to. It’s a secret world that’s just beginning to get started and when it comes to innovation in socal, it’s often a case of where creators lead, brands will follow. Check out @dvoshanksy’s Flying Face fitler where you blink to play. 

Face Filters are going to remain part of our social media ecosystem for a long time. Now’s the time to get your head around - or in - one. 

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This article was originally written for Creative Review by our Executive Creative Director, Gareth Leeding