India's Gen Z audience is of paramount significance in shaping digital trends, making it a crucial market for us: Joe Darko

From dog ears to finding 3D dinosaurs integrating into reality, Snapchat’s AR filters have gone through a massive transformation. With CGI taking over the brandverse, brands have also taken a liking to combining reality with virtual reality. Joe Darko, Global Head of AR Developer Relations at Snap Inc., speaks about Snapchat's evolving AR technology and its impact on the Indian market.

Pranali Tawte
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Joe Darko

Almost a decade ago, when Snapchat launched its dog ear filters, the internet did not know that its approach to selfies was about to change.  

The yellow app started playing around with augmented reality (AR) soon and users could transform pets, hands, bodies, and famous landmarks around the world later. Now brands can even turn the floor to lava with Ground Segmentation Lenses, allowing them to use any ground as a branded landscape. This update comes at a time when CGI is taking over the brandverse, which also focuses on integrating reality with virtual reality. 

Snapchat’s arsenal of lenses, which started with puppy filters, has beefed up over the years. The platform’s turning point came in 2017 when it released Lens Studio, which opened up avenues for both users and advertisers to create custom filters and apply them to personal snaps and sponsored content. 

The Global Head behind AR Developer Relations at Snap Inc., Joe Darko, told us how AR filters have witnessed a growth in user engagement and how its leveraged. 

“Approximately 250 million Snapchatters now incorporate augmented reality (AR) into their daily interactions, thanks to a global community of 300,000 AR creators and developers enriching Snapchat with captivating Lenses in stories, messaging, and Spotlight. Our creator community over the years have built over 3 million lenses which have been viewed by Snapchatters over 5 trillion times,” shared Darko, in an exclusive conversation with Social Samosa. 

Earlier, these AR filters were relatively simple, adding basic overlays and animations to users' faces. The social media platform, since then, has worked on bringing in realism, incorporating advanced facial recognition and tracking technologies. Apart from that, Snap Inc has also brought in 3D World Lenses which allows users to add animated objects or characters to their environment. To further connect with users, Snapchat also worked on object recognition and interaction. 


Further strengthening its unique offering, Snapchat recently introduced Real-Time Neural Rendering ML Model in Lens Studio, which enables developers to build AR assets from 2D images captured on a phone.

He said, “Initially, Lenses were purely for fun, but they've expanded into commerce and education. Advanced AR creators and developers have joined, enabling innovations like multiplayer Lens experiences, where users can engage in shared games within the Lens itself.”

Indian brands aboard AR Express

As the tech world moves forward with AI, Snapchat has been focusing on standing out by pitching these AR filters to brands, developers, and advertisers too. 

Many brands have boarded this AR Express. Pepsi became the first brand on the Snapchat platform to run Snap Ads that deep link to a Lens in India. Brands like Lay's, in collaboration with Snapchat, unveiled an AR lens to introduce its offering, Lay's Wafer Style by inviting users to experience a magic trick featuring themselves, adding an element of personalized engagement to the product launch.

Also, with the social media industry passing a fair share to creators and artists who use the platform regularly, Snapchat, too, introduced Lens Creator Rewards, a new opportunity for Snap AR creators, developers, and teams to be rewarded for building top-performing Lenses.  

Further, becoming a part of GenZ culture, Snapchat partnered with MTV for their 2023 Video Music Awards to let the audience live cast their vote for the Best New Artist category through Snapchat Lens via Camera Kit. Similarly, it was also present in FIFA Women’s World Cup with a “Team Tracker” AR Lens that used advanced AR technology, with 3D Bitmoji avatars, stats, news, fun facts, and highlights that updated in real time.

Virtual Reality Closer Home

As far as India is concerned, the advertising industry has been experiencing a surge in AR advertising as brands leverage this technology to engage consumers in immersive and interactive experiences. As per a study by Statista, this market in India is projected to reach a revenue of ₹US$138.8m by 2023.

Mentioning how Snap Inc., has seen an uptick trend in Indian users, Darko said, “The growth of Snap's Indian AR creator community is particularly noteworthy, with a remarkable 60% increase in 2022.”

“India isn't just a significant market; it's a thriving hub of creativity and potential within the global landscape,” added Darko.

Darko believes there are three main factors that contribute to AR adoption in India. 

Empowering creativity: AR creators and developers in India have the opportunity to build diverse, immersive experiences using powerful tools.

Monetization potential: There's a significant chance for AR creators to monetize their work and establish thriving businesses in the evolving AR landscape.

Inclusive community growth: AR adoption in India is not limited to experts; it offers opportunities for anyone to join a supportive community, fostering collaboration and learning.

Further Connecting AR Creators with Brands and Businesses

Snapchat connects creators with brands seeking AR experiences, providing developers with a platform to generate income and build businesses.

Darko said, “Empowering creators and developers within our ecosystem to thrive and monetize their talents is vital for us. By creating opportunities for these individuals to collaborate with brands and businesses, we open doors for them to not only earn but also continuously grow their skill sets.”

He shared an example of Gayathri Shri and Pradeepa Anandhi, two women who embarked as AR app developers, swiftly evolving into adept social AR developers. Their trajectory led them to become Snapchat AR experience creators, where they eventually established their private studio. He mentioned that their venture has grown exponentially, now comprising over 15 full-time employees and eight freelance consultants, encompassing developers, designers, and modelers. 

Sharing more about their journey, Darko said, “They started by developing simple AR apps and gradually worked their way up to creating complex AR experiences for major brands. Their company has created over 150 AR experiences for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Google Lens, Pepsi, Disney+ Hotstar, Vijay Television, Zee Entertainment, Neutrogena, Flipkart, and many more.”

Vivek Thakur, another lens creator, has collaborated with renowned brands such as Coca-Cola as well as creating custom lenses found on Snapchat. 

Darko said, “We are actively investing in the growth of our creator community, providing creators with valuable connections, abundant learning resources, and numerous rewarding opportunities to excel in their craft.”

Virtual Community Power

Darko mentioned that Snap's Indian AR creator community witnessed 60% increase in 2022 and over 50 creators in India have received rewards in the first couple months. Amongst them is Jeetesh Singh, who brought the Chandrayaan-3 lunar landing to life with an interactive Lens.


He mentioned that another creator rewarded was Pratyush Gupta for the Saanp Seedi Game, which adds fun face effects like tears and crowns based on classic gameplay. 

Darko said, “Half of our top winners are based in India, underscoring the incredible talent in the region.” 

Since January, AR creators and developers in India have hosted more than 50 events, with over 2,500 in-person attendees across 12 cities, he mentioned. These events provide a valuable platform for developers to connect, share knowledge, and collaborate. 

India has emerged as a significant player in Snapchat's AR landscape, driven by localized initiatives. 

Sharing reasons on what attributed Snap’s success in India, Darko said, “Snap's unique visual communication features, combined with its strong relevance to India's growing Gen Z demographic, have cultivated a highly engaged and distinct Snapchatter community.”

India's Gen Z audience is of paramount significance in shaping digital trends, making it a crucial market for us. What sets India apart is its thriving AR community, establishing it as one of the fastest-growing markets for AR creators. 

Highlighting Snap's strategy, Darko said, “Maintaining and expanding this community centers on personalization and relevance. This approach, initially pioneered in India, involves enhancing cultural experiences through the incorporation of regional festivals, equipping Indian youth with AR skills, and nurturing active local creator communities. This successful blueprint has also been adopted by other Snap markets globally.”

Looking ahead, he shared Snap is enthusiastic about the prospect of further enriching this dynamic community and fostering innovation in the years to come. 

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