BeReal says it doesn’t want ads… But should it?
A new celebrity-focussed feature being trialled in the UK by BeReal could open the door for an ad-based business model.
RealPeople, the latest feature from BeReal announced last week, is a “curated timeline of the world’s most interesting people”, including athletes, artists, activists, and more. The celebrities will share “unfiltered glimpses into their daily lives” as a way to authenticate themselves as normal, relatable people.
Released in 2020, BeReal prompts users at a random time each day to take one photo from their normal smartphone camera to capture their surroundings, and the other from their selfie camera to reveal their face. The photos are available to the user’s “friends” list, but only users who post their own photos can view others (thus encouraging people to use BeReal everyday).
The company’s press release was clear to define that the new RealPeople feature would not contradict the app’s purported mission to provide a more authentic social media experience.
“Let’s pause for a moment and talk about what RealPeople is not,” it reads. “RealPeople isn’t about influencing, amassing likes or comments, or promoting brands. You won’t see perfect photoshopped pictures, product recommendations, or ads disguised as posts. It’s trying to show we’re all more alike than we think.”
But some media buyers are sceptical it would not someday lead to an ads-based business model. After all, BeReal currently does not generate revenue, and celebrities typically do not make posts on social media without consultation from their personal PR teams.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see some kind of influencer-ad partnership at some point,” says Eb Adeyeri, VP of paid social at digital marketing company Jellyfish. “They’re saying it now [that they won’t] and I have to take that at face value, but knowing what I know about how celebrity behaviour plays out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see influencer marketing come down the line.”
According to Adeyeri, the new feature could also simply be another tactic to attempt to bump the platform’s userbase. Doing so would help separate it from other nascent social networks by increasing scale, and thus, eventual attractiveness to advertisers.
So far, BeReal has been backed financially by investors, with two rounds of funding totalling $90m. But amid rising interest rates, investors have decreased appetite for speculative investments. It is unclear if the app would be able to secure more funding without laying out a strong business case.
BeReal’s ascendant popularity among young users in July of last year brought it to the very top of the app stores. By the end of October, it registered in excess of 53 million downloads. Its rapid success prompted concern among established social media platforms, many of which began working on competitors.
Scott Guthrie, director general of the Influencer Marketing Trade Body, calls BeReal “a bit of a one-trick pony,” and one that is “easily cloneable,” expressing a lack of confidence in the platform’s popularity. Clubhouse, the social audio app that became a 2020 sensation during the early lockdown days of the Covid-19 pandemic, may serve as a cautionary tale of a platform that was cloned by more established companies and lost favour.
BeReal’s traction has reportedly cooled off in recent months amid waning interest from Gen Z users. According to analytics firm Apptopia, BeReal’s daily active users have dropped from 20 million at its peak last October to 6 million in March. In April, BeReal disputed the figure, saying it currently has 20 million global daily active users.
Regardless, it is unclear how BeReal plans to pursue profitability. The company has derided an ads-based model as off-brand and “inauthentic”, but that leaves few options to drive revenue.
“Ultimately, when it comes to how [social platforms] want to monetise, they either go via subscriptions or via ads,” says Adeyeri. “There are tons of social networks that have come along and seemed really cool, but they didn’t have a good way of making money. And from an advertiser’s perspective, if you’re going to be a platform that has advertising, you need to have scale.
“They have a bit of scale there; 20 million is okay, it’s not great. Would it be something that a big consumer packaged goods (CPG) advertiser might want to go for? Maybe, for a very specific activation.”
Guthrie, on the other hand, doesn’t mince words, telling The Media Leader RealPeople feels “less like a strategic product rollout and more like a last attempt by the French owners to put off buying a tin of whitewash to paint ‘Going Out of Business’ on the BeReal shop window.”
He adds: “‘Your friends. For Real’ runs BeReal’s tagline. Introducing strangers — albeit famous ones — into your stream feels like the antithesis of the app’s essence. It feels like an attempt to harness the hero effect: ‘If top artists, athletes and activists are on the app, then so should I.'”
RealPeople isn’t the only change the company has made to the platform. For much of its short history, users were only allowed to post once per day, with the unique hook of everyone being notified by the app to do so all at once. But now, BeReal is trialling the ability to let users post up to three times per day in hopes of attracting more app use. It has also partnered with Spotify to let users share music they’re listening to within the app.
The adjustments are, according to Guthrie, “diluting their original propostion” as a palette cleanser from the rest of social media.
If BeReal’s success is indeed just a blip, it will just be another app, like Houseparty, Clubhouse, the recently shut down Poparrazi, and countless others, that failed to grow and establish a strong business model. In the meantime, advertisers will continue to chase young people across nascent social platforms as they come in and out of style.
As Adeyeri says: “advertisers want to be associated with culture.”