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Snapchat steps into 2016 campaign with Iowa ‘live story’ and Kasich, Walker ads

Gov. Scott Walker takes a selfie with supporters during a visit to a Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership in Las Vegas. (REUTERS/David Becker)
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This story has been updated.

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- Snapchat, the hot social media start-up that has become especially popular among millennials, is taking a big step toward spotlighting the 2016 campaign.

With many top presidential candidates descending on Iowa Friday for a  long weekend of campaigning, Snapchat will curate a "live story" selection of photos and videos from the day's campaign stops and promote it to users across the United States.

As part of its enhanced political focus, Snapchat also will feature its first video ads promoting presidential hopefuls. Two ads for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and one for Ohio Gov. John Kasich will be included in Friday's live story and visible to users in the four early presidential caucus and primary states: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

The Snapchat ads, which each run 10 seconds long, have a more intimate feel than the heavily-produced, gauzy television advertisements that have become the norm in politics.

In one of his ads, Walker stands in what looks like the yard outside a house, looks into the camera and says, "Hi, I'm Scott Walker. America needs new leadership with big, bold ideas. We won in a blue state without sacrificing our principles. Join us, and help us make our country great again."

The other Walker ad hits the same theme, only with a female narrator instead of the candidate. Over footage of Walker on the campaign trail, she says, "Scott Walker showed the path to victory is to run on our principles. Conservative. Bold. He beat the special interests and showed how to fight and win."

Kasich's ad is more playful, with the governor looking directly into a tightly-cropped frame and the camera shaking slightly, giving the video the authentic feel of being recorded by Kasich's buddy holding up an iPhone -- even though it was created by Fred Davis, a top-dollar, Hollywood-based ad wizard.

Kasich shares a few bullet points of his resume: "No one running for president has helped balance the federal budget, saved a state from near-bankruptcy or served on the defense committee for 18 years. Maybe I ought to run."

Kasich plans to enter the presidential race next Tuesday when he makes his formal announcement in Columbus. The Snapchat ad was produced and paid for by New Day for America, a pro-Kasich super PAC.

Matt David, the super PAC's strategist, said the Snapchat format suits Kasich's style and that his group would be "very aggressive" in future advertising opportunities with Snapchat and other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

"This format is tailored to a candidate like Governor Kasich, who is very personal, very direct and very unscripted," David said. "It feels like he's talking directly to you. And it allows us to reach a very engaged audience to tell his story."

Walker debuted a Snapchat account (username govscottwalker) last weekend, ahead of his official campaign launch. His college-age sons, Matt and Alex, have been traveling with him, posting pictures and videos to their dad's account and managing his social media presence.

"Snapchat advertising is a new opportunity for Governor Walker to speak to a wider audience on a platform that is at the forefront of social media," said AshLee Strong, a Walker spokeswoman. "The governor looks forward to engaging with Americans, particularly young adults, in this space."

Walker is the first presidential campaign and New Day for America is the first presidential super PAC to advertise on Snapchat.

Snapchat is trying to leverage its huge base -- it has more than 100 million daily active users, many of them in the United States -- to influence the 2016 campaign. And candidates in both parties are eager to experiment, hoping to appeal to young voters and seeing Snapchat as a potentially effective way to do so.

"More than 60 percent of 18-34 year old smartphone users in the United States are Snapchatters, making it the best place for candidates to connect with first-time voters," said Jill Hazelbaker, Snapchat's vice president for communications and public policy.

Hazelbaker, who served as a senior aide on Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, is one of several former politicos helping shape Snapchat's impact on the 2016 campaign. This spring, the social media company hired Peter Hamby, a national political reporter at CNN who covered past presidential campaigns, to become its director of news. Snapchat also poached Rob Saliterman, a former spokesman for former president George W. Bush, from Google to run its political ad sales team.

Snapchat's "live story" from Iowa will feature a variety of still images and videos, or "snaps," from users within a digital boundary, or "geofence," surrounding campaign events. A team of Snapchat curators will stitch the snaps together into a narrative story, as the platform has done for other news events, such as the Charleston shootings.

Several candidates will be in Iowa on Friday. All five of the Democratic candidates, including front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, will appear at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Celebration dinner in Cedar Rapids. Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley are appearing at other events in the state as well.

On the Republican side, most of the candidates -- with the notable exceptions of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kasich -- are speaking Saturday at the Family Leadership Summit, a gathering of social conservative activists in Ames.

Many Republican hopefuls also are campaigning elsewhere in the state, including Walker, who is kicking off a three-day, 10-stop Winnebago tour of Iowa in Davenport on Friday morning.

Walker is promising to give his Snapchat followers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his road trip.

CLARIFICATION: Although New Day for America is the first presidential super PAC to advertise as part of a Snapchat "live story," and the first to feature a candidate in a made-for-Snapchat video, it is not the first presidential super PAC to advertise on the video-messaging platform. America's Liberty PAC, which supports Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), ran a 10-second ad on Snapchat in June highlighting his flat-tax proposal.