How Did Faceapp Make 150M People Want To Be Old? - Marketing Psychology Growth Strategy (8 min read)

Faceapp – a photo editing mobile app that uses neural networks and AI to transform faces – add smile, make the person look young or old, add make up, change gender, and many more. It went viral after adding the ‘old’ transformation. It has been downloaded over 150 million times on App Store and Google Play.

?Strategy & Tools

Faceapp History Timeline

  • Feb 2017 - Faceapp is released on Android
  • Mar 2017 - iOS release. It gets 1 million downloads in the first week. 
  • May 2017 - the app gets 16.6 million downloads over a month
  • Dec 2018 - the last time Faceapp is featured on the top 1,000 apps on iOS before July 2019.
  • July 2019 – ‘old’ filter introduction. Over 12.7 million new user downloaded the app in a single week. By the end of the month, that was already 63M downloads. It became a top downloaded app in 121 countries.

Who owns Faceapp?

The owner of Faceapp is Jaroslav Goncharov, CEO of Wireless Lab, and a former CEO of Yandex.

Shareable content

Faceapp went viral because its filters are highly shareable. You can alter your usual appearance and what’s the next thing you’ll do? You’ll send it to your friends or post it to your social media. There’s a good mix of filters you’d use only once and everyday filters that just make you look better on photos.

However, the app has been downloaded most when it went viral after new filter releases – you can see that clearly on the graph above.

Why is Faceapp popular – easy shareability

Faceapp quickly took over social media because of easy sharing features. Once you’re done with photo editing, you can upload the photo directly to Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. If that doesn’t work for you – the only other icon is the system sharing menu. Being “user-friendly” with the wide variety of sharing options made for a solid foundation of the Faceapp growth strategy.

Functionality demo

Seeing an altered version of your friends on social media works as the greatest ad campaign. It showcases what the app can do and builds the „I want it too!” desire. Since the photos come with a Faceapp watermark, the only way forward from there is downloading it.

How did Faceapp go viral: #AgeChallenge

The app went viral a couple of times, but the most notable example was when the ‘old’ filter was introduced. It was accompanied by #AgeChallenge hashtag which quickly became trending on Twitter and other social media.

People wanted to share their effects and look at others - this built up to a snowball effect over a short period of time, and became an important factor of the Faceapp growth strategy.

Top app store spots

Faceapp craze had a history of getting the app featured in the top charts, but it fell off those quickly and remained out of the top 1,000 for almost a year. The #AgeChallenge also lost its momentum already in August, but hit the sweet spot that allowed the app to become the most downloaded app in 121 countries.

It was the same with the #AgeChallenge but it was so powerful that it became a trend

Why is Faceapp popular – memes

Memes are instantly relatable and shareable, and they are one of the reasons behind Faceapp popularity. Faceapp recognizes faces and these don’t have to be yours. People used it also to create memes with pop culture scenes or celebrities.

How did Faceapp go viral – wide coverage

The trend got noticed by mainstream media which also fueled its popularity, along with being used by influencers who also try to capitalize on trends to get higher reach.

Faceapp controversy

Faceapp’s popularity has brought some darker clouds to it. There was some buzz around Faceapp controversy. It didn’t get some filters right which were said to be racist and later deleted. Some alarming information has also been released, as the terms and conditions required users to transfer all photo rights, for commercial use as well. Another story is that the photos were processed on external servers. Initially it was said that they are stored in Russia where the app creators are located, it was later stated that they only used Google and Amazon servers located out of Russia.

One thing is sure, though – none of that Faceapp controversy concerned users enough to stop them from trying the old look.

Faceapp growth strategy and influencer marketing

One of the key elements in the Faceapp growth strategy is that the app targeted mainly younger audiences first. Young Internet users are very likely to spread the word if something matches their taste. This is exactly what Faceapp creators had predicted.

Soon, they expanded their target to a larger audience. Also, some celebrities and influencers had fun with the app, which boosted its virality even more. It's obvious that Influencer marketing is one of the simplest way for something to go viral.


Google Play
App Store


Exploring different versions of ourselves

Margaret E. Morris, a clinical psychologist, said that Faceapp could be so popular due to our internal desire of exploring different facets of ourselves. We want to see how differently we could look, what we can change, etc. Faceapp growth strategy exploited that fact.

Social proof

Seeing photos created with the app all over your social media worked as a social proof that it’s a cool thing to use and you should do it, too. It seems that the social proof could also work for diminishing the security concerns – most people thought ‘
“if everyone’s using it, I should be good, too”.

Bandwagon effect

After a part of the early adopters used the app and did the #AgeChallenge, others wanted to fit in the trend, too. It’s most astonishing how quickly others were joining in.

Snowball effect

Faceapp growth strategy was based on the snowball effect. The initial #AgeChallenge was just the beginning. The more publicity Faceapp had, the more new downloads it had, while getting even more publicity because of how high the numbers had been, and all of that turned up the Faceapp craze.

?Window of Opportunity

Product is just as important as marketing. The hashtag challenge was a spark but the product itself was so good–in this case the ‘old’ effect–that it worked as the engine for making Faceapp go viral. Such products literally market themselves after the initial marketing takes it to early users. 

You might want to take another route when it comes to user retention, though. Just a month into the craze, the app almost disappeared compared to the number of downloads in the first week. Missed opportunity?

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