Self-obsession, vanity, narcissism – three terms commonly associated with the phenomenon known as the selfie. So why do brands want a part of it?
While the aforementioned traits are not those typically celebrated as virtues, the selfie has become massive, with consumers, celebrities, and brands turning the camera on themselves and posting the result across social media.
Iain Matthews, head of planning at social media agency Jam, agrees that the popularity of the selfie is probably down to "a combination of narcissism and insecurity," adding, "It’s interesting because in a sense, in social media as a whole, there is a lot of motivation to be ‘liked.’ It gives you validation. The selfie is a very literal manifestation of that."
Reacting to what people are doing is a huge opportunity. But ultimately, you have to do it in a way that is authentic and coordinates with what’s out there
Selfies have generated their fair share of both positive and negative headlines. A prominent example of the latter is the online game NekNominate, which involved people filming themselves downing alcohol, and which has led to several deaths.
But for brands, tapping into people’s desire for approbation is rich with potential, Matthews says. "Reacting to what people are doing is a huge opportunity," he says. "But ultimately you have to do it in a way that is authentic and coordinates with what’s out there."
Brands jumping on the bandwagon have had varying degrees of success. Samsung hit back at criticism that it shoe-horned its way into the most shared tweet of all time, after it claimed Ellen DeGeneres "organically" incorporated the brand into her Oscars selfie. The image was retweeted more than 3 million times.
Meanwhile, camera brand GoPro used an image of a fan on the summit of Mount Everest, which was widely judged as a genuinely pithy and authentic example of a brand hijacking the trend. Dove also celebrated natural beauty in a short film about selfies shown at the Sundance Film Festival.
Cancer Research and #nomakeupselfie
In the UK, Cancer Research UK recently generated £8 million (about $13.4 million) in donations within just six days because of a campaign that took the social media work by storm and had millions of women (and some men) posting pictures of themselves wearing no makeup. It used the hashtag #nomakeupselfie.
It all kicked off one Tuesday in March, when women started posting pictures of themselves on Facebook without make-up. Parodies appeared, too, with men and women posting pictures of themselves wearing an abundance of beauty products.
Cancer Research responded on its own Facebook page, with messages such as "Thousands of you are posting #cancerawareness #nomakeupselfie pictures and many have asked if the campaign is ours. It's not, but we love that people want to get involved!"
The campaign was by all accounts a testament to the power of social media as a marketing channel. Wasn’t it?
Strictly speaking, the answer is "no" – despite raising millions for Cancer Research, #nomakeupselfie did not start life behind the doors of the charity’s marketing department.
In fact, no one seems clear about exactly who is responsible.
"It wasn’t created by us or any other brand, or designed to be viral…It just happened and was driven by people power," says Nicola Dodd, head of PR and social media at Cancer Research UK. "We told them it wasn’t our campaign, but that we loved the sentiment. Once they started asking us how they could support our work we posted and tweeted our own #nomakeupselfie with a text to donate code. And then people started donating."
Nevertheless, the resounding success of the campaign has important lessons – and not necessarily all positive.
"There’s probably a danger with any sales campaign that if it’s about the message, then it’s easy for the message to get lost," says Matthews.
Have a good reason to do it, and a set of rules, he adds.
"Ultimately selfies are about self-expression and how people want to be represented. For a brand in a desirable category - makeup, jewelry, some [CPG] brands - that are considered desirable it’s easier for them to play in that space," Matthews said.
On the flipside, it is clearly harder for other types of brands. Financial services would struggle, for instance.
"Of course there are potential pitfalls," concurs Dodd. "But I’d say they are mostly around lacking authenticity – if you don’t know your communities well, communicate with them often and thank them for their support, then you risk looking opportunistic."
But opportunism sometimes pays. Matthews cites a campaign that Jam ran last year for Sky’s Next Top Model series, which generated nearly 6,000 selfies and "drove a lot of pre-show buzz."
Fans of the show acted as the drivers of the campaign, building anticipation ahead of launch. The campaign was certainly far from hindered after research found that the show’s target audience was "obsessed with themselves, literally."
The campaign launched with a 30-second TV spot featuring Dannii Minogue, with a coordinated push from the social media accounts of the show’s judging panel. Fans were encouraged to post pictures of themselves for the chance to be crowned "Insta-Model," with the winner announced during the first episode of the show.
It was clearly a success. The hashtag garnered 12,889 mentions, 31% of which were about the competition, and the activity resulted in 5,721 competition entries.
This story originally appeared on the website of Marketing.