Media Musings by Andrew Mackay
When Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Meryl Streep are doing it, you know it’s time to sit up and take notice. What's more, U.S. President Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt were caught indulging at Nelson Mandela’s recent memorial service.
So, what new phenomenon are we witnessing? A major initiative masterminded by an exclusive club whose members include some of the most influential and high profile women in the world? The creation of a new US-European political axis?
It’s none of the above, actually. Welcome, instead, to the new "art form" that is the selfie, so popular that it recently entered the Oxford Dictionaries, the arbiter of all matters concerning the English language, as the word of 2013.
The so-called art of self-photography ("self-portrait" would be too grand a term for the spur-of-the-moment self-snap that is the selfie) is the logical outcome of astounding advances in smart phone technology and the power of social media, where hundreds and thousands of these images are posted every day. Social media have given rise to yet another medium, made possible by new technology and the ego-gratifying social impulses it enables.
You won’t find modesty and restraint in the selfie lexicon, but plenty of self-regard and an unquenchable appetite for the oxygen of instant popularity.
Commerce Jumps Into the Picture: The Promotional Selfie
But there are selfies, and then there are promotional selfies. Where there is self-regard, you can be sure that self-promotion and product placement will soon jostle for centre stage.
While Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are, of course, already (and willing) outlets for celebrity wannabes, they are also fertile platforms for marketing innovation. These days, if you have a new bikini, cosmetic, or men’s grooming range to push, you don’t have to negotiate—and finance—‘advertorials’ in mass-circulation tabloids, arrange expensive and time-consuming competitions, or deal with the TV product placement people. No, social media now gives you the means to do it yourself for free, for as long as you like, and when you like—with the added bonus of reaching millions of potential consumers.
You don’t need a PhD in marketing to understand why brands with strong visual associations (think Nike, Starbucks, and MTV) have been quick to join the universal love-in of social media. In this utopian world, where objective critical judgement frequently goes out of the window in favour of the instant gratification of affirmation, brands, celebrities, and products have a willing and captive audience.
But where is the editorial objectivity that can give the consumer, or would-be purchaser, an informed opinion about this or that new product? Until now, the editorial endorsement of a positive review following, say, the launch of a new car or consumer product, has been vital to major brands. Is it possible that what is becoming more important is the ability to harness and influence the critical power that social media instantaneously bestows upon its followers?
See Me, See My Products
In the global village that is social media, anyone can become a journalist, reviewer, critic, or brand advocate. And the selfie is the social media promotional paradigm of the moment.
According to Simply Measured, a year after the Facebook acquisition, Instagram had 100 million monthly active users and had attracted 67 percent of the top global brands. Many are devising increasingly creative ways to engage with their followers in a double whammy that harnesses the visual power of Instagram with the popularity of Facebook.
Caroline Christy, a senior account executive at Chicago-based Zocalo Group, a word-of-mouth, social and digital marketing agency, says the increase in the popularity of selfies has been mirrored by a trend towards visual content from brands, which is reshaping digital marketing.
The Group’s clients are counselled to include an image along with every post shared on Facebook. Images on Twitter are quickly becoming commonplace and even best practice as well, Ms. Christy claims. “We’re definitely in the visual era, as consumers have less and less time to digest branded news. Pictures become the way to express ideas and are truly worth a thousand words,” she says (personal communication).
But What's the ROI?
It will be interesting to see if the use of selfies in brand promotional material does increase ROI, in much the same way that engaging content across social channels has been shown to. We plan to return to this topic, and to how media measurement providers are addressing the challenge, in a future Comment.
In the meantime, the mainly innocuous selfie has spawned a new, and increasingly viable, promotional platform for many of the world’s leading brands to engage with their consumers at a level, and to a depth of intensity, they could once only dream about.
(Thanks to The Cape Times and Lowe Cape Town for the faux celebrity selfies.)
The Measurement Standard is a publication of Salience Insight. Salience Insight is the media measurement division of News Group International – a global provider of business intelligence and media resource services. Salience is a fresh, new global brand which incorporates the former UK-based Report International and US-based KDPaine & Partners, acquired in 2012.