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One of the most prominent cultural phenomenons of recent years is the selfie. This now ubiquitous aspect of our culture has been made possible by the proliferation of smartphones, with their emphasis on sophisticated camera technology being included. Forthcoming smartphones from manufacturers such as Samsung are even prioritising the improvement of front-facing cameras in order to capture more of the selfie-taking market.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that selfies are clearly hugely popular, and a particular favourite of key younger demographics, many companies and brands tend to dismiss their significance. There is a tendency for companies to consider selfies as an exercise in narcissism, and not something which really offers any marketing purpose. Yet if marketers take the opportunity to delve into this subject in a little depth, they might find that there is value in the selfie which might not be immediately apparent.

The History of the Selfie

Selfies have in fact existed for hundreds of years. Although they are a relatively recent phenomenon in their current form, selfies can really be seen as a contemporary example of self-portraits. In this respect, they have not evolved that much from the original intention of self-portraits; effectively, this is an image of an individual which is created by the individual.

Although people often see selfies as vain and vapid, despite their seemingly enduring popularity, the reaction to self-portraits when they first emerged differed significantly from this. Capturing an image of one's self via traditional painting means was never considered to be worthless, so it ought to logically follow that we should take the same attitude towards selfies.

Two things have effectively changed with regard to these modern self-portraits. Firstly, technology has obviously altered and developed significantly. The amount of control which can be exerted on an individual image, along with the ubiquity and lack of expertise required to create one, often makes the viewer uncomfortable. When no discipline is required in order to produce something, it's naturally does not inspire the same level of respect in the observer.

Secondly, the way that selfies are distributed is both significantly more instantaneous and widespread than the self-painted portraits of the past. Social media has ensured that literally millions of selfies are posted in a format which can be viewed all over the world on a daily basis, and these can be available literally seconds after being taken. This has ensured that this modern form of self-portrait is extremely disposable by its very nature.

Selfies and Attention

There can also be a perception that selfies serve an un-adult need for attention. Many people who objects to selfies consider that people are showing off, or seeking to attract undeserved attention by having them taken and posting them. While this is socially acceptable for children, when it comes to older people it can come across as somewhat unpalatable and desperate.

Yet the selfie remains an incredibly important cultural phenomenon, and one that shows absolutely no signs of abating. Ironically, considering that British people have a reputation for being reserved, selfies has become particularly popular in the United Kingdom. For example, the two northern cities of Leeds and Manchester have been demonstrated by surveys to be particular selfie-centric. Manchester (#7) and Leeds (#19) rank in the top 20 cities for selfie per person, and indicate that this is a particularly popular cultural phenomenon in Britain.

But although selfies have obviously become incredibly popular and prominent, brands and marketers are still doing a relatively poor job of harnessing this cultural phenomenon. In order to make the most of selfies, brands must view them as an entire product. Aside from the photograph themselves, selfies also encompass a setting, composition, filter, angle and hashtag to name but a few elements. This is ultimately an overall photographic experience, and getting all of these aspects collectively correct can make a huge difference to the success of promoting businesses via selfies.

Different Intentions

One aspect of selfies which companies should pay particular attention to is the fact that different selfies have completely different intentions. Unquestionably, there can be an attention-seeking aspect to selfies, but in many cases these are photographs that in fact communicate an item of significance to the person in question. Brands need to understand the difference between selfies that say “look at me”, and those which are attempting to communicate something meaningful about a person.

Accepting that selfies can play a significant role in brand storytelling would be a sensible move for many companies. Obviously, this is a cultural artefact which carries a huge amount of weight. But additionally it is also worth pointing out that selfies ultimately represent an extremely affordable form of marketing if they can be implemented successfully.

The recent Turkish Airlines advertising campaign featuring Lionel Messi and Kobe Bryant is a prime example of how selfies can be utilised creatively to communicate something meaningful to consumers. In the commercials, both Messi and Bryant appear in a range of ever more extreme locations, indicating that selfies can be part of a memorable personalised experience.

Brands ultimately must understand the nature of selfies themselves in order to use them in campaigns effectively. Provide consumers with a compelling reason to create content for you, and you may very well be pleasantly rewarded.

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