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Branding with Selfies

Selfies turn us all into visual storytellers

Selfies are immediate, personal, and authentic. Selfies are fun, participatory and transient. Selfies capture a moment. Selfies are playful. Selfies challenge social norms about portraiture and a bunch of other things. Why aren’t brands using them more? The more we recognize selfies as visual journals, the sooner people will realize that they do not represent the decline of civilization or a narcissistic generation. 

This seems like a natural for brands that sell experience and identity, like #Nike or #Starbucks. Why aren't they asking for consumer selfies? Or better yet, why isn't the #Surfrider Foundation? What could be more compelling than the personal experience of surfing?  Usually brand marketers are all over this kind of thing.

Yes. Selfies are weird to everyone who didn't teethe on a camera phone.  That doesn't make them bad, just uncomfortable. Yes. Selfies are self-centered. That’s the point. Otherwise we wouldn’t call them selfies. Selfies let you experience being both the photographer and the subject. You are mugging for yourself; you are celebrating yourself; you are experiencing yourself.  I know, I know, they end up on Instagram. But long before that happens comes the psychological switch that happens when you flip the lens on your iPhone. You are in control of both sides. That’s pretty significant and quite new. 

Are you hesitant to ask a stranger to take your picture in a restaurant, in front of Tiffany’s or at the Eiffel Tower? Do you ever do that when you’re alone? Selfies not only let you take that picture when you’re alone but they let you vamp like Audrey Hepburn at Breakfast at Tiffany’s and have this mini-story experience all by yourself. Tiffany’s knows about story. Where are the selfies? Selfies allow you to frame the experience for yourself with your own sensibility no matter where you are. It turns everyone into storytellers.

So why aren’t brands enlisting all these visual storytellers? There are, admittedly, a few clever campaigns happening around selfies (JCrew for one) but I haven’t seen many that capture emotion or experience. (Maybe brands are using them and they just haven't figured out how to use them creatively. Let me know if you know of some!). So far they have following the new “selfie norm” about a decorated self. It’s a way. But selfies can also about experiencing self, life and time. There’s a huge amount of energy to be unleashed here that’s about those distinctly and positive human experiences, joy and playfulness, that have nothing to do social validation.  

Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D., M.B.A., is Director of the Media Psychology Research Center and teaches media psychology at Fielding Graduate University and UCLA Extension. more...

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