As grown adults, we might be a little more than tired of the endless slush of “selfies.” Self-taken pictures, or “selfies”, mushroomed into existence alongside Smartphones, which made it easy to reverse the camera back onto yourself and snap a photo (or ten) in your best pose. Seen as annoying and egotistical by plenty of us, selfies have also been seen as a method of self-exploration by Psychology Today. NCB News went further, claiming to have discovered the science of selfies as a way to claim our identity.

Interestingly though, selfies aren’t a completely new concept. Artists have been painting selfies for centuries. The first documented selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839. It’s quite striking and has been followed by a handful of indulgent self-portraits, culminating to today where even politicians and celebrities indulge in clicking a group selfie. If we look at those self-portraits, we don’t see the narcissism the way we see it in self-portraits today. Could it be that our perspective of selfies then differs from how we see it now, or could it be that the photographer approaches the subject differently today – perhaps with less curiosity?

Arguably the best understanding of selfies in a modern context is written by Martyn Jones. In a Patheos article titled “Selfie Obsession: Our Ongoing Attempts to Picture Our True Selves,” Jones writes:

“We cherish the possibility that someone, anyone, might see us. If photographs possess reality in their pixels, then selfies allow us to possess ourselves: to stage identities and personas. There is the sense that getting the self-portrait just right will right our own identity: if I appear happy, then I must be happy; if I appear intellectual, then I must be an intellectual; if I appear beautiful, then I must be beautiful. Staging the right image becomes the mechanism for achieving that desired identity. The right self-portrait directs others to see us the way we desire to be seen.”

Enter pop-culture marketing. Those genius marketers who’ve recognized the power of a selfie and its value in creating associations, have rolled out creative marketing campaigns centered on a trend that every-single-person with a Smartphone has indulged in. This isn’t just your run of the mill pop culture marketing. This is genius.

Where normally pop-culture marketing appeals to the masses in a relatable way, selfie marketing draws on pop-culture to appeal to everyone. Here’s how some companies have carried out this selfie strategy:

  • Samsung – Who doesn’t know about the group selfie Ellen took at the Oscars, which was retweeted more than 3m times. It was a wildly successful campaign and one of the first of its kind at an awards ceremony, but Samsung did feel some push back from a public that felt the move was inauthentic.
  • GoPro – GoPro cameras nailed it with their campaigns that include “The 3 Year Epic Selfie” made with the help of GoPro on a stick. They also have the advantage of their customer base using their product in natural opportunities for selfies, like with the image of a fan on summit at Mount Everest. The takeaway here is that GoPro rode the wave on a trend that already existed and to which their customer base was already subscribed. Still it took a bold marketing manager to see that selfies were the way to go here…because that’s how their product is being used right now.
  • Urban Degree – According to MarketingProfs article by Simon Horton titled “Successful Marketing Campaigns Around the World”, a South Africa-based brand offered customers a $10 off coupon for posting a selfie wearing the brand. It didn’t stop there. In order to help it go viral, to stimulate more engagement, and to ensure quality, customers with the most retweeted selfies won a $1000 shopping spree. The goal was to increase social media presence, get more shop traffic, and increase brand recognition.

The running theme across all three examples, and there are many more, is to tap into an action people are naturally partaking in. Most everyone has a Smartphone and has taken a selfie before and has a social account; in fact, it’s something you know a majority of your demographic enjoys doing both. Folding selfies into your marketing strategy is a streamlined way to get your audience to engage in your brand without them having to work too hard to figure out how to get involved. Keep in mind though that a selfie, like any pop-culture marketing strategy, does have an expiration date. Your accumulated selfies will only be relevant for so long, though I expect the selfie trend to continue well into the future with adaptations to style rather than medium.