It was love at first sight. He saw fireworks, felt butterflies, and was completely head over heels. There was no turning back, no looking away … the guy had fallen in love, hard, and he knew that no one else could ever compare.
While that may seem like something out of a cheesy romance novel, I’m actually referencing the Greek myth of Narcissus, which tells of a handsome youth who fell so in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water that he ultimately died of starvation.
Fast-forward a few thousand years and you’ll actually find that Narcissus is alive and well. With the rapid spread of the smartphone, selfie pictures—self-portraits taken using a mirror or a phone’s reverse camera—have become a cultural phenomenon and, essentially, the resurrection of Narcissus. “Selfie” was even integrated into the Oxford dictionary as an official word (and Word of the Year for 2013): “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”
Regardless of your feelings on selfies they have become a huge trend and could be a key part of the next marketing campaign for your business. For instance, brands such as Jamba Juice encourages fans to upload “Smoothie Selfies” to Instagram for a shot at a free gift card and Bloomingdale’s pushes the #BloomieSelfie contest where they ask fans to submit a selfie that details a favorite beauty or styling tip that enhances their snapshot.
On the other end of the spectrum you have brands flipping the script like #GivingTuesday, which is pushing the “UNselfie” movement as part of a national day of giving highlighting worthy causes and nonprofits. Giving Tuesday is encouraging people to participate in charitable activities and post an “#UNselfie” pic on social media — an image highlighting the cause they support. (Click here to read more about how some other marketers are syncing up with ‘selfies.’)
A big uproar recently ignited when a website titled Selfies at Funerals sprang up, bringing light to a growing, troubling trend. The site is a collection of cell phone self-portraits snapped before, during or post-memorial service by the young and seemingly clueless, who are turning funerals into personal photo shoots. The collection was built by Fast Company editor Jason Feifer from images uploaded to Twitter and Instagram and has quickly made selfies a fiercely debated topic.
Then again, selfies aren’t a new phenomenon. The root word, “self-portrait,” has existed for thousands of years, gaining immense popularity during the Renaissance when artists would look into mirrors and often depict themselves as either the main subject or as important characters in their work. What was once only intended for the elite or very talented has now become an activity for all and has taken over the digital world.
Don’t get me wrong, I flat out hate selfies—especially ones with duck face. Selfies make a person seem like they don’t have any friends to take his or her picture or they are extremely self-absorbed. While I admittedly have taken some selfies I have never posted them online. Typically, they are to see how my hair looks, if my clothes look sharp or if that “Eye of Sauron” zit on my nose is noticeable. The difference is, I grew up on the frontier of the technology revolution, experiencing the initial boom during my mid-teenage years, allowing me to understand both sides of the coin and gives a unique perspective of both the potential benefits and drawbacks of the phenomenon.
These days many people check their phones while others talk to them or text while driving, yet neither action surprises anyone anymore. As rude or dangerous as those actions are and as wrong as they may be, they have become cultural norms. So is it any wonder that many teenagers and children, whom have never known life without cell phones or smart devices, are using the devices for everything they do, much to the dismay of older generations? Figuring out appropriate behavior for some situations can be tricky, especially if a person has not previously experienced it. Like talking on a phone during a movie, there are things you just don’t do. Unfortunately, some people will still answer the phone and yak away regardless.
While funeral selfies are troubling, the movement isn’t surprising. It underscores a deeper issue. Smartphones have made it easier than ever to stay connected 24/7 and also to take pictures at a moment’s notice. They allow people to instantly capture an unlimited number of images showcasing the things they are doing, the foods they are eating and the clothes they are wearing. This has positioned our society to become extremely voyeuristic and judgmental. For many people, if they aren’t constantly posting statuses and pictures for others to see, like, comment on or be jealous of, they feel like they don’t “exist.”
One of the most important things for any generation to remember is that the online world can be superficial, overly critical and, ultimately, not real. Selfies are a product of the times, and while not wrong, they represent the pond into which so many modern Narcissuses first look. But selfies do provide a great opportunity for businesses to connect with consumers in a way that is relevant to them.
The challenge for businesses is to come up with smart ways that integrate selfies into their marketing mix and goes beyond feeding egos. Companies need to use the trend to create positive conversations around their brand and provide true value to their fans and customers. How could your business connect with the phenomenon like Jamba Juice, Bloomingdale‘s and Giving Tuesday? Tweet us @herofarm with how you’re using selfies to further your marketing.
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