The rise of the selfie

Catie DearOver the last week, the phenomenon of the #nomakeupselfie has generated £8 million in donations to Cancer Research. No one can have failed to notice the trend, we’ve been barely able to navigate our Facebook newsfeed for the images of make-up free women (and men). But what is most interesting for marketing professionals is that this was not a campaign started by Cancer Research themselves, but from the front room of a Stoke-On-Trent young mum.

So what made the campaign so successful?

The word ‘selfie’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary just last year, but with usage up year on year by 17,000%, it was only a matter of time before we saw a campaign that really capitalised on the phenomenon.

Cancer Research was a perfect charity to support, with many of us finding our lives in some ways tinged by cancer, a fact which made the #nomakeupselfie imminently more shareable. The fact that the campaign took the idea of a selfie (largely seen as quite a vain, pouty pastime) and turned it on its head made it an instant hit. Users found it empowering and liberating and, crucially, really easy to get involved with – a quick snap on your smartphone and you became part of the campaign.

Undoubtedly a key element in the success of the #nomakeupselfie is timing, this campaign is a very real response to a number of factors. The nomination element certainly seems to borrow from the recent ‘neck nomination’ craze that saw a number of social users taking part in filmed ‘downing’ challenges over the course of 24 hours. It is also not a coincidence that the #nomakeupselfie has spread across Facebook less than a month after Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscars selfie became the most retweeted Tweet of all time (3.4 million and counting).

There must be a pang on the part of Cancer Research that they didn’t actually come up with the idea, but the success of the activity, in terms of the unprecedented level of donations and awareness it has generated, means that surely that feeling must be fleeting. Also, the fact that this wasn’t a brand-led campaign added to the spontaneity which is crucial across social media. Users could see that their efforts were really making a difference giving them instant gratification.

To generate the reach across Facebook that this has, especially in an age that is seeing the average percentage of organic visibility on the platform rapidly diminishing, is incredible. As marketing professionals, we are often fixated with the gains to be made from real-time marketing, but here was an opportunity that was anyone’s for the taking.

Catie Dear is an account director at the7stars