Can brands really use selfies as part of a campaign?

Ellen selfieSelfies have taken off in a big way. If there’s one thing #nomakeupselfie showed us, it’s that selfies can be used to campaign.

But the #nomakeupselfie campaign also highlighted the nature of selfies. They’re intensely personal. They provide a way for people to present themselves to the world.

It demonstrates why it can be so difficult for brands to use selfies as part of a campaign – it’s a medium that thrives on authenticity, and unless brands are careful, brand-created campaigns can feel contrived.

The psychology of selfies

Clinical psychologist, Lucie Hemmen, argues that the more secure a person is, the more likely they are to create selfies that are spontaneous and unedited. In contrast, less secure people can become fixated with getting the perfect picture, and spend ages editing it to make themselves look just right.

Selfies are all about self-expression. For brands to use selfies in their campaigns, they need to understand what motivates people to post these very personal images, and know how to use them in the right way for their campaign.

Successful selfie campaigns should be:

1. Authentic

Shortly after the massively successful grassroots #nomakeupselfie campaign raised millions for cancer charities, another spontaneous campaign sprang up. Using #WeAreAllMonkeys and #SayNoToRacism, the campaign had millions of social media users posting banana eating selfies.

It all started when Barcelona footballer, Dani Alves, responded to a racist, banana-throwing football fan, by eating the banana. Soon other famous social media users were posting banana selfies in solidarity with Dani, and the trend spread.

Only, it turned out that the entire thing was a stunt – right down to the original banana-thrower. Alves and his teammate Neymar were sick of the racist abuse they had suffered from some fans, so they hired a marketing agency to create a campaign that would send a message about racism. The agency came up with the stunt, and kicked off the selfie campaign.

The reaction was mixed. Many admired the stunt for its ingenuity – and the way it highlighted the issue of racism in football. Others felt manipulated. Some claimed it was trivialising the issue.

It’s much easier when you have an existing fan base, and you know what makes them tick. Fans of The Walking Dead can use the Dead Yourself app to upload their selfies and turn them into a zombie selfie.

It works, because it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Fans get to do something fun that they can share with friends, and the brand gets some social media juice.

walking dead app

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) used the selfie concept to drive a compelling Snapchat campaign. The #LastSelfie campaign saw the charity send Snapchat photos of endangered animals to followers, with messages like “In 10 seconds, I’ll be gone forever, but you can still save my kind #LastSelfie”.

The hashtag got 40,000 tweets in the first week and the WWF reached its funding target for the entire month in the space of three days.

People know what the WWF stands for, and they know that when they retweet the campaign, it’s marketing, but it’s for a good cause.

2. Spontaneous

Selfies are used to capture the moment. The best example of a spontaneous selfie is the one taken by Ellen at the Oscars.

Samsung had tasked Ellen with bagging a selfie with Meryl Streep, but Meryl turned to Julia Roberts and asked her to be in the photo too, which prompted Ellen to call out several other actors and create the now famous group selfie. The group selfie was of the moment, fun and unedited. It’s been retweeted more than 3.4 million times so far.

3. Themed

If you want to get a selfie campaign to go viral, it helps if it’s centred on a specific theme. In 2013 the creative chairman of BBDO Guerrero launched the #unselfie campaign, which encouraged people to post selfies of themselves, but with a sign covering their face.

Guerrero created it to raise awareness of the relief aid needed in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan hit the country. The campaign received more than nine million impressions.

Pet food manufacturer Purina took the selfie a step further. It installed a Twitter mirror backstage at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, and created a collection of dog selfies for its Facebook page.


4. Shareable

To be shareable, a selfie (or a selfie campaign) needs to have the potential to resonate with many people. It needs to be something that brings people together.

When the Star Wars franchise wanted to launch its Instagram account, it took a picture of Darth Vader taking a selfie.

Another day at the office. #StarWars #DarthVader #selfies #gpom

Within 12 hours of posting the pic, the account had more than 60,000 followers.

Samsung created a selfie campaign around the Opening Night for the Miami Heat NBA team. Using #TogetherWeRise , fans were encouraged to post selfies celebrating their team. Samsung then used some of the selfies in a mosaic which was displayed during the game.


These are just a few of the great examples of brands and charities using selfies to promote themselves. But it’s not right for everyone. My advice? If you want to use selfies as part of your marketing, you need to know what they’re all about:  people expressing themselves; creating a connection; identifying with a cause or brand.  If you’re going to ask for something so personal from people, honesty, authenticity and clarity of purpose are vital.

Tamara Littleton is chief executive of Emoderation and Polpeo