Our discussion will center around the history of this format and advertising campaigns that use selfies, our own experience and scientific research on this topic.
From Durer to Harrison
The history of creative selfie formats began long before the advent of photography. Self-portraits by Dürer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh are viewed as a form of their internal dialogue, as well as an attempt by artists to explore their own contradictory nature. Robert Cornelius, who shot “the first light picture ever taken” in 1839, or Henri Evenépoul with the selfie he made in 1898, might have been pursuing similar goals, but the “complex” and pensive face didn’t last long in self-portraits. Once Kodak Brownie cameras were introduced to the public, photography quickly ceased to be only the privilege of enthusiasts. These devices cost only one dollar, so, from 1900 on, faces in selfies became more welcoming and began smiling much more often.
As Christina Kochemidova, a professor of gender theory and intercultural communication at Spring Hill, noted in her article, it took a couple of decades for the image of a happy person in a photo to become not only the norm but also a powerful driver of consumer culture. The showbusiness industry couldn’t help but join this movement, especially in the post-war period. They introduced the Western society to conceptual and technological novelties that promised freedom, social mobility, and convenience. George Harrison's psychedelic fisheye shot against a backdrop of the Taj Mahal in 1966 is still mentioned by today’s media, and at that time his photo report from India proved that selfies could be really interesting.
Within a stone’s throw
It was believed for some time that the word “selfie” was introduced in 2002 by an Australian named Nathan Hope. He told a story at a local ABC forum about getting drunk at a friend's birthday party and injuring his lip, which he had to sew up. This story was picked up by the media, and a blurry shot of his jaw immediately spread around the world. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “selfie” became their “word of the year” that year. However, in 2013, Nate admitted that at the time his revelations were published, this term had already become quite popular.
But this story was quickly overshadowed. The famous self-shot picture from the Oscars became the hit of 2014; 80,000 retweets in three minutes and a cameo appearance on The Simpsons are the best proof of this. By the way, this selfie was taken using a Galaxy Note 3 phone, but, according to the participants of these events, the company wasn’t planning on anything like this. They only bought TV ads and provided financial support to the organizers of the ceremony.
Regardless of the advertiser's plans, the effect was astonishing. The reaction of monopod manufacturers was super-fast; selfie sticks immediately appeared in stores and made it onto Time magazine’s top 25 "inventions" of the year list. Other media followed suit, providing readers with lists of the most interesting places to take selfies. However, it turned out, just a couple of years later, that there weren’t enough such locations in the world. To meet the growing demand, in 2016, the first major selfie museums opened their doors to selfie takers and anyone who wanted to use their smartphone outside the restroom. In just the first five days, the owners of one such location – The Museum of Ice Cream – sold $5.4 million worth of tickets. Besides that, more than a dozen celebrities have visited the museum since its opening.
In 2016-2017, Casio continued to sell selfie cameras that cost $900, which was more than twice the price of the iPhone SE and only $49 cheaper than the iPhone 8 Plus (256 GB). In addition to all these special gadgets, drones also hit the market—mini and autonomous drones capable of avoiding obstacles and flying with selfie sticks, as well as other devices and general "technological support" for the format. In such an environment, even a monkey had to defend, in court, their rights concerning selfies. Fortunately, this dispute was settled.
We will explore what this movement meant for brands in the second part of our thought leadership piece.
Vitalij Kolesnik, MD and CFO at MNFST Group