Selfies are immediate, personal, and authentic. Selfies are fun, participatory and transient. Selfies capture a moment. Selfies are playful. Selfies challenge social norms about portraiture and a bunch of other things. Selfies are also very powerful stories. Why aren’t brands using them more? The more we recognize selfies as visual stories, the sooner people will realize that they do not represent the decline of civilization or a narcissistic generation.
Selfies, as storytelling vignettes, seems like a natural for brands that sell experience and identity, such as Nike, Coke or Starbucks. Why aren’t they asking their audience and fans for selfies? Or better yet, why aren’t nonprofits like the #Surfrider Foundation do it? What could be more compelling than the personal mini-stories of surfing? Usually brand marketers are all over this kind of thing. (To be fair, Lionsgate has a selfie campaign to promote Catching Fire, Film 2 of the Hunger Games trilogy. And frankly, it’s the most interesting part of a transmedia campaign that pretty much glosses over pain, death and dictatorship, although those are admittedly harder to sell than nail polish.)
Selfies may be weird to everyone who didn’t teethe on a camera phone, but that doesn’t make them bad, just uncomfortable. Yes, selfies are ‘self-centered.’ That’s the point. Otherwise we wouldn’t call them selfies. Selfies let you experience being both the photographer and the subject. You are mugging for yourself; you are celebrating yourself; you are experiencing yourself; you are curating a scene to tell a story in a second. They may end up on Instagram or Facebook, but long before that there is a psychological switch that happens when you flip the lens on your iPhone. You are in control of both sides. You are the director, producer and actor. That’s pretty significant and quite new.
How many times do we hesitantly to ask a stranger to take our picture with friends in a restaurant, in front of Tiffany’s or at the Eiffel Tower? But we never do that (or rarely) when we’re alone. Selfies not only let us take that picture when we’re on our own but they let us vamp like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and have a mini-story experience all by yourself in a way that we actually couldn’t if someone else had the camera. Tiffany’s knows about story. Where are the Tiffany selfies? Selfies allow everyone one of us to frame an experience for ourselves with our own sensibility no matter where we are. It turns everyone into storytellers.