10 Marketing Lessons From The Selfie Seen 'Round the World

By now, you’ve surely seen the selfie posted by Ellen DeGeneres from the Academy Awards. OK, you’ve seen it -- so I’ll stop calling you Shirley!

Here are 10 lessons we can apply to marketing from the selfie that crashed Twitter.

1. Image is everything. It should come as no surprise that the most popular tweet ever contained more than just text. Whether it’s the brand persona you’re cultivating or literally the picture used in your advertising, having a striking image that’s unique and memorable will go a long way.

2. Retweets are not the goal. Before taking the selfie, Ellen declared that she wanted to break the record for most retweets. Sure enough, she did it. Way to go! 3 million retweets and a $20 bill will buy you a beer and a pack of cigarettes. Marketers must set tangible business objectives, and take proxy metrics like retweets for what they truly are: proxy metrics.

3. Keep a tight filter. In a much longer body of work I wrote drawing marketing lessons from another popular entity, I discussed the need to create a brand filter and make sure that all marketing efforts pass through it. While Ellen did not need any filter on her photo -- although, personally, I love me some Valencia -- to make it go viral, your brand most likely does.

4. Ask WWED? Ellen is an amazing marketer. From the shameless self-promoting she does on her show for her (and her wifes’s) books to her excellent third-party product integration, Ellen is a marketing master. It’s all about tugging at the heart strings to evoke an emotional human reaction with your brand.

5. Influence the influencers. One of the keys to successful marketing -- and the elusive viral effect -- is identifying key influencers for your brand or product and connecting with them. Celebrities can often be great ambassadors. (Although I can’t condone paying $10k per Kardashian tweet!) One of the main reasons Ellen’s selfie blew up was the presence of so many key pop culture icons and influencers.

6. Tap the network effect. Along the same lines, having a built-in network is critical to ensuring your content gets seen by your desired audience. Notice Ellen did not post her selfie on her own website but rather on Twitter, where she already has over 27 million followers and there are another 230 million active users seeking and sharing content.

7. Give credit where it’s due. There’s been a lot of hubbub over who owns the rights to Ellen’s selfie. Is it Ellen, because it’s her account? It is Bradley Cooper, because he took the photo? Is it the Academy, because they hired Ellen to do the show? Is it Twitter, because that’s where the photo was posted? Is it Samsung because they provided the phone? The key takeaway for brands -- beyond carefully thinking through copyright issues -- is to give credit to all participants in a successful marketing program. This includes internal stakeholders, agencies, tech vendors, and others that contributed to each campaign.

8. Stay in the moment. Call it what you will -- just not newsjacking, please -- but the art of mining current events and capitalizing on them with good marketing is a tried-and-true (if difficult to do) tactic. Oreo’s “dunk in the dark” is a great example. In the case of the selfie, Samsung took advantage of the attention for some altruistic marketing, donating $1 for each retweet to charity.

9. A bit of prep and post can go a long way. “If only Bradley’s arm was longer,” reads the caption under the famous selfie. Indeed, with a bit more preparation and post-production work, Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto would not have been cut off, and Angelina Jolie would’ve been more visible behind Lupita Nyong’o’s brother. Granted, the spontaneity that was a big part of the selfie’s magic would have been lost, but the outcome would’ve been much more enduring. Marketers must balance the need to move quickly with the need to plan carefully.

10. You can’t fool all the people all the time. Marketers have been fooling people for years.  In the case of Ellen’s selfie, many people probably thought she was a Samsung fangirl. That is, until she was exposed for going back to her iPhone immediately after the show ended. While Samsung likely got more than its $18 million worth of media and product placement, it should not (and likely did not) count on fooling people into thinking that Ellen was a proud Galaxy owner.

Hopefully you’ve found a few “nuggets” here you can apply to your marketing. Bottom line: Know thy selfie!

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4 comments about "10 Marketing Lessons From The Selfie Seen 'Round the World".
  1. Melissa Mackey from gyro , March 12, 2014 at 11:01 a.m.
    11. Great marketing is authentic. What I love about that photo is that all the stars look "normal" - they look just like you or I do when we pose for a selfie. They're not in staged poses like they are on the red carpet - they just look like themselves, having fun. I think that's why the picture was so popular.
  2. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations , March 12, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.
    Let's get real...the defining aspect of this "round the world Twitter event" was that it happened on a highly rated TV show, first and foremost. All the other points are valid, but it's important to understand the multiplatform behavioral dynamic...especially for the "why do advertisers still spend so much money on TV?" crowd.
  3. Ron Hebert from The Windsor Star , March 12, 2014 at 1:15 p.m.
    I had my iPad on my lap and immediately snapped what I thought was a clever idea. A photo of the selfie. Tweeted it within seconds only to see that about 10,000 other people had done the same!
  4. Brian Stemmler from Stemmler Productions , March 13, 2014 at 5:47 p.m.
    Thank goodness Bradley was a good shot and knew how to use the camera...if it was completely impromptu they got awfully lucky with the way the photo turned out...(Kevin Spacey made if for me). Even though it was obvious why Ellen did it, the enthusiasm with which the Actors responded I think made it work...credit for that goes straight to Ellen I think.