The word “selfie” was officially added to the Oxford Dictionaries in 2013, but selfies have been a part of the social lexicon since the early 2000s. Today, Instagram, the photo-sharing app with more than 400 million users, is the ultimate platform for selfies, offering custom filters and in-app photo editing tools.
When I wrote this piece, more than 278 million posts on Instagram were tagged with #selfie. Even more variations (think #seflietime, #selfiequeen, #selfiesaturday) exist, making it clear that we are, in fact, a selfie-obsessed society—particularly those of us who are part of Gen Y or Gen Z.
So, while it’s easy to see why selfies often get a bad rap as something that perpetuates narcissism, many brands today are harnessing them for good. Here’s what we can learn from three recent selfie-centric cause marketing campaigns.
Toyota: The #selfLESSie Campaign
When Toyota launched its #selfLESSie campaign last December, the goal was to raise $250,000 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. For every selfie tagged with #selfLESSie, Toyota pledged to donate $50 to the organization. The selfie marketing campaign was promoted with signs at dealerships, on Instagram and through the press. On Dec. 7, just six days after the effort launched, their goal had been met, so Toyota increased its promise to $500,000 and then to $750,000 on Dec. 14. Twelve days before the official cutoff date of Jan. 4, Toyota ended the campaign, having exceeded their goal by half a million dollars. For their part, the company produced 13 related Instagram posts, many of which were re-grams from followers and celebrities engaged with the initiative. More than 17,000 users tagged their posts with the hashtag.
Selfies, as a means of fundraising for causes, are a legitimate vehicle—one that costs much less than, say, a billboard or television spot. The user generated content (UGC) created when consumers post a personal selfie also offers something that traditional marketing and advertising campaigns can’t: a conversation between consumers and brands in real time. This interaction is invaluable, as brands can gauge results, monitor qualitative feedback through comments and posts, and speak to consumers directly.
The #selfLESSie hashtag Toyota used also tapped into the emotional connection with social media and aimed to redefine the stigma of a selfie. Coining the phrase “selfie for someone else-ie,” the brand encouraged users to be a part of something bigger than themselves during the holiday season, and, most importantly, lead by example. The campaign didn’t try to make it all about Toyota by asking people to include references to the brand—even though that did happen. Many Instagrammers took pictures in a dealership, with their Toyota or gave a callout to the brand in the caption, thus organically building Toyota’s social credibility as a company that cares.
In honor of Disneyland’s 60th birthday, the company invited Disney park fans to engage in a month-long push to raise money for the Make-A-Wish® Foundation. The campaign promised $5 to the foundation for every post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where fans modeled their Mickey Mouse ears and posted the image with the hashtag #ShareYourEars. Originally, Disney planned to cap the donation at $1 million, but upped it to $2 million after meeting their initial goal.
Disney also encouraged fans to pledge $5 of their own money to the foundation by hosting a #ShareYourEars sweepstakes. Those who donated were eligible to win prizes, such as a Swarovski crystal–bedazzled set of ears, a two-night stay at the Disneyland resort and a private tour of the Walt Disney Imagineering offices. More than 200,000 people heard the message and shared their ears.
Adding a prop isn’t necessarily a deterrent for fan participation. Disney capitalized on an iconic item—Mickey Mouse ears—which evokes positive memories of time spent at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” By providing a theme, the UGC was dynamic and often featured moments captured in the park, at the attractions and with friends or family, thus further promoting the Disney experience.
The #ShareYourEars sweepstakes also added a bonus level of engagement, making it easy (and mutually beneficial) to donate directly to the cause. Lastly, Disney partnered with an organization it’s had a longstanding relationship with (35 years), making it easy to understand why Disney would genuinely be devoted to this cause.
Tarte Cosmetics: #KissAndMakeUp
Eco-friendly cosmetics company Tarte partnered with anti-bullying group Bystander Revolution in February to launch the #KissAndMakeUp campaign. The idea originated when Tarte executives noticed negative interactions among followers in the comments section of their Instagram posts, where women were bullying other women (most were strangers, both on- and offline). After some research, they realized that cyber bullying on Instagram was common and decided to do something.
Make-up artists, beauty bloggers, celebrities and even competitors were some of the first to get involved by planting a lipstick kiss on the back of their hand and posting a selfie using the hashtag #KissAndMakeUp. Tarte CMO Candace Craig Bulishak discussed their cause marketing strategy. “Our goal has always been to use our social platforms and reach to encourage our fans to spread positivity rather than judge someone’s appearance, which is why this initiative is so important to us. We know that cyberbullying is a constant cycle, so anything we can do to slow it down and make the Internet a more peaceful, happy place is a success for us.” So far, nearly 17,000 posts have used the hashtag.
Selfie marketing for a cause doesn’t have to involve fundraising—it can exist simply to raise awareness for an issue that impacts its followers. However, doing so requires an even stronger tie-in with your brand; In the case of Tarte, it was using one of the most iconic make-up items to promote acceptance. Bulishak also makes a great point about ROI—results can be difficult to measure because the call to action is often engagement-based instead of product- or purchase-based. From the outset, brands should define what a successful cause marketing campaign means to them. Is it a certain number of shares or posts? A dollar amount to be donated to a cause? Look for measurable ways to prove your impact on the online community.
Selfies can be a powerful tool in attracting attention for a cause and drawing conscientious and socially-responsible millennials to brands. The most successful cause-marketing selfie campaigns are those that have a concise yet catchy hashtag unique to the brand or issue, a clear connection to the cause the brand is supporting and multiple ways for users to engage—whether through props, direct donations or re-grams. For best results, brands should also remain flexible when it comes to their contributions and definition of a solid ROI.