Jen Smith of Maxus: mystery Facebook/Instagram ‘selfie’ appeal shows the true power of social media

Unknown-6If you have been anywhere near Facebook or Instagram over the last week then your timeline will have been filled with an overwhelming number of your friends and family uploading photos of themselves with the #nomakeupselfie and variants of this (left).

This internet ‘meme’ has come under a lot of criticism in the wake of the influx of soft-focus photo uploads. Not least because the origins of this phenomenon are slightly dubious. It does not seem to a considered campaign by any of the cancer charities, but breast cancer seems to be reaping the benefit with more and more uploads urging you to text ‘cure’ to 70099. In fact according to The Telegraph £8m has been raised in six days for Cancer Research UK.

The criticism has also flooded in that this is at its heart a self-indulgent activity by participants to receive messages of support from their friends to affirm to them that they are ‘gorgeous’, and ‘don’t need make-up to look good’. With an additional wave of criticism that ‘what on earth has this to do with cancer’? and, how is going without make-up ‘brave’ in any way?

To be honest, they are all right; but surely the big question in the wake of such a phenomenal response is ‘does it matter’?

For me this campaign works because it utilises the driving factors of the media channel it is communicated in well. And these factors are overwhelmingly a little bit narcissistic and self-indulgent. It works because rather than a charity appealing to your altruistic self to do something good, it asks people to do something that is inherently appealing to the audience – who doesn’t want affirmation from their friends that they really are not a dogs-dinner first thing in the morning, pre-slap?

It’s also easy to do, no real effort required except maybe access to a soft-focus lens to soften the impact of your pillow-lines and a text number to type in.

Placing it on Facebook has the added incentive of tapping into the ‘social proof’ we all talk about – seeing other people doing it, seeing the volume of participants (the added benefit of ‘tagging’ mates means that immediately your social circle widens as you can see friends of friends who have taken part and tagged your nearest and dearest), and importantly seeing the support they are all receiving makes it compelling and slightly shaming if you have not participated.

The alternative would have been to start with the business or brand problem – everyone supports cancer charities as a good thing, everyone knows about our charity, but no one donates on a regular basis, what do we do? You could clearly have seen that this would have resulted in a brand centric message, tugging at the heart strings of the audience which would be lost in a sea of other charity messages. It would have ticked all the boxes in what should work, and yet would not have had anywhere near the impact of the last week.

In short, what has happened over the last week is a campaign which has started with the media channel, understood the motivations of the audience when consuming and participating in this environment and then made a campaign which works here. It might be a little narcissistic but it sure as hell has worked.

unnamedJen Smith is head of planning at Maxus UK.

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