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A selfie-sh world

Published Apr 12, 2015, 8:13 am IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 11:45 am IST
A whole industry has cropped up around the selfie boom, thinking up ingenious ways to tap into the trend

It’s perhaps a sign of just how pervasive a phenomenon it is, that when American shoe company Miz Mooz announced a new shoe — one that could take selfies — this April 1, not many people thought that it might just be a prank. News of this shoe, that had a special slot for your phone and operated the camera with a sensor (so all you had to do was raise your foot and snap away), quickly went viral, with many commending the “shoefie” (the selfie that you took with the shoe) as the next “must-have” in the industry that has blossomed around the selfie.

Well, Miz Mooz have now announced that “shoefies” are not going to become a reality anytime soon. However, that won’t be stopping the entire industry that has grown up around the selfie boom from thinking up ever-more ingenious ways to tap into the trend. While accessories like “selfie sticks” are among the most visible offshoots — Nikon is the latest to launch a version — there are a whole host of other developments as well. For instance, cellphone brands are releasing models that are designed around users who love taking selfies (the front camera in these is of a considerably high resolution, if not the same as the back camera).


Micromax, Nokia, Sony, Gionee are just some of the brands that have pushed the “selfie friendly” side of their new models. And when your hardware is in place, you could also chase the right software, with selfie “apps” being launched pretty regularly (like the one released by messaging service LINE, which offers users 78 filters to choose from).

It isn’t just technology brands that are reaping the benefits of the selfie explosion. Seeing a smart opportunity in people’s predilection for clicking selfies, a college in London (City Lit) is now offering a class in “Self Portraiture”. And even as leading museums all over the world are struggling with policies regarding the use of selfie sticks within their premises, an entire museum in Manila — the Art In Island — has been dedicated to selfie-taking visitors, with every artwork designed as a pretty cool photo-op.


The list of selfie-centric business practices doesn’t end there: The travel and hospitality industry has caught on to the trend in a big way and many big hotel chains, including the Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton, have offered/do offer guests who post “braggies” (selfies taken with the specific intention of being a bragging point on social media, such as those taken at an exotic holiday destination) perks like a free stay, access to certain areas or reward points that can be redeemed for luxury services. Some airlines offer similar deals and a few tour operators are even pitching “selfie packages” — among these is a Paris selfie tour that takes you the most photogenic spots in the city where you can well, take a selfie.


Selfies have been a phenomenon for a while now — one recognised by the Oxford Dictionary since 2013. But the seeds of the business opportunities surrounding selfies were perhaps first sown with the famous Oscar “groufie” (a group selfie) taken by Ellen DeGeneres, that broke the Internet. Incidentally, that selfie — featuring a whole bunch of Hollywood’s top actors — was part of a tie-up with electronics giant Samsung. Over Twitter alone, 37 million people viewed the photo.
“Even though the selfie isn’t a new concept, it achieved mass traction in 2012 — so much so, that it was singled out by Time magazine as one of the buzzwords of the year. By 2013-14, the selfie was recognised as a serious marketing tool and feature by phone and camera manufacturers, which lead to further adoption by the mainstream consumer,” says tech writer Nikhil Pradhan.


At the Lakme Fashion Week last year, designers Shantanu and Nikhil tied up with Nokia Lumia to create a collection that unfolded on two platforms — even as models walked the ramp, they took selfies that were later shared on social media. At the end of the show, the designers took a groufie on the ramp. The trend was repeated at the recently held India Beach Fashion Week as well, with designer Jatin Kochhar tying up with Gionee for his show. Once again, models walked the ramp taking selfies. Designer Anupama Dayal tapped into the selfie-fashion connect during her show. “Selfies are a nice way of documenting something; (and) there is an opportunity to gauge audience and youth reaction as well,” says Jatin Kochhar. “I think selfies are a way of saying that people have finally started approving of themselves.”


Retailers are tapping into the selfie boom online as well. Sites like Jabong, India Circus etc. have variations of selfie offers for customers — those posting selfies with products they’ve purchased get discounts or other benefits. Apparel retail site Oxolloxo recently had a promotion where customers who bought items from the winter collection posted selfies wearing them. Nine lucky winners were picked from among them to receive special prizes. Says Oxolloxo’s Disha Malhotra, “We used selfies in one activity for the brand and it worked very well for us social networking is a prime driver for the selfies, but then again, who doesn’t want appreciation for good grooming and fashion sense?”


That brands are tapping into the power of the selfie is a reflection of just how embedded the phenomenon is in our culture, feels Amer Jaleel, the national creative director of ad agency Lowe Lintas. “Advertisements (are) reflective of the society at large. Any trend that gets absorbed in popular culture has a reflection in advertisements,” he says, adding that the biggest boost the selfie received was probably when its name was coined. “When you give a certain thing a handle, it is easier for it to be discussed and talked about. In advertising, we innovate with the product, we are not age-specific but we do cater to a certain kind of audience Youngsters are a lot of fun, they want to look good in their pictures (so the selfie-brand connect works well with them).”  
Lowe Lintas handles the account for Micromax and an ad they created for their new “selfie phone” highlights features like “face slimming”, “make-up effects” — and a 13MP front camera.  


While industries across the board have cottoned onto the selfie trend, and are looking at ways to monetise it, ultimately, it is the tech business that is the most directly affected. “The selfie culture has changed the game in the smartphone segment in many ways,” admits Murali Retineni, the executive director for Celkon Mobiles. “High resolution front cameras have made selfies popular and many brands are exploiting this trend by using selfies as a tool to establish a connect with their consumers. With technology becoming more and more affordable, the selfie trend is here to stay. And selfies are prompting manufacturers to innovate and push technologies to the edge — they are a potent USP for cellphones.”


Tech writer Nikhil Pradhan adds, “With the number of selfie-centric gadgets that have been launched over the past 12 months, it’s evident that tech brands have recognised the selfie as a great tool to sell devices to the mainstream consumer. Apart from the more unorthodox gadgets, smartphone makers will continue to improve the quality of the front-facing cameras on their phones and also expand the scope of photo editing software that are packaged with the phone. I also expect more third party app developers to come out with camera and photo editing apps that attempt to make selfies look better or allow you to do creative things with selfies.”


Inputs by Julie Sam, Aarti Bhanushali, Arun Venkatraman