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The most cost-effective and undervalued campaign element

Joanna Janus
The most cost-effective and undervalued campaign element Joanna Janus

Everyone knows that "content is king." So it's a no-brainer that good content is the key to launching a successful marketing campaign. Very often however, brands tend to automatically associate the word "content" with "video," treating static images as the red-headed stepchildren of their A/V household. They couldn't be more wrong. While certain products such as television shows or movies lend themselves towards video-centric campaigns, other marketers can benefit from and differentiate themselves by launching image-centric campaigns.

As the recent proliferation of photo editing and photo-centric social networks shows, photo-based user engagement should be explored as a trend and treated as a potential marketing opportunity.

Why use it?
There are multiple signs pointing to the growing importance of photos as assets in marketing campaigns. First, photos have become a social currency: Users leverage them on an ongoing basis to engage with their friends. According to research from March 2011, Facebook hosts 60 billion photos, Photobucket has eight billion, Picasa seven billion, and Flickr five billion. Secondly, app developers and Silicon Valley investors, noting the success of Instagram and Facebook Photos, have invested in the development of their competitors. This has resulted recently in a surge of photo-centric platforms. In the last 12 months alone, platforms such as Color (photo sharing network, which received $41 million in first stage funding), or Mobli (photo-sharing and editing network which subscribers spend on average 33 minutes using the app and upload 3.4 pictures per user, per day) have made headlines.

In addition, there are several interest-based social networks that center the user experience around photo sharing. Foodspotting, the social network for foodies, allows its users to upload photos of meals they are having at different locations, while Dailybooth asks users to upload photos of themselves every day to create a stop-motion chronicle of their lives. This enables them to have a conversation with their friends through photos. It is critical to note that established social platforms, such as Twitter or Foursquare, have also worked diligently to add the photo upload and sharing capacities to their functionality.

Having said that, I will now go through a few photo-centric campaigns to prove that images can be, and have been, successfully used in marketing efforts. The aim of these case studies is to show that the power of images lies not only within the message that they can convey but also in their multi-platform usability. As a result, they can be both the center points of campaigns located on only one platform, as well as constitute the connective tissue for cross-platform integrations.  

The following are examples of successful campaigns executed utilizing Facebook photo functionality. The most popular type of Facebook photo integration is the "upload your photo" campaigns. While many fail to incentivize the user base to participate due to relatively small return on investment, there are certain campaigns that have been very successful. The Gerber Generation Photo Search campaign is a good example because it understood the audience it was targeting and tapped into their already established habits.

Gerber Generation Photo Search launched in May, 2011, and asked parents to submit photos of their babies for a chance to win $50,000 towards their child's education, $10,000 cash, and other prizes. Six milestone category winners received iPads. To enter, users had only to submit a photo of their child into the following categories: birth, supported sitter, crawler, toddler, or preschooler. The milestone winners were determined by a public vote while the grand-prize winner was chosen by a panel of judges on the basis of visual appeal of the child in the photo and consistency with Gerber's heritage. The campaign received a lot of submissions and helped the brand engage with over two million people who liked their Facebook page. While the concept itself was simple, the campaign was successful because it reverberated well with the audience that it targeted. The idea was straightforward, but it tapped into parents' desire to share photos of their children and rewarded them for it, while offering a chance to secure the future of their kids.

One of the most original photo-centric campaigns ran by a brand on a social network site was executed by IKEA in Sweden. When the Swedish company opened a new store in Malmo, it created an account for a Malmo store manager. Over a two-week period, the manager uploaded photos of furniture available at the store to his Facebook photo album. By teasing the products this way, the brand created urgency and desire to buy. By utilizing the tagging feature, users were able to identify items that they wanted and tag them with their names. The first person to tag the photo got the piece for free. The campaign went viral as thousands of users tagged themselves, automatically sharing information about the promotion with their friends. The idea was simple, cost effective, and solely Facebook-based. In the light of the current promotional guidelines, promotions such as this would most likely be banned, but the campaign remains a creative and simple way of engaging the audience through photos. By utilizing a few simple images, IKEA was not only able convey the visual appeal of the furniture, but by leveraging Facebook's tagging functionality was also able to spread awareness about the campaign and the store organically.

As a side note, it should be mentioned that the most recent changes to Facebook photo tagging make it even easier for brands to utilize photos as engagement tactics.

One of the most successful and note-worthy photo-centric social networks is Instagram. This iOS app is a photo-editing platform, with over seven million users and 150 million uploaded photos. Instagram sees over 1.3 million photos added each day. Some brands such as MTV, Brisk, and CBS have already tapped into the platform's potential and launched interesting partnerships. After Instagram implemented its hashtag feature, which allows users to group photos under the same theme, Brisk invited its fans to submit #briskpics. The campaign was launched around SXSW and a few selected pictures were featured on special Brisk Tea cans available during the festival. The partnership was both successful and worthwhile because it allowed Brisk to utilize the existing Instagram functionality, and the simplicity of a photo entry allowed for submissions to be swiftly integrated onto the cans. The campaign was also a success from a user perspective, as it rewarded users' creativity and engagement. It let them feel ownership of the brand, which is one of the main principles of good social media campaigns.

The following examples of Instagram integrations show that photos can also be means through which a brand can build a community. Red Bull uses its Instagram account to run weekly contests. The brand posts a "daily awesome" image from any of the cultural and sporting events it attends. It also engages with other users on the platform thus becoming a part of the community. MTV interacts with its audience by offering them a sneak peek into an environment that they don't have access to. For instance, MTV utilized Instagram for its Grammy coverage, which came from MTV News's Sway Calloway, and Jersey Shore's infamous Snooki who were at the event. Users who followed @MTV Instagram account or searched for #MTV or #MTVNews saw pictures from the Grammy red carpet and the event.

Bottom line, platforms such as Instagram, PizPlz, or Hipstamatic make it easy for brands to tap into an already existing technology while the simplicity and accessibility of photos allows them to become pillars of community building and fan engagement.

Out-of-home (OOH)
Brands do not have to limit themselves to the online or mobile space when executing photo-centric campaigns. There are multiple examples of successful OOH campaigns that leverage the power of photo. One of the most interesting ones is the American Eagle "15 seconds of fame" campaign in New York City. The company offers its customers an opportunity to be featured atop the retailer's store in Times Square. Anyone who makes a purchase at the store can broadcast a photo and a 20 character-long message on the 15,000 square foot LED display on the corner of 46th Street and Broadway. This campaign constitutes a great incentive for users to come into the store, driving foot traffic. It also rewards them for the purchase while creating another New York City landmark experience that breaks through the Times Square clutter.

Static images can be also used as a connective tissue in more elaborate multi-platform campaigns. A perfect example was the campaign for the release of "Decoded" -- Jay-Z's memoir. In partnership with Bing, the campaign released each of the memoir's pages throughout various real-world locations before the book hit stores. Every single page of the book (an image) was placed in a location that was related to the content on that page. The different pages could be found on billboards, hotels, pool tables, even in the lining of suits, just to name a few. The campaign also included a Bing Maps-enabled scavenger hunt, which guided the audience to each page's location. The campaign was so successful, and the idea so ground-breaking, that it received Integrated Grand Prix and Titanium at Cannes. Again, the campaign was based around the simple static image of a page. Its universal nature and usability allowed for the campaign to tap into both the online and offline worlds creating encompassing awareness and buzz for the release of the book.

Key takeaways
Here are some conclusions and best practices that brands should remember about when considering photo-centric campaigns:

  1. Images are powerful and cost-effective marketing tools not only because they can easily convey a message, but also due to their universal accessibility. Use of an image allows for even greater integration across campaigns because the same asset can be used over variety of platforms.

  2. Photos should be treated as a social currency that can be easily created and shared by users. However "Upload your photo" campaigns are only tip of the iceberg and can fail to gain momentum unless the brand is offering an opportunity for significant ROI for the user.

  3. Brands should also invest in providing users with good quality photo content since it can generate as much interest and buzz for your brand as good quality video content.

  4. Brands should take advantage of the power of platforms that already have photo-centric functionality. They can tap into their user base and cut costs by leveraging their already established utilities. These networks also allow for brands to build a community around the concept of image sharing.

Joanna Janus is senior manager of digital marketing at HIP Genius.

On Twitter? Follow Joanna at @asiajanus. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Homepage art sourced from Glen Dahlman.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Melanie Schabauer

2011, October 04

Hi Joanna,

Thank you for this great article! Marketers often tend to forget about the power of an image! And even better, when we use a user-centered design process to improve, enrich and optimize our creative!

Commenter: Tony Wood

2011, September 29

I won't disagree that compelling content is important. I do question content being "king". Quality content won't automatically get traction. Visual content isn't guaranteed a long shelf life. I urge everyone to look beyond content. As adoption of communication technologies continue to increase - stories become more and more abundant.