News of Kodak’s demise in January saw even the most dispassionate publications turn to the warm filters of nostalgia to cover the story – from rose-tinted references to Paul Simon’s 1973 song Kodachrome, to sentimental evocations of the brand’s 50-year-old ‘Kodak moments’ tagline. Then, only a few months later, Facebook bought Instagram –an app that lets people capture images through digital filters that evoke Kodak’s legacy, with a logo that references its Instamatic camera – for a cool $1bn.
Kodak’s fall and Instagram’s rise coincide with a period of explosive growth in our obsession with the photograph. At the end of 2011, 1000memories, a site that helps people get their old printed photographs online, estimated that 10% of all of humankind’s photos had been taken in the previous 12 months. Partly, that is down to the falling cost of digital imaging technology and the proliferation of mobile – even cheap feature phones now include cameras, turning pretty much everyone into an amateur photographer. But it’s also due to innovations in how we store, publish and share photographs: many of the fastest growing and most engaging social networks are primarily image-based, namely Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram.
The emotional and memorial power of the picture – whether rendered in film or pixels – is timeless. Yet the digital age has given the photograph a new, social currency. ‘Images allow us to visually “staple” ourselves to places and other people – call this social and locational collation,’ says Grant McCracken, author of Culturematic. ‘This is critical not just to memory but to network building. Facebook beat Friendster because it allowed us to post photos, name people and circulate the image.’ Indeed, Facebook is now officially the world’s largest library of photographs – by quite a long way.
Following the people
As people have flocked to Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, brands have dutifully followed. And perhaps with good reason. Online intelligence firm Convertro has found that Pinterest is the fastest growing source of referrals leading to purchase for online retailers: in Q1 2012, the site represented 17.4% of social media revenue for ecommerce sites, up from 1.2% a year earlier. The company predicts that the figure will reach 40% by the end of Q2 2012, bringing Facebook down to 60% from 86% a year ago. Now approaching its third round of funding, the site is rumored to be itself at more than $1bn (perhaps even $1.5bn).
It is somewhat inevitable then, that Pinterest has been quickly swamped with a deluge of marketing campaigns. Airline BMI partnered with London- based social media agency Rabbit, for instance, to launch its Pinterest Lottery, a competition centered around six boards related to different destinations: Beirut, Dublin, Marrakech, Moscow, Nice and Edinburgh. Each image across all the boards has a unique number. BMI has a weekly prize draw; people who have repined that image have a chance to win free flights.
It’s a similar story on other new platforms, too, with brands like Tiffany & Co, Ford and Neutrogena flocking to Instagram with similarly tactical and attention-grabbing initiatives. For example, Levi’s used Instagram to find the stars of its next advertising campaign (with Wieden+Kennedy, Portland). Using the hashtag #iamlevis, people were invited to upload their photo to the site. The faces of the campaign for the next Levi’s collection, due to run in September, will be selected from these entries.
Content not campaigns
But whilst many brands have been admirably quick to turn up to the party, is this really the best way to fit in? Competitions and campaigns don’t necessarily play to the fundamental truths about why people care about image sharing. Pinterest, for instance, has a fairly straightforward purpose: to curate and share visual content discovered on the web. Short-lived novelty campaigns are great ways to generate a quick burst of buzz, but most users are after new images that are in some way visually engaging. Brands should therefore be focused on providing content that people genuinely want to Like, Pin, and Note.
GE has done an admirable job in this respect, using Tumblr to share GIFs and Instagram shots of factories, turbines and engines – all recontextualised as beautiful, intriguing artworks (via Barbarian Group, New York). Adam Senatori, winner of its ‘Be the Next Instagrapher’ challenge, snapped many of the more recent pictures. It’s amazing to see the brand pull back the curtain on its operations in this way, providing new content that fills a particular niche, all in a visual language appropriate to the platform’s own users.
Fashion house Oscar de la Renta turned to Pinterest for a campaign (produced in-house) to build interest in its bridal fashion catwalk show, highly appropriate given that the platform has become a popular tool for brides-to-be as they gather inspiration and create moodboards for their own weddings. During the immediate lead-up to the event, images began to populate a designated bridal board on the Oscar de la Renta page, allowing fans of the brand – and weddings – to follow all the behind-the-scenes action.
Amazon has also made a significant investment in photography, specifically as part of its drive to conquer the luxury fashion market. The retailer now shoots 3,000 fashion images a day in its Kentucky photography studio and images of new items are posted online daily. Amazon has also developed a patent-pending technology where instead of using static images, models move around to show off the clothes. This is a smart strategy: by presenting products in a beautiful way, Amazon is setting itself up as a primary place to find shareable images of high fashion – again, perfect Pinterest fodder.
The upshot is that brands need to start taking images seriously. ‘We are all hungry for content,’ says McCracken. ‘Photos give us the most content for the effort.’ One factor holding brands back from getting more deeply involved in image sharing has been the questionable legality of posting photos that one doesn’t own (a common use for Tumblr, and Pinterest’s raison d’être). Which itself raises a bigger question: once a brand or a person puts an image out there, is it possible to truly own it? All the more reason for companies to make the effort to create great original images for others to share, rather than trading in other people’s creativity. In a recent blog post (on Tumblr, naturally), Rabbit suggested that organizations ‘need not only a social media strategy, but a visual social media strategy as well’.
But should brands turn to Pinterest, or Tumblr? Facebook or Instagram? In many ways, the platform is irrelevant. It’s still all about capturing those Kodak moments.
[ Original article by John Ridpath on Contagious ]
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