Forgive all the I’s, Me’s and My’s in this piece. It’s to do with narcissism.
Back in 2005, I got my first social media account; MySpace. I distinctly remember squirming at the prospect of having to select my own profile picture. It felt like a horrible window into the soul: revealing to all and sundry what I thought was the best representation of me – or at least, how I wanted the world to see me.
It was a form of self-publicity that simply wasn’t normal to a repressed Brit in 2005. David Brent was the national acknowledgement that self-awareness was preferred to self-publication.
But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not an unfair generalisation to say that most humans, to one degree or another, are susceptible to narcissism. Some are better at hiding it that others, but its existence is in no small part evidenced by the mushrooming of our social media profiles ever since.
But in 8 short years, there’s been a massive turnaround. We not only select a profile pic, but take it too – “selfie” has entered the dictionary, even Obama & Cameron happily snap themselves at Mandela’s funeral celebrations.
To me, the selfie had come to embody a compete transformation of what is socially acceptable. But instead, we’re starting to see that this matter is not settled. The selfie is not necessarily synonymous with narcissism. It’s a complicated beast.
The organic #NoMakeUpSelfie trend last week in aid of Cancer Research UK was compelling for a number of reasons, beyond the £8m it raised. Firstly, it simultaneously struck a blow to the often self-interested sentiment of the selfie, while challenging us not to worry about what we thought was our best look. Secondly the now infamous ‘nominations’ dynamic was gradually adopted. As the movement matured, nominations were almost the permission required to even post a selfie. Permission is a subtle point, but one with quite interesting implications.
Consider and contrast a recent campaign run by Calvin Klein in the US. To promote their underwear, they asked people to post underwear selfies with their CK hashtag. The agency noted that the campaign was a “the world’s best excuse to pose half naked without seeming self-serving”.
But as self-awareness around the selfie matures, we wonder whether that simple ‘permission’ is really enough anymore. Right now, it is the sticky tape selfie that has taken hold. The idea is essentially to try and look your worst. Posting an image of yourself in CK underwear while your mates have sellotape on their heads, doesn’t quite work…
Perhaps evidence is mounting, that slightly more ‘narcissistic’ behaviours are becoming less ok than they were – and the selfie is not so prepared to be its agent.
These trends and counter trends shift as quickly as the zeitgeist, and watershed moments can be hard to predict. But for brands, the challenge is to keep at the edge these trends, which means being highly tuned in, and responsive.