From social media stars to customisation culture the latest addition to our Engaging Brands series examines what unprecedented levels of consumer self-expression means for brands.
“I’m an instant star. Just add water and stir” – so said the late David Bowie back in 1978. It’s a quote that’s now more relevant than ever.
Self-promotion is an art form, and there are few who have mastered it as well as the Ziggy Stardust artist. He spoke of being motivated by “a repulsive need to be something more than human” and created his various brands by amalgamating all manner of inspirations, becoming an evolving supernova.
With access to a multitude of social media platforms, today it’s possible for anyone to achieve overnight fame and become a brand in their own right. People are striving to be different and, in turn, platforms for self-expression and customisation are ever increasing. This hunger for individual recognition is highest among Generation Z, digital natives who feel they have a voice and the confidence to change the world.
The Art of Self-Promotion
For this piece I conducted a research experiment to gain first-hand experience of how to ‘self-promote’ through social media. I joined Instagram and posted 50 images within 24 hours that portrayed a genuine insight into my life; posts included design, horses, music and food.
With a relentless stream of posts in a short space of time, I infuriated friends and work colleagues – as they put it, I was “filling up their feeds”. Their anger was somewhat entertaining. Instantly the ‘Tom Statham brand’ was born – though it hasn’t exactly been an overnight sensation and it’s not carrying much weight on Instagram. I managed to gain and lose a few of the same followers within 24 hours. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, or am I just boring? Maybe I need to create a more interesting representation of ‘Tom’ to increase the number of my followers and cement my name into social media stardom…
So, how does one become a successful brand? With millions of people trying, what is it that elevates some to fame (and lucrative collaborations)? How do they stand out ahead of the rest? There are plenty of YouTube and wikiHow tutorials to help people achieve a strong social media presence, and in these ‘consistency’ and ‘authenticity’ are buzzwords that crop up frequently.
Fredrik Risvik (@Fredrikrisvik) is a stylish young Scandinavian boasting an online portfolio of clean, monochromatic images and over 55k Instagram followers. Yet during an interview with Opumo.com he stresses that his posts are not affected by his high profile, stating he “would have done the same if he only had 200 followers”.
His large following isn’t only down to the clothes he is promoting (a considered mix of tasteful outfits featuring Acne, A.P.C), but the addition of carefully art directed shots of food and furniture that show a wider lifestyle that people can buy into. Pictures within his contemporary apartment suggest an insight into his life and make his page appear authentic. It’s this that has made him a desirable partner for fashion labels such YME Oslo: he is an everyday person that has become famous by posting images, and he is targeting the right people. From the brands’ point of view it’s more effective (but no cheaper) to use him to promote their products, rather than traditional advertising channels. Now known as one of Instagram’s most stylish men, Fredrik stands alongside other self-made personal brands such as Dany Dos Santos (@alkarus), famous for wearing high-quality sports brands, and Brandon Duvall (@Brandonduvall), who composes inspirational high street looks from retailers such as H&M and Topman.
When looking at these success stories, however, it’s difficult to tell how authentic these brands really are, and whether we are seeing an honest impression of their lives. Take Essena O’Neill, an Australian teenager described as the ‘breakout star of 2015’ who counted 612,000 Instagram followers before deleting her account.
Following the escalation of her Internet ‘success’, she posted a video revealing that her social presence was nothing more than an orchestrated façade. She claimed that behind every image were hours of work to create the ‘perfect shot’, and make her life appear a lot better than it actually is. Unlike her Instagram posts, the video saw her makeup-less. It seemed to be an emotional, desperate attempt to show how much she was affected by the social world. Was this a genuine cry for help? Or maybe another way of advertising her new book that is due for release this year?
Like Essena, many others have become Internet sensations with the help of social media platforms – even those as young as four years old. An American toddler named Mia was filmed applying make-up and giving advice, which her mother then posted on YouTube, and the video went viral. Absurd as it may seem, it offered viewers a refreshing contrast to a plethora of bland beauty tutorials – it stood out, for better or for worse.
In the murky world of blogging, where freebies and advertorials abound, beauty blogger Caroline Hirons has made transparency a selling point.
She gives advice on choosing the right beauty products for their skin, but her blog openly states that the majority of products reviewed have been sent to her as a free press sample or directly from the brand. She includes a contact email address for PR companies, along with information about brands she is currently testing and promoting. Caroline’s honest approach has added authority to her brand.
Amid an overwhelming volume of seemingly perfect online presences, authenticity has become a key currency. An open, honest and consistent presence cuts through the noise – whether it’s shown by an established or personal brand.
Brand to Brand
As companies recognise the power of endorsement by these ‘everyday’ social media personalities, collaborations between established and personal brands are prolific. M&M enlisted Nash Grier, a Canadian teenager who rose to fame through posting Vine videos and now has over 12.5million followers, to give away one million tasters of crispy M&M’s with the #NashHasCrispy campaign. Rather than commissioning a renowned photographer, Burberry’s latest fragrance campaign was shot by Brooklyn Beckham with the images posted live on its Instagram feed.
Retailers are also offering the stage to a far wider collection of fans, engaging millennials through their desire for a moment in the spotlight. In summer 2015 Rimmel collaborated with fashion magazine Elle at Bestival to offer complimentary makeovers to festivalgoers, encouraging them to take and share photos on social media using the Rimmel Instagram booth. Primark’s hugely popular online blog ‘Primania’ invites customers to upload pictures of themselves in Primark clothes, promoting both the brand and themselves in the process.
Even Marc Jacobs, who said he was “appalled” by social media in a Vogue interview before joining Instagram only a month later, cleverly used the platform to promote his brand with #CASTMEMARC, an open casting call to star in his AW 2014 ad campaign. This was both an opportunity for a member of the public to moonlight as a model and an intelligent money-saving concept for the brand.
The importance of social media for retailers has never been higher than it is today. Involve them in meaningful conversation to build a lasting, trusted relationship and give them the opportunities to spotlight their individuality – whether that’s an opinion or personal style.
Appealing to consumers’ desire for individuality, as well as their desire for products with more meaning, some forward-thinking retailers are placing co-creation at their core. Fashion brand Knyttan has “turned knitwear into a blank canvas” according to Creative Review, allowing customers to produce bespoke knitwear on-demand.
Leading designers such as Kate Moross and Moniker have designed patterns that are then manipulated by the customer to create bespoke items in a few hours by Stoll knitting machinery. The finished piece comes with a personalised label stating the date and location of production plus sample number; a unique and personalised experience that provides the customer with a jumper individual to them.
Another innovative development is Print All Over Me (PAOM), self-billed as “an online platform for real world collaboration and creation”.
Customers upload their own artwork onto garment silhouettes, and whenever their design is purchased they receive at least 20% of the sale.
US beauty brand Bite’s Lip Lab in New York offers custom-made lipstick at an affordable price point of just $36.
The experience starts with a one-on-one appointment to create their perfect shade, which is then made in just 7 minutes with a choice of four finishes and seven scents.
Technology is facilitating greater degrees of personalisation, allowing anyone to become a designer or vendor in their own right. Customers now expect to be listened to, involved and empowered. Don’t shy away from handing over the reigns – your audience can be a source of inspiration and innovation.
The future of ‘Brand of Me’
The number of social media platforms is constantly increasing, so what does the future hold? Though cultural and social barriers such as race and sexuality are still present, people are more able to be themselves now than ever before. As further barriers to self-expression dissolve, hand-in-hand with continuing technological advances, the ‘brand of me’ mentality is set to grow even stronger.
In case you missed any of the previous instalments:
If you’d like to discuss these themes further, please do get in touch.