The science of product selfies
Photos of people holding your product boost intentions to buy (+70% on Instagram). Selfies with your product increase engagement and reach (+49% on Twitter).
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There are 3 main types of images that people can take with your product (e.g. a portable speaker, new sneakers, coffee cup):
Holding it. You see the hand holding the product, but not the person’s face
Selfie. The person’s face, with the product
Product alone. The product, without any part of the person’s body
You could run campaigns to encourage people to take a specific type of these photos. You could even pick from your customer’s images on Instagram and use them in your ads (make sure to get their consent). Or maybe you want to guide influencers to post the most effective images possible.
So, which type of image works best?
It depends on your campaign goals. Here’s what scientific research found.
P.S.: For a deeper dive into the effect of showing a hand touching a product, check out one of my favorite Ariyh insights: Show a hand touching your product.
Images of products being held boost sales. Selfies with products increase engagement.
Channels: Social Media | User-Generated Content | Image Ads | Influencer marketing
Research date: July 2021
Use or encourage photos of customers holding your product (without their faces showing) if you want to boost sales.
Use or encourage selfies of customers with your product (face and product both showing) if you want to increase engagement and the reach of your brand.
Images of people holding a product are better at boosting purchase intentions of the viewer. Selfies with products are better to increase engagement on social media (e.g. likes, comments).
Researchers analyzed 214,536 Tweets and 43,585 Instagram posts. They found that:
People said they were 70% to 78% more likely to buy a product when images showed it being held by a person (vs a selfie)
Selfies with a product received 28% to 49% more likes (vs holding a product)
In an experiment, people were shown 1 of the 3 types of images of a burger (held, selfie, alone) and asked them how likely they were to buy it:
Holding the burger: 74% would buy it
Selfie with the burger: 69% would buy it
Burger alone: 66% would buy it
🧠 Why it works
When we see selfies with the product and a person’s face, it changes our perspective. We perceive the product as being owned by the person in the image. It’s someone else's product, not ours. At the same time seeing the person makes us feel more social, so we are more likely to interact with the image.
When we see someone’s hand holding a product, especially from a first-person point of view, we fill the missing pieces in our minds and imagine that it’s ourselves holding the product.
An image of a product alone sits somewhere in between. It could be ours or someone else’s, but it doesn’t feel much of either.
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The study focused on images posted by normal people online. It’s likely that the effects (or part of them) extend to influencers but this was not tested. There could also be important differences. For example, a known influencer’s selfie would probably generate much more reach than a normal person’s selfie, only because of how much more recognizable they are.
The researchers analyzed 185 brands of FMCG products (e.g. beer, chips) and some electronics products (e.g. USB sticks, Wireless headphones). But there are several cases in which the effects could change or not apply. For example:
Cosmetics. When it’s important to show the effects on a person’s face, is it better to always stick to selfies?
Large products (e.g. a car). Does a hand opening a door, or holding a steering wheel, work the same way? Probably, but this was not tested
Non-physical products (e.g. Dropbox). Would a photo of a mouse and monitor with the software, or a face and the monitor, work in a similar way?
🏢 Companies using this
Encouraging user-generated content on social media isn’t new, especially in the food and beverage industry.
An example from the Smile with Lay’s campaign, where they invited people to submit selfies with a modified version of the product.
⚡ Steps to implement
If you want to boost your conversions, run a campaign to encourage people to share photos holding your product. You can also create images like these for your ads.
If you want to increase reach and engagement with your brand online, look for ways to encourage people to take selfies with your product (e.g. by offering rewards, modifying your product to make it fun).
🔍 Study type
Online experiment and market observation (analysis of 622 ads, 214,536 Tweets, and 43,585 Instagram posts)
The Power of Brand Selfies. Journal of Marketing Research (July 2021).
Jochen Hartmann. Technical University of Munich
Mark Heitmann. University of Hamburg
Christina Schamp. Vienna University of Economics and Business
Oded Netzer. Columbia University
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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