Why the marketing world is one big selfie


By Mark Schaefer

I had lunch with a friend the other day and we were observing a bunch of young people taking selfies. “You know,” he said, “the marketing world is just one big selfie.”

So this became a discussion topic and perhaps it’s true. Here is what we would learn if we looked at the current marketing culture through the psychology of a selfie:

  • It’s all about me.
  • I want to be cool. I want to be relevant. I want to be accepted.
  • If you’re going to be included in my selfie, you also need to be cool, relevant, and help me be accepted in my world.
  • If you like my selfie, I’m more likely to like yours.
  • At some level, I am competing my way through life with these selfies. How will you help me win?

Yes, marketing today truly is like participating in one big selfie.

What would a marketing strategy look like if it reflected these conditions? Wouldn’t that be a good starting point? Discuss among yourselves.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Reyes Blanch

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  • Frederic Gonzalo

    Why the marketing world is one big selfie? Nah. I would re-title this: Why life is one big selfie. I believe what you raise here, and how society is evolving in general – at least in the Western world – is symptomatic of this selfie culture, driven by the rise of me, citizen journalism and all the good and bad stemming from social media and mobile adoption. I believe it goes beyond marketing per se.
    My two cents!

  • HA! You may be right!

  • Mark, I think you are on to something here, and I tend to agree with Frederic. The growing importance of cool = relevance as a brand booster, often with political overtones, is surprising to me. But perhaps it shouldn’t be. In the old days of advertising, the hope was that we would succeed in getting customers to identify with the “cool people” (models or celebrities) in the ads. But now, we want to project the brand through the coolness of ourselves via selfies.

  • I think it reflects the cultural shift. What I’m about to say is probably going to show my age, but when I was growing up, we were taught to do what we could for others. We had an attitude of serving, not seeking to receive. This new lifestyle of living for self shows up all over – on the job when employees expect high pay for little work, in marketing when the only thing that matters is if I look cool to everyone, in society when people no longer live courteously with others.

    I taught my kids a lifestyle expectation to “do to others as you would have them do to you.” So if you want people to be nice to you, be nice to them. Use your manners. Take turns. Surprise people with kind deeds. Hold doors open.

    I think that lifestyle still exists in various places, but it’s being overrun by the new thinking of “grab what I can” and “what’s in it for me?” which is sad because doing for others and being a kind and giving person brings their own innate rewards that those folks are missing. Overall, the new culture is a more unpleasant place to be if you are not of that mindset.

    I’m not going to conform to this “selfie” mentality. It’s not all about me. It will always be all about my clients.

  • Anja Skrba

    hm…interesting remark that your friend made here Mark.
    The first thing that came to my mind after reading “the marketing world is just one big selfie” sentence is famous Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie from 2014 Oscars 🙂

  • Ha!! Exactly.

  • Well there are certainly people who conform to that selfish mentality, but I hesitate to pigeon hole a certain generational group. I know many, many young people who are kind, generous and ambitious. Think about it this way — when you were in high school, can you remember a group of kids who were “all about them?” Yes, they would be taking selfies too! I don’t think the personalities have changed as much as the technology that enables a narcissism many people have probably always had! Thanks so much for your very wise and thought-provoking comment Sandee!

  • Same goal. Different technology.

    In the “Mad Men” days, companies made ads to make you think the car will help you get the girl and be cool. Today, we’re just using influencers to do the same thing really. : )

  • Totally agree with you Frederic, its more then marketing.

  • I agree – I don’t think it’s necessarily a generational issue. I just think that the standards I grew up with are not found as commonly today. Personally I long for a day when we can have civil discourse again and display courtesy to all, not just those we agree with. I will hold to that standard all my life and hope that others will, too.

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