Restaurants jump on selfie bandwagon to engage Millennial consumers

Aug. 28, 2014 | by Alicia Kelso

Love 'em or hate 'em, the selfie is undoubtedly here to stay. There’s even a song called "#Selfie" by a group called The Chainsmokers.

Thanks, social media.

Whether it’s narcissism or confidence or playfulness driving this trend, one thing is certain – it’s not going anywhere. A handful of restaurants are leveraging the selfie craze by incentivizing guests to submit pictures of themselves engaging with their brand.

These types of campaigns are smart, say some experts.

"Branded campaigns work best when strategies are aligned with how people naturally behave already. Because social media is intended to be social, (selfies) are a quick way to share a moment with your friends and family," said Katrina Padron, president of Padron Social Marketing. "A selfie that includes your restaurant, food or drink is a perfect form of implied testimonial.  It says, 'I like this restaurant and you might too.’"

Gary Edwards, chief customer officer at Empathica, added that customer-generated images have the potential to significantly improve brand advocacy and customer loyalty.

"By encouraging 'foodstagramming’ and inviting guests to send images of themselves at your locations or at branded special events, you can elevate the quality of the customer experience, while making instant connections with your fans' social followers," he said.

Brands that are leveraging the selfie trend

Dunkin’ Donuts may have gotten the ball rolling early on with its Fan of the Week campaign, introduced in 2009. The company continues to use random "winners’" photos – guests interacting with the brand in some way – as its profile picture each week on social media channels. Taco Bell raised the bar on the selfie when it dove into the fledgling Snapchat space. 

And this summer, Fazoli’s, Rita’s Italian Ice, Cousins Subs and Bruster’s Ice Cream all launched promotions inspired by their customers’ self-inspired photography. Dunkin’ Donuts also launched a selfie contest to kick off its Shark Week sponsorship.

Jeff Moody, Rita’s CEO, said its summer selfie contest – was the perfect fit for the brand, as its fans are "very engaged."

"Rita’s is all about happiness and selfies are a top media trend right now. So what better way to showcase how Rita’s makes people happy than by encouraging our fans to capture their own happy moments with friends and family at Rita’s? We’re encouraging group selfies to bring people together," he said.

Cousins’ recently-concluded selfie competition asked guests to snap a photo of themselves or friends eating a new Cubano or Pulled Pork and Slaw sub and post it to Twitter or Instagram using the #GoHogWild hashtag. The contest generated more than 100 submissions, with the winning photograph featuring a skydiver eating a sub.

"The quality of photos was very high. There was a lot of interaction and voting among guests," said Justin McCoy, Cousins’ Subs VP of Marketing.

Both Moody and McCoy said their selfie promotions generated especially high interest from Millennial consumers.

"Selfies are extremely popular among Millennials, our targeted demographic. As we continue to grow our Millennial audience, we will look for opportunities to interact with them in spaces they are drawn to. Millennials are extremely engaged in this space and love taking pictures of what they’re eating and sharing them with friends," McCoy said.

Cousins is now looking to increase its presence on Instagram and considers this contest to be a first step toward that objective. And since the snapping, filtering and posting trend is being driven by younger consumers with increasingly disposable income, don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.

"Selfies are such a phenomenon right now, and they’re not going away. Instagram, Snapchat and other photo sharing apps are rapidly gaining popularity among actively engaged Millennials. The number of product pictures taken in the restaurant industry continues to climb each year. People are proud of what they’re eating and are using the photos they’re taking and sharing as a way to identify with restaurant brands," McCoy said. "The personalized photos from fans offer great insight into how guests enjoy interacting with a brand.

Topics: Customer Service / Experience, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Online / Mobile / Social

Alicia Kelso
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine. View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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