Reporter's Notebook

The quantified selfie

Restaurant marketers have said goodbye to 2013, but a few of them are carrying forward one of last year’s biggest cultural phenomena into the new year for different promotions.

I’m writing, of course, about the selfie, which was named Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries. The act of taking one’s own picture with a camera phone and uploading it to Facebook or Instagram was everywhere in 2013, and it has become so ubiquitous that it’s not just for self-centered Millennials like me. When the selfie’s adoption spreads to Pope Francis and President Obama, the act graduates from a trend to part of the culture.

Which is why several brands are smart to center their latest promotions on selfies, almost all of which always involve a picture taken inside their restaurants or of their products.

Consider Pie Face, an Australian restaurant concept with eight locations in New York City that plans to give away 10,000 of its miniature savory pies through Jan. 12. Customers hoping to score one of the chain’s pies need to brave the cold and the crowds in Times Square, stand in front of Pie Face’s billboard at 7th Avenue and 48th Street, and take a selfie with the chain’s red logo visible from the billboard. They can show their picture to a Pie Face cashier and claim the pie.

Self-filming also plays prominently into social-media campaigns supporting new products for much larger companies known for their marketing: Taco Bell and KFC.

The quick-service Mexican chain is promoting the new Grilled Stuft Nacho product by getting customers involved via the “#DoingStuff” hash tag on Instagram and Vine. By getting fans to upload pictures or videos of themselves doing anything from driving and getting dressed to climbing a rock wall while eating the wrapped-nacho product, Taco Bell gets to simultaneously tout the Grilled Stuft Nacho’s portability and convenience while continuing to tap the Millennial zeitgeist.

At sibling brand KFC, a limited-time offer of Extra Crispy Boneless also gets its own social-media campaign, carrying the hash tag, “#HowDoYouKFC.” Commercials from agency Draftfcb Chicago feature improv actors talking about KFC in short videos shot entirely on iPhones. There are other videos on KFC’s YouTube channel showing athletes performing while eating Extra Crispy Boneless as well, all in an effort to mimic and encourage more user-generated content.

“#HowDoYouKFC is so much more than an ad campaign,” Jason Marker, chief marketing officer for KFC’s U.S. division, said in a statement. “We want it to inspire every KFC fan to share what they love about us and how KFC fits into their lives in a relevant, meaningful and personal way. And we’ll keep an eye out for epic responses that might land one of our fans in a KFC commercial.”

Applebee’s is overtly committing to that exact strategy of finding the star of the brand’s next TV commercial, calling on fans to record their most “unbelievable” reactions to two new menu items: Savory Cedar Salmon and Roma Pepper Steak. People can film their over-the-top reactions on Vine and tag the videos with “#BeeFamous” to be considered for an Applebee’s spot set to debut in February.

“We’re always looking for ways to break the mold and engage with fans,” president Mike Archer said in a statement. “The integration of social media and broadcast marketing is something we’ve never done before. It’s exciting to put the spotlight on the fans who show us love every day.”

It stands to reason that if some of the industry’s biggest brands are experimenting with selfies and self-filming for their high-profile social-media campaigns, restaurants will be seeing more of 2013’s word of the year in 2014 and perhaps well beyond.

Thank goodness Oxford Dictionaries didn’t go with “twerking.”

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Reporter's Notebook is NRN's newsroom blog, where our editors give their points of view on news happening in the restaurant business.

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