How millions of selfies helped sell a TV show

The Walking Dead want to be in all your Facebook pics.
The Walking Dead want to be in all your Facebook pics.
Image: AMC/Frank Ockenfels
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The era of the selfie—the self-portrait, for those of you not in the constant company of American 20-somethings—is upon us, and advertisers are finally catching on. Apps are now relying on those 20-somethings’ love of Instagram and its knockoffs to get them thinking about—and ultimately buying—stuff.

New York start-up KMco’s new platform, slates itself as a “viral photo accelerator for brand marketers and agencies.” What does that mean? In its first and only application, the platform has been used to promote the zombie TV series The Walking Dead, from US entertainment firm AMC Networks. The “Dead Yourself” app lets users take a self-portrait that they can then manipulate to look like a zombie, which is then plastered in advertising for the show.

By making it easy to share the resulting zombie selfies on social media, KMco ensures that everyone’s friends will see the advertising, too. And in most cases, the hope is that those friends will download the app to make their own pics. Which indeed they do: After three months, the app has been downloaded 4.5 million times, with 11 million photos taken.

Some of the app's top rated creations
Some of the app’s top rated creations
Image: Dead Yourself

It isn’t the first attempt by major brands to harness the power of Instagram. What’s new is the effort to leverage the narcissism Instagram breeds for profit. Last month, a study by Simply Measured found that 67 of the top 100 brands globally (ranked by branding agency Interbrand) are now on Instagram, with their collective audience totaling more than 7 million. The popular social media site Pinterest has 76 of the top brands shilling on its platform, but together those brands have attracted far fewer Pinterest followers (500,000). Now that Instagram lets its users make and post videos too—which happen to be the perfect length for a TV commercial—its advertising accounts should pull even farther ahead of those on other social media sites.

In 2010, PR firm Edelman found that 80% of surveyed Millennials (people born after 1982) “want brands to entertain them.” And 31% said they wanted the ability to create original online content based around the brand. If’s initial success is any indication, the demand for entertainment-based advertising will grow. And advertisers will soon turn to harnessing the power of the duckface.