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Here's the complete article by Katherine Rosman:
Why Ads Are Imitating
the Photos in Your Smartphone
Roxanne Rohmann hates ads and avoids them on TV and online. But recently, she "liked" a promotional photograph from designer Michael Kors that she found on Facebook, of a woman on a boat in a cable-knit sweater.
"I don't feel so much like they're trying to sell something," the 20-year-old Austin, Texas, student says of the photo, which looked like it was shot with a smartphone. "It's easier to appreciate."
As people spend less time looking at glossy magazine ads and TV commercials, lifestyle advertising is adopting the look and feel of the images consumers find most compelling—the ones they shoot themselves using smartphone cameras and then share on websites like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Burberry, Coach and Tiffany are some of the fashion brands that have hired a famous street-style photographer to create digital ad campaigns that get shared on Facebook and YouTube and other websites.
Rent the Runway, the online dress-rental company, now features real women wearing its clothes, rather than models in product shots, on its Web home page.
Last year, clothing company Rebecca Minkoff published a print magazine ad composed of Instagram photos. Its "shoetography" campaign began with Ms. Minkoff posting Instagram photos she took of the shoes she was wearing. Shoe sales have spiked since the promotion launched, says company co-founder Uri Minkoff. Luscious glossy photography remains important for the label, though. "Our customer is downtown and uptown," Mr. Minkoff says. "She is into reality, but romance too."
As Taco Bell was introducing Doritos Locos Tacos in March, it noticed a lot of Instagram photos of people about to eat their Doritos tacos. The fast-food chain contacted Instagram, which gave permission for use of its name, logo and app layout in the resulting TV spot."We made the whole ad have the look and the feel of Instagram," says Brian Niccol chief marketing and innovation officer at Taco Bell, part of Yum Brands, which has sold more than 200 million Doritos tacos.
Clients aren't trying to save money by using social-media-style photography. Ads with these photos often cost as much to create as a traditional lush photo shoot.
The point is to manufacture glamour that doesn't seem manufactured. Consumers "like" your ad, share it with friends, and soon it has a life of its own, bouncing around social-media sites at no extra cost.
"Real-life, authentic pictures are the ones that resonate online," says Joe Einhorn, co-founder of theFancy.com, which bills itself as an e-commerce website where users, including many merchants, post images of things they find compelling and things they may be selling. Users follow others whose taste and aesthetic they like. They can "fancy" an item and, if it is for sale, they can buy it through the social network.
To demonstrate the effect of user-generated photos versus glossy marketing photos, Mr. Einhorn points to an unscientific side-by-side comparison of nail polish posts.Barneys New York posted a traditional product shot of an $18 "mirrored chrome" nail lacquer from the Deborah Lippmann Collection to its BarneysNY account on the Fancy, which has almost 30,000 followers on the site.
A photo of nails painted in a glitter-confetti nail lacquer from Lynnderella was posted to thefancy.com by clothing label Alice + Olivia, a fashion label founded by Stacey Bendet. The photo was taken by Stef Lee and posted on the blog Steffels.
The nail-polish photograph on BarneysNY was "fancied" about 1,400 times. Ms. Bendet's polish photo was fancied nearly 9,000 times—even though she has about 9,000 fewer Fancy followers than Barneys.
"Our customer doesn't want to be sold to all the time," Ms. Bendet says. "She is moved by the real thing."
Barneys didn't return a call seeking comment. The Fancy site, which launched in 2011, generates $20,000 in total sales per day; it has nearly two million registered users, and items are fancied 500,000 times a day, the company says.
Mr. Einhorn says he routinely sees that organic-looking photos outperform images that appear to be more professionally shot. He says the number of "fancies" does connect to actual sales but wouldn't provide sales figures for the nail-polish postings.
For an online campaign for a new line of vintage-inspired bags, Coach hired Scott Schuman, creator of the Sartorialist blog and a pioneer of street-style photography. He chose people who aren't professional models, styled them in clothes he picked and photographed them without professional makeup, styling or lighting.
This kind of photography reflects a "heightened version of real life," Mr. Schuman says. An image of a dolled-up, pixie-thin teenage model "is not reality," he says, "and that creates a barrier between the consumer and the brand." Burberry and Tiffany are other brands that have hired him for street-style campaigns.
The cost of collaborating with Mr. Schuman was comparable to the cost of hiring professional models, says Jason Weisenfeld, a Coach spokesman. The effort is intended for social sharing, he says, but Coach also plans to promote the bags with traditional glossy photos in magazine ads.
Back in 2009, when Lancôme Paris began posting how-to makeup videos to YouTube, it used its professional spokesmodels and makeup artists and a costly production crew. The first video got about 15,000 views. "It fell like a thud," says Stacy Mackler, Lancôme USA spokeswoman.
Then the company signed a contract with Michelle Phan, a make-up artist with a YouTube following. Her first effort for the brand, demonstrating how to apply makeup to wear in a nightclub, had a home-video feel; she put on foundation using already-been-used brushes.
When Lancôme executives saw it, Ms. Mackler says, "we panicked." They posted the video to YouTube anyway, and a few days later it had racked up nearly a million views.
Now Lancôme posts many of its staffers' smartphone photos to its Facebook page. During New York Fashion Week, the brand chose its staffers iPhone snaps to post online, rather than photos shot by a professional photographer.
"The photos that are resonating online are the ones that come from our phones," Ms. Mackler says.
Over the summer, Google hired documentary director David Gelb to shoot a TV commercial for Google Fiber high-speed Internet access. Mr. Gelb interviewed residents of Kansas City about how better Web access might change their lives. The client requested that he shoot more and more with a smartphone.
At first, he was reluctant. But after examining the smartphone footage, he says, he understood.
"User-generated content—the feel and the actual images—is very intimate, and that visual language is very familiar to people," he says.