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The influence of Camera Phones on Advertising

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Most smart phones are equipped with a camera and the number of smart phones in the world is expected to exceed the number of human beings by the end of the year.  This means there are a lot of people with constant access to a camera and the internet in the same device. As technology has improved, the popularity of these devices has increased to the point where it has taken the place of point and shoot camera’s for many users, particularly those that take photos mainly for the purpose of sharing with friends online.

The camera phone phenomenon has been viewed from a number of angles such as privacy issues and its use in art [1]. However, rarely has it been explored form an advertiser’s perspective. Camera phone technology is a powerful tool for advertising. There are two ways advertisers often utilise the popularity of camera phones. The first is through encouraging sharing. The second is by making use cell phone camera technology for other applications.

Encouraging Sharing

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While Flickr has traditionaly been used by professional photographers, the rise of the camera phone and the portability of mobile devices means that ordinary people are photos are taking photos of everday situations and sharing them instantly with freinds. Social networks such as Facebook and Instagram reflect this practice. Facebook is the largest photosharing site on the planet. Users upload over 350 million photos a day on Facebook  and photos make up 93% of the most engaging posts on Facebook in terms of likes and shares. Instagram – a network built around photosharing – is the fastest growing social network in the world (and is now owned by Facebook, as depicted above). 

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Paid photo ads

Advertisers can make use of these photosharing mediums in two ways. The first is through paid advertising. Both Facebook and now Instagram allow advertisers to buy sponsored posts which are highly targeted and appear in a user’s newsfeed looking almost identitical to user-generated posts. While they have only recently been intoruduced they have proven affective on Facebook . One company that employed this strategy to great affect is Luxury Link – an online travel agent. Luxury Link took advantage of user’s photo sharing habits by posting beautiful professional photos of holiday destinations it offered. They also ran a photo contest, where the company posted photos of destinations and users were encouraged to guess the locations in order to win weekly prizes These photos received a high level of likes, comments and share, which ultimately led to increased sales.

Photosharing in promotions

Another way advertisers can take advantage of social networkers is by taping into users love of photosharing by incoroporating it into their promotions. A great example of this technique is Tourism Australia’s ‘there’s no place like Australia’ campaign, which required users to share their favourite holiday photos of Australia on the campaign website. Other potential customers could then browse these photos and read other traveller’s recommendations when planning their own holidays. This clever advertising strategy generated a great deal of interest and effectively employed customers as volunteers by providing a vast resource of travel marketing for free.

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Mobile Camera Technology

As well as photosharing, the integration of cameras with smart phones has created a vast array of potential opportunities for advertisers. One example of this is augmented reality. Augmented reality in advertising is in its infancy, but has great potential. ABI research predicicts that the market for augmented reality will grow from US$6 million in 2008  US$350 million in 2014.  While there are many terrible attempts at augmented reality advertising, there have also been a number of brilliant campaigns. For instance, Nike created a game using augmented reality to really engage its customers in a fun and engaging way to gain media attention. They hired 50 runners to wear special jackets hooked up to a GPS and run around Vienna for 90 minutes, as they ran game aprticipants tracked them using a mobile ap and tried to take photos of them in order to win a prize.

Another use of camera phones in advertising is QR codes – barcodes that you scan on your phone to take you to a website. QR codes are often ridiculed in advertising circles as being a waste of time. However, they are an effective advertising tool when used properly. For instance, Ebay created a lot of buzz by launching special storefronts in New York City, diplaying some of the items they had for sale. Customers could scan the QR codes next to the products to instantly purchase the items they wanted.

Final word

These four examples illustrate very different uses of camera phone technology to create engaging and effective ads, either through the practice of photosharing or by using the technology for non photographic use, in this case augmented reality.


[1]Palmer, D (2012), ‘iPhone Photography: mediating visions of social spaces’, Hjorth, L, Burgess, J, Richardson, I (eds.), Studying Mobile Media: cultural technologies, mobile communication and the iPhone, Routeledge, New York, pp.85-97.

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