To say that consumers have become photo-crazy would be a colossal understatement. Around 40 million photos are uploaded each day through the photo-sharing application Instagram—to say nothing of the millions of non-nostalgia-enhanced photos posted daily on blogs and through social-media sites.
Time was, way back in 2004 or so, when photos taken in restaurants were reserved for memorializing special occasions: a shot of a dozen smiling faces lined up along both sides of a table. Now, with the ubiquity of smartphones and the instant gratification of sharing photos through social media, diners are documenting details about a range of dining experiences. Lenses are as likely to be pointed at food as they are at friends, but customers also are photographing décor, menus, signs—anything amusing, unusual or otherwise remarkable about their experience.
Photos snapped by guests or employees can cause headaches for brands, to be sure. And some chefs and operators object to customers snapping photos of their meal, arguing that dark, out-of-focus shots posted to social media by amateur photographers reflect poorly—unfairly—on the restaurant.
But increasingly, Canadian operators are taking advantage of guests’ photo-sharing fanaticism by incorporating customer photo contests into marketing campaigns. Some restaurants incentivize photo submissions with a shot at a gift card; others reward amateur photographers just with exposure, featuring winning photographs on the brand’s website or social-media pages. Here’s a sample of how Canadian restaurants this spring are getting in on the photo frenzy.
- Joey’s Seafood Restaurants in March launched a contest encouraging guests to post photos of their meals to Foodspotting.com, a photo-sharing application/website. Foodspotting emphasizes individual dishes rather than restaurants, placing user-submitted food photos on a map to let Foodspotters find, say, desserts in Montreal. For the Joey’s contest, which runs through August 31, guests must submit their photos to Foodspotting use the hashtag #SpotJoeys; they’re then entered into the running to win one of five $100 Joey’s gift cards.
- Blenz Coffee recently ran a photo contest to promote its 100% organic matcha green-tea beverages. Customers were invited to email a photo of their “Blenz Matcha experience” with a note about their favorite Blenz Matcha beverage for the chance to win one of 20 Blenz make-at-home matcha kits.
- White Spot took a whole-brand focus with its recent contest, asking guests to share their White Spot stories for a chance at winning free food for a year. Customers could submit either a one-paragraph story or a photo with a caption detailing their White Spot experience. Guests who shared the contest with friends via Facebook, Twitter or email received extra entries. White Spot handed out one $50 gift card weekly and two $100 gift cards monthly; two grand-prize winners received a dozen $100 gift cards.
- Starbucks Canada went a little farther afield than most restaurants in its #MyMacchiato Photo Challenge in March. Rather than asking guests to photograph themselves enjoying a caramel macchiato or another Starbucks beverage, the chain invited submissions of photos that were based on assorted daily themes. On March 10, for example, Starbucks noted: “With warm weather fast approaching, we’re looking forward to an Iced Caramel Macchiato. Share a picture of what makes you happy about spring.” Selected photos submitted using the #MyMacchiato hashtag were featured on Starbucks Canada’s Facebook page.
Why have these brands submitted themselves to the potential embarrassment that guest-generated visual content can create? When brands spend good money on food stylists to get the perfect shot of a menu item, why risk having thousands of social-media users see an out-of-focus and maybe half-eaten version of that item? Restaurants’ decision to engage guests through photo contests may stem from a genuine desire to play in the same (and increasingly visual) social-media spaces where customers are playing—or it could just reflect an acknowledgement that “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
There are valuable possible benefits to be realized from photo contests: free exposure for the brand or particular products, for one thing, and—at the least—a better view (literally) of customers’ experience with the brand. At the end of the day, restaurants can choose to interact with customers this way, or they can focus their consumer-engagement efforts elsewhere—the photo frenzy will continue regardless.