Post Script

It's All About Me

by Wendy Walters

October 24, 2016

How advertising is helping to grow a fresh crop of self-enhancers


While dining at a restaurant owned by the spectacular Susur Lee last month, the equally spectacular server placed some of the famous slaw in front of us and asked, “Would you like to photograph your salad before I mix it?”

Pause. Synapses occur. “No, we’d like to eat it, thanks,” I said to a titter of laughter from my girlfriends. But it stuck with me—this notion of photographing every moment of my life to share on social media. Why was it so narcotic? And, what kind of imprints would it leave on our culture?


This obsession with self is occurring on a grand scale, and nowhere more prevalent than amid millennials (and the up-and-coming Gen Z’ers), who have more and more digital tools to facilitate their desires. The whys are many—millennials are trying to figure their lives out; they should be in a state of self-discovery. And, millennials live with the pressure of North American capitalism, including table stakes to get the best education, the best job, the best partner, the best life. Self-enhancement and promotion are necessary components of success. And, while narcissism used to be a shameful label in past generations, it’s becoming a core trait for much of our population today.


According to Psychology Today, true pathological narcissism affects about one per cent of the population and is relatively rare. Don’t date one, don’t marry one, don’t birth one. Step away from the narcissist. Their delusions of grandeur are best served by medical support and intervention. But narcissistic traits—arguably necessary for a healthy personality—are becoming important survival tools for living in our change-based world. Take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Quiz—share your score on social media, impress your colleagues, entertain your friends, shock your mom.



There are many cultural signals that self-enhancement is becoming a norm in our society and advertising is helping to dramatize the trend. The growth of social media and the “likes” we are all counting are too obvious to mention but there are other subtle signals to watch for. For example, more and more role models today are “famous for being famous.” These are people who have celebrity status but for no real reason, or for no material reason. Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Paris Hilton and Snooki, to name a few, have milked the self-promotion cow until there is barely anything left.


In keeping with that trend is the sad fact that in 2015, non-surgical cosmetic procedures were up by 44 per cent versus five years ago with the millennial generation outpacing growth above others, says the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. There is also some belief that Canada’s current debt crunch is due to narcissistic buyers who believe they can lead lives that are too expensive for them. A look at Fortune Magazine’s top fastest-growing companies paints the picture—the top three are either products to make yourself look better (Natural Health Trends Corp.) or ways to gain attention for how great you are (Facebook).


Then there are the ads. In a play-within-a-play move, Apple’s recent iPhone photography campaign featured incredible vistas of our lives—taken by you and me. The “Real Talk” ad campaign from knitwear brand Kit and Ace sports headlines such as, “What Would Be the Title of Your Life Story?” and “Do You Think Selfies Are Narcissistic?” Adidas brand has a mantra it calls open source—it shares creation with both its consumers and various partners such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Adidas offers you tweets in a bag to share with your friends: “We give all creators out there access to our brand and allow people to create with us.” Or how about the new Sugar Rush Collection from Teeez Cosmetics that offers products named “Spoiled Rich Eyebrow Cream” and “Object of Affection Lip Balm.” Their outdoor campaign carries the headline “Selfie Slayer” (as in, “I am the selfie queen; I kill at selfies”). No one should tell the target audience of those ads that Scientific American Mind magazine recently reported that people rate themselves in selfie photos as more attractive and talented than others see them.


Then there’s BeautyKind, a site that allows you to buy cosmetic brands you know and love while donating five per cent of your purchase price to a cause of your choice. Their tagline is, “Giving Matters and That’s a Beautiful Thing.” This last example is brilliant because it embodies the complexity of the target audience—they do care about the world, but not at the expense of their own desires and needs. BeautyKind is an effortless, easy-to-access, simple brand that allows its consumers to have their needs met and make the world a better place at the same time.


While it’s all a moving picture, and the current penchant for photographing “me at the centre of everything” fuels our self-obsessed culture, those advertisers who err on the side of “me with purpose” will likely attract more—and lasting—attention.


Wendy Walters believes that marketing needs to bring products, services, conversations and ideas to people to make the world a better place.




October 25, 2016


Great article, Wend! Love the way you write and keep me informed of the trends I am not setting!! You keep goin' girl:)


October 25, 2016


Amazing article! Really well done


October 25, 2016


Amazing insight! Great writing style--I wanted it to go on and on.
This is a fabulous piece because it forced me to be introspective about my own potential for narcissism!!!

Thanks and keep 'em coming... hard to find such intelligent voices.

Kirsten Chase

October 25, 2016


Fabulous article Wendy; this stuff needs to be said.

lori d

October 25, 2016


a great read Wendy!

Heidi Ehlers

October 25, 2016


This sentence made me say, "WOW" out loud: No one should tell the target audience of those ads that Scientific American Mind magazine recently reported that people rate themselves in selfie photos as more attractive and talented than others see them.

If I recall correctly, as little as five years ago, the report was, that people rate themselves as less attractive and talented than others see them.

You may have a point.

~ heidi

p.s. The slaw is worth photographing, but do I have to post it?

Andrew Turner

October 27, 2016


Enjoyed the piece...I shoot a lot of my food lol...and I am Old haha!


October 27, 2016


Great insights Wendy!
I find this is something I also have to consider for employing Gen Zers. We've had to revise our social media and communication policies so it is well known that self promotion linked to our business is not an acceptable practice.


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