Copyright European Journal of Marketing 2016. Preprint, not formatted PRE-PRINT version. Full
citation of the published article: Rokka, Joonas and Canniford, Robin (2016) “Heterotopian selﬁes:
how social media destabilizes brand assemblages” European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 50 (9/10), pp.
- Link to the published version of the article: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/EJM-08-
Heterotopian selﬁes: how social media destabilizes brand
Department of Markets & Innovation, EMLYON Business School, Ecully, France
Department of Marketing, University of Melbourne, Australia
Purpose – Digital technologies are changing the ways in which the meanings and
identity of both consumers and brands are constructed. This research extends
knowledge of how consumer-made “selﬁe” images shared in social media might
contribute to the destabilization of brands as assemblages.
Design/methodology/approach – Insights are drawn from a critical visual content
analysis of three popular champagne brand accounts and consumer-made selﬁes
featuring these brands in Instagram.
Findings – Our study shows how brands and branded selves intersect through
‘heterotopian selﬁe practices’. Accentuated by the rise of attention economy and
‘consumer microcelebrity’, we argue that these proliferating selﬁe images can
destabilise spatial, temporal, symbolic, and material properties of brand assemblages.
Originality/value – Our study illustrates how a brand assemblage approach can guide
investigations of brands at multiple scales of analysis. In particular, we extend
knowledge of visual brand-related user-generated content in terms of how consumers
express, visualise and share selﬁes and how the heterotopian quality of this sharing
consequently shapes brand assemblages.
Implications – Implications include a consideration of how selﬁe practices engender
new challenges for brand design and brand management.
Branding; brand assemblage; visual content analysis; selﬁe; heterotopia; champagne
Heterotopian selﬁes: how social media destabilizes brand
Despite being labelled a ‘tragic waste of engagement’ by celebrity Benedict
Cumberbatch, over 93 million selﬁes1 are taken on a daily basis on Android devices
alone (Senft and Baym 2015). Emerging research on this phenomenon explains how
selﬁes – both as material artifacts and discursive practices – exert inﬂuences on
constructions of gender (Burns 2015; Murray 2015), perceptions of personal
empowerment (Nemer and Freeman 2015; Tiidenberg and Gómez Cruz 2015), and
patterns of conspicuous consumption (Marwick 2015). This paper examines the
implications of selﬁe practices on branding. We explain that the selﬁe reveals visual
self-branding techniques and microcelebrity identity work (Marwick 2015; Senft
2013) that together engender powerful eﬀects on brands via social media spaces.
We begin by considering how theories of brand meaning-making have shifted
from unilinear models towards more complex cultural understandings of brands as
negotiated and contested amongst networks of multiple parties. Taking a brand as
assemblage approach (Lury 2009; Parmentier and Fischer 2015) to methodologically
encompass these networked negotiations, we explore the impact of social media
technologies in disrupting and potentially altering the meanings of brands, with
particular emphasis on narrative representations. Following this, we examine and
illustrate how the selﬁe raises new questions related to branding, consumption, and
user-generated content in social media, in particular through visual representations.
As a contextual setting to investigate these issues, we examine brand communications
within the Instagram accounts of three popular champagne brands, as well as
consumer-made selﬁes that feature these brands shared via the same media platform.
This empirical material builds on an analysis of the traditional constituents of
champagne brand assemblages to illustrate ﬁrst, how oﬃcial brand communication
draws on these traditional material and expressive constituents that have come to
deﬁne champagne over centuries; and secondly, how assemblages of brands and the
branded self intersect through heterotopian selﬁe practices: diverse, often
transgressive images of consumers’ branded selves that intervene in ways that
potentially destabilize meanings, uses and aesthetic ideologies constructed by brand
The Changing Meaning of Brands
Mass marketing and brand-building models were originally theorised and practiced as
procedures of creating representations (Brown 2005; Schroeder and Salzer-Mörling
1 For the purposes of this article, selﬁe is deﬁned as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself,
typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media”
2005) and distributing these through broadcast media (Mick and Buhl 1992). These
top-down ‘information processing’ approaches often conceived of brands as a ‘set of
abstract associations’ consisting of informational packets, such as key beneﬁts,
values, product attributes, images and emotional associations. Importantly, these
informational packets were designed relative to strategically targeted consumers and
communicated in manners intended to establish enduring associations in consumers’
memories (Aaker 1991; Keller 1993).
Despite the managerial appeal of these perspectives, analyses of brands as
cultural artifacts have revealed alternative models of how brands become meaningful.
Although ﬁrms may design brand meanings through marketing activities, the manner
in which these representations ﬁlter through cultural intermediaries – such as
magazines, journalists, or critics – is beyond a ﬁrm’s direct control (McCracken
1986). Several decades of consumer research has shown how consumers adapt brands,
interpreting and “authoring” cultural meanings within localised orders of social class
(Holt 1998), youth culture (O’Donohoe 1994), subculture (Kozinets 2001; Schouten
and McAlexander 1995), and fan communities (Cova and Pace 2005). A key
implication of these cultural perspectives (Holt 2004; Schroeder and Salzer-Mörling
2005) is that consumer-to-consumer activities can boost (Schau et al. 2009) or upstage
brand meanings (Cova and White 2010; Fournier and Avery 2011).
With particular respect to this implication, ‘neotribal’ theorisations of
consumption have demonstrated the myriad ways in which consumers activate new
brand meanings, creatively hijacking brands by juxtaposing, parodying, and critiquing
communications that were designed for ‘meaning transfer’ (Cova et al. 2007). As if to
reverse the original emphasis of the meaning transfer model, communities of
consumers are shown to create their own communications (Berthon et al. 2008; Muñiz
and Schau 2007), practices (Schau et al. 2009) and doppelgänger brand images
(Parmentier and Fischer 2015; Thompson et al. 2006) that can challenge meanings
that ﬁrms and advertisers design (Klein 2001). Moreover, as consumers themselves
establish new market spaces and associated brands (Goulding et al. 2009; Martin and
Schouten 2014), brand meaning-making is increasingly a non-linear process
negotiated amongst networks of cultural nodes as diverse as ﬁrms, advertisers, culture
industries, governments, and communities of consumers (Giesler 2012; Moor 2008).
It is to this processual, multi-nodal and negotiated view of branding that we now turn
through the concept of brand assemblages.
Brands As Assemblages
Assemblage is a helpful concept to conceptualise the complex and contested
constructions of brands amongst diverse parties, as it oﬀers a framework to consider
the multiple expressive and material components that make up the complex and non-
linear systems that constitute brands (Lury 2009). Within this theoretical rubric,
researchers are encouraged to consider both expressive and material components both
at macro and micro levels of analysis (Canniford and Bajde 2016). Material
components are the tangible, physical objects that include for example, consumers,
retail spaces, media spaces, physical products, supply-chains, and production facilities
(see Parmentier and Fischer 2015). Expressive components on the other hand refer to
communicative elements such as brand narratives, mythologies, as well as a brand’s
aesthetics, or consumers’ gestures, that signal features such as class, gender, and
heritage; all vital to brand meanings (Alexander 2009; Beverland 2005).
Although concerns with materiality and narratives in consumer culture are not
new (e.g. Borgerson 2005; Stern 1998), assemblage perspectives take alloys of these
elements as their unit of analysis. As Parmentier and Fischer (2015, p. 1248) note,
knowledge of brands has until fairly recently been dominated by semiotic, or narrative
view points in which brands are conceptualized mainly in, “expressive terms, separate
and distinct from the material elements that make up the associated product oﬀering”.
An assemblage perspective, however, “insists that brands cannot be understood
without viewing them as comprising both the narratives… and the myriad
components with important material capacities that make up the product itself, as well
as the consumers who contribute at times to stabilizing and at other times to
destabilizing the assemblage” (Parmentier and Fischer 2015, 1248).
Hence rather than meetings between consumers and ready-made products
imbued with particular narratives, assemblage research investigates the irreversible
processes of material things and expressive components arranging into more or less
stable or fragile states (Canniford and Bajde 2016). In this view, brands are composed
of heterogeneous elements that interact “in ways that can either stabilize or destabilize
an assemblage’s identity” (Delanda 2006, 12). Moreover, these arrangements of
multiple constituents are considered at a variety of scales (Roﬀe 2016). Brands are
always composed of smaller elements such as brand’s physical markers and logo, as
well as being part of larger networks, both temporally and spatially. Temporally, this
perspective encourages us to contextualise brands within long-term cultural shifts
(Holt 2004; Karababa and Ger 2011), as well as within dramatic events that alter
brand meaning in the present (Giesler 2012; Thompson et al. 2006). Spatially, this
perspective encourages researchers to analyse brands within their broad material-
cultural contexts (Askegaard and Linnett 2011; Entwistle and Slater 2013) whilst
simultaneously examining the minutiae of their contextual practice and use (Hill
Existing research that has taken this assemblage approach illustrates how
brands are mobile arrangements of multiple, heterogeneous and unpredictable
constituents, rather than passive or static orders of singularized and standardized
elements. Giesler (2012), Scaraboto and Fischer (2015), and Parmentier and Fischer
(2015), for instance, illustrate how brands alter as they encounter changing constituent
and contextual features. Giesler (2012) in particular presents multiple stages of
contestation that occur as marketers, journalists, entrepreneurs and consumer groups
insert competing images of a brand into the overall Botox brand assemblage.
Ultimately, time and work are required to stabilise a brand into a coherent
recognisable form in which meanings, material qualities, and practices become
accepted across these broad parties. Nevertheless, the ‘moblization’ of a stable brand
image can always be undone as new constituent features come into play within an
overall brand assemblage. Parmentier and Fischer (2015) for instance, explain how
fans have contributed to destabilizations of a brand’s identity through the introduction
of incoherent material and expressive consumption resources into a previously stable
brand assemblage. In particular, consumers who generate artefacts that lead to
diminished fit between established elements of a brand assemblage are seen to reduce
the overall stability of an assemblage, thus damaging the image of the brand.
This concern with and way of thinking about stability is helpful as it
encourages us to explore, describe and clarify what Araujo (2007) considers to be a
central purpose in marketing, namely stabilizing inherently unstable assemblages of
multiple components. However, despite an emerging body of knowledge concerning
the negotiated status of brand meanings, current marketing research understands very
little about the tendency of a brand assemblage to stabilise into a particular form, or to
be more prone to ﬂuidity. From existing research we can infer that some brand
assemblages are more stable, or territorialised than others. For instance, luxury
brands have been considered as relatively stable, unidirectional, and top-down
expressions by charismatic and visionary creators (Dion and Arnould 2011), whereas
mass-mediated brands such as America’s Next Top Model can be easily destabilised
by the creations of consumers (Parmentier and Fischer 2015).
Nevertheless, further work is required to advance understandings of the
processes that lead to this stability or instability. To extend the assemblage approach
to marketing generally (Giesler 2012; Parmentier and Fischer 2015), and more
speciﬁcally to understand how brands stabilise or destabilise, our empirical work
investigates the kinds of assemblages constituted by social media selﬁes. In particular,
we ask, what are the eﬀects of consumers’ self-branding practices within these
systems? So as to witness how digital-material artefacts intersect with and potentially
destabilise brand assemblages. The potential for such occurrences are of course
ampliﬁed by Internet and social media applications, such as Facebook, YouTube,
Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, all of which oﬀer unlimited virtual spaces for the
kinds of consumer-brand relations described above, thus boosting opportunities for
brand meaning (re)construction (see Cova and Pace 2005; Fournier and Avery 2011;
Gurrieri and Cherrier 2013; McQuarrie et al. 2013). Concerned with tendencies
towards social media-driven self-branding as well as branded selﬁe images by
consumers, our research raises the broad question of what are the eﬀects of social
media self-branding practices on the meanings and identities of brands? More
speciﬁcally, and in line with the concerns of this special issue, we theorise how selﬁe
images contribute to stabilizing or destabilizing brands. We next turn to our research
procedures through which we investigate these issues in the context of champagne-
tagged Instagram images.
Research Procedures: Visual Content Analysis
The empirical materials of this study consist of two types of images gathered from
Instagram: brand images of three popular champagne brands in social media
(Moët&Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Dom Pérignon) and consumers-made images
featuring these brands. Employing critical visual content analysis techniques
(Humphreys and Thompson 2014; Lutz and Collins 1996; Rose 2012), these images
were analyzed in parallel, in an attempt to produce an account demonstrating the
principal ways in which consumers express and frame these brands via selﬁes.
Instagram was chosen for this study because it is the most popular visual social media
platform with over 400 million users.
Image Sampling Procedures
The ﬁrst step of visual content analysis is the sampling of images according to the
research question (Lutz and Collins 1996; Rose 2012). Two sets of images were
gathered, as our aim was to examine the nature of consumer-generated selﬁe images
in relation to oﬃcial brand-communicated images. We ﬁrst sampled selected
champagne brand mentions in Instagram that represent a ‘slice’ of common
champagne postings that can be found. Using Brandwatch®, a commercial social
media monitoring tool (https://www.brandwatch.com), we built ‘queries’ for
Moët&Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Pérignon and obtained all brand mentions
during six weeks in April/May 2014. A ‘query’ consists of specifying the appropriate
search words or combination of them for which the software then ‘crawls’ data. Each
search word was carefully studied in advance in order to identify the common
expressions or hashtags consumers use for postings about the studied brands. For
example, our Möet&Chandon query was speciﬁed to retrieve popular hashtags “moet”
and “moetchandon” and “moetchampagne” and in-post mentions where “moet”
appears within 5 words of “champagne” or “chandon” or “bottle” or “drink” or
“glass” or “wine” or “grape” or “bubble” or “rose”. In other words, the Brandwatch®
software allowed us to obtain data beyond simple hashtag searches, aﬀording a more
complete picture of champagne postings while minimizing unrelated postings. We
also ran a week-long data-gathering test for reﬁning and ﬁnding optimal query
A total of 6,820 Instagram postings were gathered for Moët&Chandon, Veuve
Clicquot and Dom Pérignon brands over six weeks. Since a detailed visual analysis of
the entire data set was not possible, we randomly sampled 100 images per brand (see
Smith et al. 2012). We screened this sample for unrelated, missing (broken links), and
company-account postings. In addition, we gathered oﬃcial champagne Instagram
brand account images to compare with the consumer-made images. In total, the
“moetchandon”, “domperignonoﬃcial” and “veuveclicquot” accounts revealed only
1833 images ever posted, indicating the less frequent postings made by these brands.
We again gathered a random sample of 100 representative images per brand for
further analysis (see Table 1).
Table 1: Instagram dataset
Image Coding and Categorization
The next step of visual content analysis is the development of interpretive categories
for image coding (Rose 2012, 90). The selected categories and descriptive labels are
informed by our theoretical concerns (Lutz and Collins 1996) and oﬀer a “breakdown
of imagery that will be analytically interesting and coherent” (Slater 1998, 236). We
read and open coded all sample data and looked for patterns, similarities and
diﬀerences within and across brand and image type (brand vs. consumer-made). The
analytical process echoes our assemblage theoretical perspective, as well as common
techniques of interpretive qualitative analysis (Moisander and Valtonen 2006; Slater
1998). First, we focused both on the site of the images themselves (e.g. composition,
visual meanings) as well as their site of production (e.g. where and how the image is
made) (Rose 2012, 21). In particular, we examined, categorized and labelled the
various material and expressive features in the images. Second, we engaged in critical
visual analysis by reading and re-reading the images in relation to their broader
cultural meanings, practices, and context (Phillips et al. 2015; Rose 2012). These
procedures resulted in 12 material and 18 expressive themes.
In a ﬁnal analysis, we employed this scheme for a detailed coding of 1/5th of
our sample data allowing us to better illuminate the nature and tendencies in the two
sets of images studied. Thus, 20 images per each brand per image type were coded.
Notably, for the consumer-made images we chose to only include images that were
labelled as “selﬁes”, that is, images where the individual taking the image is present in
the image (e.g. face, body, hands, etc.) or the image was tagged as #selﬁe. This
purposive sampling was necessary for illustrating the unique nature of selﬁe images.
In our sample, the share of selﬁe images was approximately 40% of all consumer-
made images. In contrast, there were no selﬁes in the brand-communicated images.
Our ﬁnal stage of data processing was to have an artist render photographic images as
accurate illustrations, so as to preserve the integrity of images in a manner that avoids
copyright or privacy violations.
The coding frequencies of the analyzed images are presented in more detail in
Table 2 and 3. We will present our in-depth interpretive reading and conceptualization
of them in the following ﬁndings section.
Table 2: Coding frequencies of champagne brand account images
Table 3: Coding frequencies of selﬁe images
A Brief History of the Champagne Brand Assemblage
Before moving onto our image data and ﬁndings, we oﬀer next a section mapping out
the layers of constituents through which champagne brands have been commonly
assembled over time. The literature on champagne and luxury wine marketing in
particular provides a necessary analytical and contextual backdrop that allows us to
begin assessing the compositional aspects of champagne brand assemblages through
As indicated above, any assemblage is composed of material constituents at a variety
of scales (Roﬀe 2016). In considering these, we begin with the wider physical terrain
that has always been associated with champagne. Viniculture in this geographical area
was introduced by the Romans, and developed by Benedictine monks experimenting
with wine-making practices through the 16th Century (Guy 2003). Since the 1930s
however, champagne has by deﬁnition, been a product of the Appellation d'Origine
Contrôlée, a strictly deﬁned geographical designation. Within the broader wine-
growing region, there exist ﬁve smaller regions and a further seventeen sub-regions
within these. While all wine producers in the Champagne region need to subscribe to
the “méthode champenoise”, deﬁned by French law, each sub-region and producer
may slightly vary in their production details and traditions, especially due to soil and
the proportion of grape varieties used. The unique assemblage2 of grapes (most
commonly blends of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) used in a particular
year depends the preferences of the wine houses themselves or the quality of the
However, further characterising the geographic bodies from which the identity
of these wines are composed is the feature labelled terroir, the “holistic combination
in a vineyard environment of soil, climate, topography and the ‘soul’ of the wine
producer” (Guy 2003, p. 2). In other words, a highly localized assemblage of various
natural and physical layers of ground, chalk, rock, vegetation, ﬂowing water, sunlight,
and a variety of other factors that are epiphenomenal to the variety of grapes being
grown. So complex and variable – almost mystically so – are the arrangements of
these factors, that terroir is often thought to be linked with the ‘soul’ or spirit of wine-
growers who arduously labor their land to produce the wine of Champagne. Beyond
anything else, the identity link to this particular terroir is thought to hold enduring,
natural qualities but also transcendent qualities that symbolize French culture and
virtues (Guy 2003, 2).
We highlighted above that assemblages are scalar; any assemblage is nested in
broader features as well as being composed from more localized parts (Hill et al.
2 Also the french word used to describe the combination of grapes that are selected in
2014). As we move down from the broad levels of region and terroir, into more
localized parts of the champagne assemblage, we cannot fail to recognise the
particular champagne houses and their iconic cellars – the institutional sites of
production that litter the region of Champagne. Further still, we can discern the easily
recognised champagne bottle, the liquid characters of this bubbly wine, and the
unique glasses from which champagne is so closely associated as key bodies in
deﬁning this brand assemblage. These more localized alloys of material constituents
are also essential to brand assemblage’s identity. Yet importantly, these artifacts of
champagne consumption are inextricably linked with those more global aspects of the
assemblage mentioned above. Grown in one of the northern-most wine growing areas
in France, grapes struggle to ripen fully; hence they exhibit a high acidity compared to
other wines. This is a feature of production that originally led to the addition of sugar
to bottles of fermenting juice, creating a second fermentation, the result of which is
the characteristic bubbles, perhaps the smallest manifestation of the overall material
aspects of the champagne assemblage, yet ultimately the most recognizable and
All of these material bodies are commonly emphasized and expressed in
advertising images. It is also agreed that the intrinsic authenticity of these collections
of objects cannot involve too many alterations, or else their legitimacy may be
endangered (Beverland 2005; Postrel 2003). It is of little surprise then, turning to the
visual expression of these material elements of the brand assemblage that, as
Beverland (2005) emphasizes, the place of origin is one of the key sources for
authentic identity and status of luxury brands.
Expressing the Assemblage
As explained above, a second aspect of the compositional axis of any assemblage is
the expressive qualities of assembled material bodies (Roﬀe 2016). In the previous
section, we considered the broad-scale material constituents that have ultimately led
to the production of this sparkling wine, and ﬁnally that the material manifestation of
bubbles is perhaps the most commonly recognised aspect of champagne, often called
simply ‘bubbly’ or ‘ﬁzz’ in English. In this section, we further consider three key
expressions of the broad champagne brand assemblages that contribute to overall
expressions: heritage, class, and magic.
Expressions of Heritage. Moët&Chandon (established in 1743), Veuve Clicquot
(1772), and Dom Pérignon (1921), are amongst some of the oldest brands in existence
(Beverland 2005). The authenticity of many brands is partly established through
explicit references to history, historical characters and events, as they collectively
oﬀer a source of legitimacy and an “aura” important for brand heritage and its core
values (Beverland 2005; Brown et al. 2003). In champagne brand marketing, as in the
case of many luxury wines (Beverland 2005), images provide an invaluable source of
authenticity as they produce a “connection to time” (Postrel 2003). In fact, many of
the “authentic” brand images are stylized versions of real events and history.
One such historical pathway to have coloured the brand assemblage layer is
connected to the unique historical place of Champagne, and its wines within the
French Royal court (Guy 2003; Wolikow and Wolikow 2012), not least due its
presence at the French coronation festivities that traditionally took place in the
Cathedral of Reims since the 17th century until the French Revolution. Part of the
successful image building, however, has always been champagne brands’ ability to
link “old” and “modern” worlds (Rokka 2016). Despite the ancestral roots and key
role in the feudal and monarchic systems, towards the twentieth century, champagne
managed to emerge as the staple of “modernity” and an inevitable expression of
luxurious and fashionable “modern life” (Guy 2003), a feature that connects it with a
second cultural expression, namely class.
Expression of Class. Even before the French Revolution in 1789, champagne brands
sought to symbolize privilege and opulence by portraying charismatic characters from
Royal families, nobilities, military oﬃcers, in their advertisements and packaging.
Claude Moët, for instance, is said to have launched a promotion of champagne in the
fashionable soirées of Marquise Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV
(see Guy 2003, p. 14-15). After the Revolution, however, the social hierarchies
shifted signiﬁcantly, paving the way to the new aristocracy of the emerging
bourgeoisie (Elias 2000). Champagne became a central ritual for this emerging group,
for example, by way of business meetings, dinners, weddings, or social gatherings and
celebrations held at nightclubs such as the legendary Maxim’s at Paris.
Expressions of Magic. Finally, a key distinction to ‘regular’ brands is the
manner in which some brands can assemble charismatic legitimacy and magic that is
materialized and expressed for example through physical/material objects, retail
spaces, events, and advertising (Dion and Arnould 2011). In many ways, magic, as a
sacred quality (Arnould et al. 1999; Fernandez and Lastovika 2011) matches the
notion that brands, like works of art, should possess an “aura of authenticity”
endowing them with qualities of uniqueness, distance, or otherness as well as the
impression that commercial motivations are not paramount (Beverland 2005).
An essential identity component for champagne brands is thus “magic”
expressed through exceptional charismatic creators, personae, or myths (Dion and
Arnould 2011; Rokka 2016). The creation myths and charismatic personae (e.g.
Veuve Clicquot, Claude Moët, Dom Pérignon) are strong among champagne brands
that, since the early days, were marketed internationally not as ﬁne wine but as an
enchanting “magical elixir” (Guy 2003). For example, in 1870, the wine producers’
collective decided to revive Dom Pérignon, a monk working at abbey d’Hautvilliers,
as the oﬃcial inventor of champagne – a mythical (but not quite true) story to that
was thereafter used in oﬃcial documents and advertising, and to partly hide the fact
that much of the wine’s production process was being disenchanted through
Findings: Re-assembling champagne
In the previous section we established that the champagne brand assemblage has
always been constituted from a wide variety of material and expressive components.
In order to understand the potential impact of social media and selﬁe practices on
these, until now, highly stable brand assemblages, we now present our Instagram data
for our three focal champagne brands. We begin by illustrating how these iconic
brands communicate on this platform after which we examine Instagram images
constituted in consumer selﬁes that link the champagne brands with intersecting
assemblages of bodies, materials, brands, and technologies.
Representations of Champagne in Instagram Brand Accounts
We now illustrate to how the material and expressive components that constitute the
overall champagne brand assemblage are typically mobilised within Instagram as
luxury brand communications by the brand managers of Moët&Chandon, Veuve
Clicquot and Dom Pérignon.
Material elements. Those material constituents discussed above, so long central to
the champagne brand assemblage, were largely conﬁrmed in the images shared via
champagne accounts (see Table 2). We call the most popular genre of champagne
images ‘nature morte’ – in other words, images depicting a still life of inanimate
objects, artefacts, and scenery in a collage where a frequent appearance of champagne
bottles (63% of images) and wine glasses (47%) were equally referenced across all
oﬃcial brand accounts. The visibility of actual wine (25%) was not quite as frequent
and perhaps surprisingly, the famous bubbles (13%) were rare.
As one might anticipate, identiﬁable brand names or logos (75%) were visible
– if not zoomed into a close-up so that nothing else could be seen – in majority of the
brand-posted images, as exempliﬁed in Figure 1. The most extreme case in this regard
were images posted by Dom Pérignon in which the emblematic bottle and shield-
shaped logo were fetishized to such an extent that they rarely included anything else.
Interestingly, we could not ﬁnd any “other” brands present in the brand account
images. This exclusion might indicate the champagne houses’ desire to control the
brand image, territorializing its key associations and increasing their share of voice.
Moët&Chandon featured here as the most conventional brand in the sense that they
displayed an identiﬁable brand logo in 95% of their posted images, whereas Veuve
Clicquot in only 55% – although admittedly the brand’s signature orange colour was
present in most images.
Figure 1: Material bodies of champagne
In addition to these limited material features occupying oﬃcial brand images,
we witnessed limited explicit human presence (25%). Moreover, none of the brand
images were categorized as ‘selﬁe’. Further still, when people were present, their
faces were rarely shown (13%). Indeed, Moët&Chandon posted no images with
recognizable faces. This absence of identiﬁable human faces is a most striking
ﬁnding, especially because, as we will explain in the next section, this stands in stark
contrast with consumer-generated images. It is also worth noting that when people
were present in the brand images, 97% of them were white, and they were mostly
male (60%). In considering the arrangements in the brand images further, it is curious
that no one was portrayed drinking champagne. Instead, it was depicted as a (static)
object that was either strategically visible in the situation, standing on a table or
poolside, placed in a cooler, or being opened and prepared for consumption.
Other notable material and physical components that cut across the images
linked primarily with the site of the image production. The champagne brand images
often employed pastoral environments as a common image setting or background
(42%), including estate landscapes, parks, gardens, vineyards, seaside, or mountains.
This aspect of connecting the champagne brands to the pastoral and eternal qualities
of their surroundings, as well as authentic physical and geographic terroirs – including
the Champagne region – was a recurrent tendency.
Expressive components. Turning to the expressive layer of champagne brand
identity, principal visual cues used in the Instagram brand images match the
categories discussed in our literature review. Expressions of heritage (55% of the
images), class (45%), and magic (22%) were among the most frequently coded.
Rustic images of identiﬁable historical buildings associated with the Champagne
houses – for example the Moët Estate or Hautevillers abbey near Reims (see Figure 2,
left and right) – together with vineyards and wine cellars appear commonly across
brand accounts. In addition, images of historical characters such as Dom Pérignon
(1635-1713), or Madame Clicquot (1777-1866) were often used to re-fashion
historical advertising and to reconnect with the past.
However, in Instagram, champagne brands are increasingly replacing
historical images with more contemporary examples in an eﬀort to connect them with
contemporary consumer culture. Such images are a form of strategically crafted
imagery often articulating the brands’ role in “good life” with images that reﬂect
“lived,” although idealized experience and the present moment rather than the past.
An example of this can be seen in the Veuve Clicquot’s image (Figure 2, middle) of
their yearly ‘signature’ VC Classic polo match. At once, it is an unmistakable signal
of class expression depicting this archetypical expression of contemporary elite
lifestyle sponsored by the brand.
Figure 2: Expressions of heritage, class and magic
The magic expression of champagne remains framed by the brands by
communicating their products as situated in spaces/places where champagne is
appropriate, desired, or even obligatory. The studied Instagram accounts also join a
trajectory of advertising images from late nineteenth century where modern wonders
such as hot-air balloons, airplanes, trains, and ships were often featured as ‘magical’.
Dom Pérignon regularly depicts the monastery at Hautvilliers as a magical site where
champagne was born as the product and labour of holy men. In Figure 2 (right), the
brand completes its dramatized magical expression with an impressionistic godsend
lightning strike, perhaps alluding to magical forces.
Of the other remaining expressive categories the most frequently coded were
celebration (27%), special occasion (18%), relaxation (18%), sharing (17%),
travel/vacation (13%), and indulgence/taste (12%). While celebration was underlined
most by Moët&Chandon brand, in every second image on average, it is clear that the
historical precedents of aristocratic salons, noble gatherings, and consumption rituals
of the cultural elite and bourgeoisie resonate widely in all of the champagne brand
imagery. The social spaces of champagne echo a number of contemporary
consumption moments including ﬁne parties, special occasions and milestone life
events (e.g. birthday, wedding, honeymoon), or various gustatory settings where
champagne is commonly paired with expensive meals.
In sum, we conclude that centuries of persistent brand meaning-making has
territorialized and stabilized various scales of bodies and expressions of champagne
assemblage to an extent that a clear repetitive, quantiﬁable pattern of champagne
images emerge also in Instagram. As we have shown, this identity assembling seems
to span magnetically the very micro-local scale of the material bodies of the grapes,
bottles, and wine, and local scale of the territory and region, as well as the global
luxury expressions of heritage, class/status and magic that dominate champagne
advertising more broadly. In short, these images reﬂect champagne’s global presence
as a contemporary consumption icon and “an integral social marker of status and
membership” (Guy 2003, p. 12).
Selﬁes and the Brand Assemblage
Having established how the bodies and expressions of champagne brand assemblages
are composed and communicated in ways that maintain ‘well-formed’ assemblages
(Latour 2007, p. 8) with established material and expressive components, we now
illustrate how consumers’ selﬁes exert eﬀects on these brand assemblages in ways that
may potentially challenge and destabilise the meanings and practices that have
previously deﬁned our three focal brands. We ﬁrst examine and contrast the speciﬁc
bodies and expressions in the selﬁes (see Table 3), and how these intersect with
champagne brand assemblages in manners unforeseen, at least by brand managers.
Material Elements: ‘Other’ bodies, ‘other’ spaces. Above all, our data shows
how champagne brand meanings become mobilized and re-territorialized through
selﬁe images that re-connect them to be part of diverse the assemblages of the self
(Hess 2015). Even though, it must be emphasized, selﬁes such as those in our data are
often elusive, quickly circulated and also discarded and forgotten, taking a selﬁe
presents a unique “touching down” and “voicing out” of the subject “existing within
multiple subject positions or within larger constellation of assemblages” (Hess 2015,
p. 3). This is to say that although in some sense ‘throw-away’, these images
nevertheless represent consumers’ real day-to-day consumption activities to anyone
who cares to look. Moreover, selﬁes feature “other” spaces of consumption that allow
for a ‘utopian spatial play’ – a kind of creative ‘experimentation’ (Chatzidakis et al.
2012; Hetherington 1997), or even ‘resistance’ (Kohn 2003) – in which brands are
employed as discursive resources whose meaning is subject to slippage. Indeed, in so
doing, and with increasing amounts of Internet traﬃc in which expressions of self
become bound to brands, we consider that the brands themselves are likely to be
experiencing feedback eﬀects as the components amongst which they are assembled
change in manners that are increasingly mass-mediated, gaining as much, if not more
social media attention as oﬃcial brand accounts in social media.
In some ways, our Instagram data on consumer selﬁes shares important
characteristics with the champagne brand accounts, especially on the micro-local level
of material bodies visible in the images. Notably, the presence of champagne bottles
(55% of the images), wine glasses (38%), wine (28%), and bubbles (13%) matches
the frequency of brand-communicated images. Yet what is dramatically diﬀerent is
that selﬁes seldom present or tag only one brand. Rather, a plenitude of brands are
arranged, or assembled together, including brands that do not necessarily match the
tags that consumers use. As a result, the presence of ‘other’ brands (38%) in the
selﬁes was coded nearly as often as the champagne brand itself (47%). To be sure,
there are popular streams of champagne selﬁes, echoing ﬁndings of Östberg and
Borgerson (2004), that emphasize the collecting together of many conspicuous luxury
objects or brands at the same time – such as Louis Vuitton bags, Rolex watches,
Belvedere Vodka, Cohiba cigars, and fast cars – in aims to voicing loud, extreme
luxury, even if sometimes done with apparent irony.
On the other hand, it is just as common that mundane, “out-of-place,” or
“unusual” material objects are also integrated in the selﬁe images. These include pets,
apparel, big TV screens, bathtubs, computer games, drugs, food etc. In other words,
the heterogeneity of material bodies being assembled, mixed or altered is increased.
This contrasts starkly with the stabilised use of tried and tested materialities in the
champagne brand accounts. Taking the means of drinking champagne as just one
example, we ﬁnd that a variety of paper or plastic cups, normal glasses or coﬀee
mugs, are often used over and above the champagne ‘ﬂutes’ preferred in oﬃcial brand
accounts on Instagram. Moreover, the wine is also combined with “un-ﬁtting” objects
including fruit, juice, soda, liquor, or even ice cream. The intersecting assemblages of
material bodies are thus mixed and intertwined (Parmentier and Fischer 2015) with
Secondly, in comparison with the champagne brand accounts, we discover in
consumer-generated images an abundance of human bodies (95% of the images) and
faces (53%). Moreover, amongst these, we witness visibly diﬀerent body types, body
modiﬁcations (e.g. tattoos), ethnicities, gender, and cultural backgrounds displayed in
selﬁe images (see Figure 3). The contrast to champagne brand account images is
profound in this respect. These heterotopian selﬁes notably challenge the dominance
of seemingly aﬄuent and elitist white male bodies. Instead these images put forward a
complexity of self-presentation techniques, and also forms of fantasizing in relation to
one’s body (Roux 2014). Although such images may in eﬀect appear as “unreal” for
the onlooker – not least when ampliﬁed by artful in-app image ﬁlters –, they are
important as they nevertheless may have “real” eﬀects in their viewer (Foucault
1986). Through the heterotopian selﬁe images the body, thus, as a distinctive territory
of the self, can be mirrored and cast back to the world, and re-injected in networked
arrangements of bodies, technologies, and brands. The centrality of the self and body
assembled in various representations or ‘looks’ became often so over-pronounced in
selﬁe images that the brands receive only a side mention in the comments and tags, as
evidenced in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Excess of human bodies
Expressive components: Microcelebrity living. This brings us to our key ﬁndings
concerning the expressive component of selﬁe images that were distinct from the
brand account images, above all, in their overt emphasis of what we call
“microcelebrity” logic (67% of selﬁes). We suggest that consumer selﬁes follow a
whole diﬀerent system of “attention economy” (Marwick 2015; Senft 2013), in which
neither status nor wealth is the central currency. Rather, a new attentional capital
emerges, directly quantiﬁable through shares, follows and likes in social media (see
Gerlitz and Helmond 2013). The selﬁes are carefully crafted attempts to reach
followers and likes, and thus good examples of consumers’ quest for attention through
“microcelebrity” (Marwick 2015). Emblems of this tendency can be found in popular
tags in selﬁes such as #pickoftheday, #instalook, #instafame, #follow4follow, #f4f, or
#tags4likes – in other words, signals encouraging new followers and attention (see
Figure 4: Expressions of consumer microcelebrity
This wish for social advancement is perhaps comparable with luxury goods for the
aspiring bourgeoisie over multiple generations (Marwick 2015). A potential diﬀerence
however, is that attention-grabbing, sexualised, attractive looking photos, together
with popular tag words, does not necessarily entail any form of ownership over the
photographed objects, allowing much greater ﬂexibility in one’s self-expressions
through social media accounts3. Therefore, a necessary new skill of consumer
microcelebrities is to be able to playfully adapt popular visual tropes and poses from
celebrity online proﬁles (Marwick 2015) or mimic ‘snapshots’ from fashion
magazines and blogs (McQuarrie et al. 2013; Schroeder 2013).
The studied selﬁes integrate champagne brands often with multiple kinds of
subcultural images that may resonate with broader forms of popular culture and mass
audiences. For instance, conspicuous displays of wealth are highly visible and desired
in rap and hip-hop culture where champagne brands have long been appropriated as
cultural artefacts and visual signs of success. Celebrities such as rapper Jay-Z and
singer-songwriter Beyoncé, for example, have consistently featured champagne
brands, notably Cristal (Louis Roedderer) and Armand de Brignac (Cattier), in their
music videos and song lyrics. Similarly, champagne selﬁes that we analyzed contain a
plenitude of images that make explicitly reference to hip-hop, “bling-bling”, and
“gangster” lifestyles. These images are thus often at odds with the idealized and
emblematic visual champagne brand identities and their projected lifestyles.
The other popular expressions coded for consumer selﬁes – while closely
relevant for the microcelebrity logic – were celebration (60% of images), class/status
(58%), look/appearance (40% of images), and nightclub (32%). On the other hand,
top categories in champagne brand accounts such as heritage (only 8% of selﬁes) and
magic (3%) were less evident. While champagne brand account images were often
associated with forms of charismatic and magical aesthetic expression often in
3 It is worth noting that one can purchase empty bottles of Dom Pérignon on eBay for
relation to charismatic people, breath-taking sceneries, or utopian artistic creations,
however, the consumer selﬁes were often far removed from such magical worlds.
Instead they commonly and intentionally violated the sacred and magical
consumption experience oﬀering heterotopian spectacles where champagne brands are
either banalized or completely removed from established expressive systems through
lowbrow aesthetics, (technically or otherwise) poorly-made images, or novel,
sometimes out-of-place associations (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: Banal and ironic expressions
The distinct temporal orientation in these selﬁes challenges notably the
champagne brand accounts’ historical images. The left-hand image, maintains the
ritual expression so common to champagne branding, but the event here is less
milestone life event as is popular in oﬃcial brand accounts described above. Rather
this 2004 vintage4 is being drunk to celebrate ‘humpday’, the middle of the week. An
ironic comment on wealth and status, a dollar-sign adorned index ﬁnger and an
irreverent middle ﬁnger place this image in contrast with the earnest expression of
ritual found in many oﬃcial champagne brand images. Selﬁe images often featured
expressions of irony (23%), by re-combining funny, playful, inappropriate, or un-
ﬁtting tags, comments or visual tropes. The image on the right of ﬁgure 5, mimics a
road-movie attitude and aesthetic combined with particularly popular but ‘tacky’
hashtags such as #socute #sexual #heardoﬁt or #freethenip. For instance, the last one
jokes about the viral meme of ‘Free the Nipple’ women’s equality movement that
infamously resulted in Instagram banning selﬁes with visible breasts and nipples,
followed by a social media outrage. The champagne hashtag #veuve, on the other
hand, most likely mocks people posting champagne selﬁes altogether. Finally, the
middle image of ﬁgure 5 features champagne in the heterotopia and banality of a
supermarket. In addition, the selﬁe strips the brand from its usual expressions by re-
4 Price averaging €130 per bottle as of March 2016. (Source: http://www.wine-
linking it with the other popular selﬁe memes of the “douchiest face” and “duckface”,
drawing the brand even further away from its established historical meanings, such as
the reverence, magical ritualized connotations or class-bound image making so often
associated with this product.
The selﬁe is an increasingly popular mode of visual self-presentation from which new
forms of brand communication are emerging, and with these, potential challenges for
brand management. Based on an examination of champagne brand image-making, we
contribute to literature on brands as assemblages by illustrating how a wide scale of
material and expressive components feature in the overall geographic, historic and
social constructions of three iconic champagne marques. Through a visual content
analysis of how particular elements of these assemblages feature in Instagram
accounts, we illustrate ﬁrst how oﬃcial brand communications draw on the range of
material and expressive scales from which the overall champagne wine is constructed.
Second, we show that selﬁes are oﬀering alternative constructions of brands into
which new kinds of material and expressive features are inserted. In particular, we
argue that selﬁes are becoming a nodal point at which oﬃcial brand assemblages and
consumer microcelebrity assemblages intersect. This intersection potentially
undermines stable symbolic, and material properties of heritage brands through
heterotopian selﬁe practices. We now discuss these contributions in relation to current
debates in marketing and consumer culture theory and explain the concept of
heterotopian selﬁe practices.
While many branding models continue to build on notions of cultural transfer, there is
nevertheless a widening recognition of the reciprocal co-creation of brand meaning
and the fact that consumers increasingly contribute to alternative brand meanings
(Cova et al. 2007; Cova and White 2010) or doppelgänger images (Giesler 2012;
Parmentier and Fischer 2015; Thompson et al. 2006). In addition, marketing scholars
have argued that social media has accelerated these brand co-creation dynamics (Cova
and Pace 2005; Fournier and Avery 2011; Kozinets et al. 2010). However, most
research has focused on the online consumer-to-brand or consumer-to-consumer
verbal dialogues or narratives, leaving visual aspects aside, despite their fundamental
importance as exempliﬁed by the increasingly popular selﬁe phenomenon (Marwick
2015; Senft and Baym 2015; Tiidenberg and Gómez Cruz 2015).
In using a brand assemblage perspective as a rubric to reach beyond text-based
analyses alone, and examine the construction of brands via multiple kinds and scales
of both material and expressive phenomena (Hill et al. 2014), we ﬁrst illustrated that
the brand assemblages of champagne are scalar in quality. This is the case at a
geographic level as we ﬁnd speciﬁc champagne brands nested within the larger
domain of origin assemblage of the champagne region, and the overlapping locations
of terroir. Moreover, the temporal scales at play here are also diverse: the meaning
and use of champagne brands have been constructed over centuries from the times of
Benedictine monks to French royal coronations and from the birth of modern
consumption rituals all the way to 21st century, in a manner that has remained highly
rooted and conservatively coded on similar material and expressive qualities.
We contest that with long-standing expressive associations of class, heritage
and consumption magic – not least through champagne brands’ consistent myth-
making eﬀorts – the brand managers of champagne houses have, until fairly recently,
inherited relatively stable brand assemblages. At the material level, many constituents
of champagne assemblages are guarded both in tradition and European Union law
(e.g. the méthode champenois,e Appellation d'Origine”). Our analysis illustrates that
brand managers draw on these traditional, ‘authentic’ material and expressive features
to construct brand communications. Nevertheless we also ﬁnd that brand-tagging
selﬁes stream online on a massive scale oﬀering an overwhelming variety of images
that abandon those traditional, embedded and stable elements that oﬃcial brand
accounts rely on. This is perhaps striking, especially in the case of brands where there
has been a tendency to emphasize rather uni-directional, top-down brand meaning-
We mean to say that champagne brand managers may appear to have long
enjoyed what Dion and Arnould (2011) explain as common to many luxury brand
assemblages, namely carefully designed ideological and auratic aesthetics that
resonate the charismatic vision of their creator (brand manager). We suggest,
however, that the brand assemblage approach renders problematic this way of
considering brand management. Part of the emphasis of approaches that have applied
assemblage thinking is to move away from tendencies to singularize speciﬁc brand
personae or institutions in explaining the success or otherwise of such phenomena
(Latour 1988), since multi-scalar networks of material and expressive relations
generally result from processes over which no individual exerts full control (Bajde
2013; Epp and Price 2010; Hill et al. 2014). As such, to suggest that these brands will
remain charismatic creations of auteur brand managers belies the historical
composition and contemporary contextualization of brands.
In particular, with consumers’ social media use, we envision brand managers’
tasks as increasingly diﬃcult in respect of encountering neotribal recyclings (Cova et
al. 2007) ampliﬁed in the new attention economy (Gerlitz and Helmond 2013;
Marwick 2015). Indeed, the selﬁe practices we have examined challenge brand
identity most notably by making visible diﬀerent material features and expressions as
part of the consumption assemblages in which these iconic brands ﬁgure. In this
sense, our study demonstrates a new form of heterogeneity (Thomas et al. 2013) and a
novel set of problems for brand managers. We argue there exists not only the problem
of how to integrate members with heterogeneous backgrounds, resources, and skills in
a consumption community, but also how to sustain and communicate a brand identity
that is constantly being contested and augmented by widely circulating heterotopian
images. In particular, we found that a major marker of heterogeneity established
through consumer-generated images is the presence of human bodies, and in
particular of identiﬁable faces, in selﬁe photographs. Next therefore, we consider the
manifestations of these images, and the eﬀects that they carry through two related
concepts, heterotopian assemblages and the logic of consumer microcelebrity.
Heterotopian Brand Assemblages
In recent years, a burgeoning body of research has considered consumer culture as
assemblages (see Canniford and Bajde 2016). Nevertheless, there remains a limited
body of work that has applied this theoretical idiom to branding per se. Moreover,
despite a concern with how brands stabilise (Giesler 2012) or destabilise (Parmentier
and Fischer 2015), we consider that there is now an opportunity to analyse the kinds
of assemblages created in consumer culture. In respect of brands, Parmentier and
Fischer (2015) move in this direction when they explain that consumer-generated
content can complement elements that already comprise a brand assemblage,
reinforcing the identity of a brand with resources and practices that ‘ﬁt’ the overall
arrangement of material and expressive features. Equally, however, simultaneous
processes of brand identity destabilization may take place as a brand can “actively
import new information from intersecting assemblages and create new artefacts, both
of which will heighten the potential for perceived discrepancy and the availability of
that interpretation for a wider audience of consumers” (Parmentier and Fischer 2015,
p. 1247). We extend this research by considering the intersecting assemblages of the
brand and the self.
One way to ﬁgure this work of either oﬀering carefully articulated, coherent
visions of brand assemblages is through Foucault’s (1986) notions of utopia and
heterotopia, the former describing an “ideal” region, appearance, or signiﬁcation of a
“perfectly untroubled order” (Palladino and Miller 2015, 2-3), the latter being
alternative orders stemming from “parallel” or “other spaces”. Heterotopias include
for instance urban enclaves of rebellion (Chatzidakis et al. 2012), tattoo parlours
(Roux 2014), retail ‘thirdspaces’ (Soja 1996), museums (Hetherington 1997),
cemeteries, and libraries (Foucault 1986). All these instances are spaces in which
material and/or expressive artefacts from distributed locations, cultures and times are
gathered in “a place of all times at once” (Foucault 1986, p. 26). Put simply, such
images juxtapose both here and now, as well as past, present and future arranged in
manners that suspend normative orders and create the potential for power-knowledge
resistance to idealized discourses (Palladino and Miller 2015).
Such eﬀects of the near and far, the side-by-side and the dispersed are no less
apt to consider the spaces of social media. The possibility to represent the embodied
self in a diversity of spaces (Hjort and Pink 2014) matches Foucault’s vision of the
heterotopian spaces in the sense that multiple, often incompatible spaces are brought
within a single space which juxtapose and question taken-for-granted utopian
imaginations from afar. Extending prior considerations into online space, we suggest
in particular that the heterotopian selﬁe practices that we have discussed establish
material and expressive juxtapositions with what we argue are relatively stable brand
assemblages. Like other forms of heterotopia they can destabilize key layers at which
brands are assembled. In particular, we are interested in the potentially
deterritorialising intersections of tried-and-tested branding practices and social media
selﬁe practices as assemblages of the self (Hess 2015).
Instagram is arguably a curious example of heterotopia, one which is imploded
in the present but which contains in fact multiple presents, or an excessive ﬂow of
parallel moments, impossible to conceive or follow at the same time, but which linger
over and are accessible in any moment in time, in any place via the mobile
application. These images en mass, we argue, thus distance the brands from their
historical origins and launch them towards the most ﬂeeting, ephemeral and transitory
times. As Foucault stresses, heterotopian spaces do not tend towards the eternal but
rather the (absolute) present, a continuous reaching back on present as a sort of
immediate knowledge. The problem for brands which occurs here relates to
Beverland’s (2005) requirement of a stylistic consistency that should remain
untouched. Moreover, in addition to the generation of destabilising images, we
suggest that the implications of these are ampliﬁed by the form of this content, and the
manner in which selﬁe images are shared in an attention economy established in a
growing culture of ‘microcelebrity’.
Selﬁes and Microcelebrity Logic
We consider in particular that the heterotopian eﬀects described above become
intensiﬁed and accelerated in the attention economy driven by consumer
microcelebrity. This phenomenon acts to implicate individuals’ experiences with
brand assemblages because microcelebrity practices enhance the circulation of
heterotopian images both in terms of volume and scale. Prior work deﬁnes the selﬁe
as a device of microcelebrity self-branding (Marwick 2015; Senft 2013), practices
through which consumers gain attentional capital through intensiﬁed and metriﬁed
likes, followers and shares (Gerlitz and Helmond 2013). We consider that this directs
interest and generates traﬃc around new forms of consumer heterotopias as well as
diversity of – while often arguably unintended – brand meanings.
In particular, we witness consumers presenting themselves as brands by
formulating online proﬁles with images of lifestyle. Moreover, we show that
opportunities to be the subject of portraits of glamorous and conspicuous consumption
that express a luxurious and successful life is no longer the preserve of so called A-
listers, but also ‘ordinary’ consumers (Iqani and Schroeder 2015; Marwick 2015). It is
at this juncture that we envisage a vital new implication for brand management. In
particular, our study highlights the multiplicity of bodies and expressions represented
in selﬁes – as well as what particular material bodies (including objects, artefacts and
brands) and expressions (including ethnicity, class/status, and celebrity) are included
or excluded in selﬁes – may serve as a call for further research in diﬀerent
The necessity to research these complex cycles of mediation is made all the
more pressing by the advent of social media technologies in which visual
communication of brand-mediated self images are paramount. Internet technologies
have not only enhanced the potential for consumers to deﬁne themselves (Belk 2013)
and to create their own meanings for brands – but also to create and distribute images
that represent these meaning-making activities. The selﬁe is thus a key digital artefact
of personal branding and microcelebrity practices, and one that is likely to implicate
brands in new ways. Indeed, if celebrities have played important roles in the
construction of brand meaning, their images and lifestyles used to exemplify and
illustrate the lifeworlds to which certain brands belong (Holt 2004), then the rising
phenomenon of consumer microcelebrity means that those narrative-driven eﬀects
that have often been hailed as boosting brand meanings may be placed at stake by the
manners in which ordinary consumers dream about, use, and express themselves
through brands in social media. We thus call for future research to explore these
complex re-combinations of material and expressive capacities through which
consumers engage with brands and integrate them into expressions of self through
postings – not only to show which brands they are loyal to but rather brands that allow
them to carry out creative self-expression and to gain attentional capital.
The authors wish to thank the participants at the 7th Kern Conference on Visual
Communications at Rochester, USA, for their helpful comments on the previous
version of this manuscript. In addition, we wish to thank Maria Federley for her
illustration work and permission to reproduce the images used in this manuscript.
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