Why Do People Photograph Their Food?

Have you ever been at a restaurant and noticed someone taking a photograph of their food? I have. In fact, having observed many instances of food photography I decided to discuss the topic with some friends and colleagues.

A great deal of work already exists on the complexity and underlying motivations of meals. In general the findings from studies on food and meal behavior have shown that, "although seemingly simple, [eating is] in fact very complex behavior in which many physiological and psychological factors interact."

So building on some of that existing research, here are a few fun theories about 'why people photograph their food.' If you have any additional ideas on the topic, I'd love to hear them.

Theory One: Social Ritual

Sharing and enjoying a meal is a part of social ritual.  Historically, meals have often been used as a medium for passing on important cultural and religious rituals.

Perhaps people photograph their food together as part of a new social sharing ritual?

Theory Two: Collaborative Process

Preparing and enjoying a meal is a part of collaborative process. The process of contributing to a meal can be an important part of bringing together nutrition and emotion.

Perhaps people photograph their food to feel like they have contributed to the process?

Theory Three: Personal Pleasure Arousal

Anticipating and enjoying a meal enhances personal pleasure. The process of delaying gratification has been shown to increase the enjoyment associated with consumption of pleasurable products or services.    

Perhaps people photograph their food as a form of pleasure arousal and gratification delay?

Theory Four:  Experience Objectification

Eating and enjoying a meal is an ephemeral experience. Although the memories and emotions associated with eating can last a lifetime, the food itself does not.

Perhaps people photograph their food in an attempt to make the meal experience last?

Design the New Business

A few weeks ago I watched an interesting video titled, 'Design the New Business.' The documentary explored antecedents and outcomes of design thinking in business, from the perspective of industry and academic experts. 

According to the TU Delft students who created the video: "Old ways of thinking are being replaced by open minds and creativity. Design is playing a central role in helping solve problems and drive the future. We invite you to see how design is shaping the new business." 

This documentary is worth watching is you have some time - see link below:

How to Harness Nostalgia in Marketing

"I'm thinking about when I was a child and there were no cares and no worries... You didn't worry about the calories in a cookie, you'd just go for it.” - Respondent (2012)

There's something special about hearing people re-connect with their childhood. Like unearthing a treasure chest of emotion, the first years of life can represent a source of comfort and nostalgia.

While the realities of adulthood can bury childhood memories under layers of parental, work and social responsibility - uncovering and harnessing nostalgia can represent a major opportunity for marketing.

The Benefits of Nostalgia

According to research, eliciting a feeling of nostalgia in human beings can, "serve a homeostatic function, allowing the mind to return to previously enjoyed states, including states of bodily comfort." From a practical perspective, this means that nostalgic thoughts are able to make you feel comforted and physically warm.

For any brand that wants to be associated with comfort and warmth, whether they're a restaurant like Johnny Rockets, a food product like Kraft Mac & Cheese, or a technology manufacturer like John's Phone, uncovering and harnessing nostalgia can be important.

The Sources of Nostalgia

There are two types of memories that are often associated with nostalgia: social interactions and momentous life events. Researchers have found that these "areas seem to be most frequently.. associated with the recall of [nostalgic] experiences," and may provide a fertile starting point for branding.

Social interaction memories are often focused on interactions with close friends and family. In research, exploring memories and metaphors from childhood can help to uncover these types of associations, for example:

"It's milk and cookies, warm feelings, and the glass bottles that used to come to the door… My mom would always say, don’t worry if you drop the milk, it’s okay. My favorite memory was her telling me not to worry about the spilled milk.” - Respondent (2012)

Momentous life event memories are often focused on periods of birth, death and transition. In research, exploring the memories of major life changes and evolution can help to uncover these types of associations, for example:

"I had a blog when my grandfather was sick and dying. I wrote it for the extended family, so everybody had a place to check in and get updated on what was happening with him… A friend of mine suggested this type of blog, because their child had died. They couldn’t field the phone calls and the emails... it was too emotional.” - Respondent (2011)

Harnessing Nostalgia in Marketing

So how can you harness nostalgia in your marketing? Here are a couple of examples.

When research manages to uncover existing nostalgic associations with a brand, building a marketing strategy around those memories can be an option. One example of a brand that used this technique was McDonald's in their 'feed your inner child' campaign:


Alternatively, linking a new brand with an existing nostalgic memory may also provide a marketing opportunity if the aim is to reduce feelings of risk. This can be effective when marketing innovative products that need to make people feel comfortable, for example:

Creating Physical Experiences for Digital Brands

Back in February we were lucky enough to participate in the Transmission Summit - a global creative content and technology conference held in British Columbia. During the conference, one of the sessions I found most interesting involved Nora Young (CBC technology journalist) interviewing Angel Gambino (Wired Top 100) on her experiences building physical and digital spaces. 
During the interview Gambino stated that, "the physical retail space is now the marketing window for the online purchase experience." 

That got me thinking about the future of digital branding. While digital brands have become an essential part of life, we remain physical creatures in a physical world. To bridge this divide, could the next big trend in digital branding involve physical experience?

Digital Brands creating Physical Experiences

According to a recent article published in Forbes, the online giants Amazon, eBay, Google and PayPal are all in the process of creating concept stores that would help them extend their reach into the physical world.

While all these brands have built strength through digital delivery, there's a growing belief that "establishing a physical presence may well be the last frontier... engaging all the senses in ways that sophisticated algorithms can’t."

The recent opening of Angry Birds Land is another example of a digital brand attempting to create a physical experience. Whether this marks a serious diversification from online gaming is yet to be determined, but it has been suggested in the media "that Rovio is planning a series of Angry Birds parks around the globe."

Physical Brands creating Digital Experiences

Alternatively, an emerging trend amongst traditional retailers involves creating hybrid digital experiences. According to the BBC, the retail giant Tesco has been experimenting with virtual subway stores as a way of overcoming the need for retail space (see below).    

Bridging the Digital-Physical Divide

Bridging the digital-physical divide is an interesting opportunity for those in branding. A lot of money has been invested in improving physical experiences with digital innovation; like the way UrbanSpoon improves dining, or Expensify improves expenses. 

Could improving digital experiences with physical innovation be the next frontier?