Image of Moscow-based photographer Yulia Mayorova shows up on Florence Bank ATMs



Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Aside from Ellen DeGeneres with her star-studded self-portrait at the 2014 Academy Awards, Moscow-based photographer Yulia Mayorova might just be one of the world’s most famous selfie takers.

While the 22-year-old’s work has appeared in magazines like Vogue and Interview, on billboards, mobile apps, travel guides and television commercials, Valley residents might recognize her face from Florence Bank ATMs. She’s not a Florence Bank customer, but she’s definitely part of the bank’s brand.

While customers wait for their cash to emerge from one of the bank’s ATMs, the screen depicts her on a Roman holiday, smiling in front of the Colosseum.

And it was from that advertisement that one Northampton resident and Florence Bank customer recognized Mayorova. He spotted her in a promo aired during March Madness for a coming TV show featuring questionable selfies. This time, however, the Italian background was Photoshopped out and replaced with a funeral scene, casket and mourners in all.

Those in the advertising industry call it “recall” — the ability for a consumer to remember what an advertisement is selling them. While Florence Bank marketing director Monica Curhan said she was initially shocked to hear of the funeral Photoshop, the ability for that TV viewer to connect Mayorova’s image with Florence Bank shows the ad campaign is working.

“They’re remembering the image and knowing it’s associated with us,” said Sean Tracey of Sean Tracey Associates in a conference call with Curhan last week. The Portsmouth, New Hampshire, advertising agency crafted the bank’s “Always” ad campaign last year.

Social origins

So how exactly did the likeness of a woman living 4,500 miles away become a part of the branding of one of western Massachusetts’ most popular local banks? And where did the doctored image of her in front of a funeral casket come from?

In the summer of 2013, Mayorova and her husband embarked on a vacation in Rome. While there, the couple took a series of photographs — some selfies, others snapshots — of themselves. They had taken similar photographic missions in France, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand, Mayorova said in a series of emails with the Gazette.

While many young people share their most intimate moments captured in photos on social media, anyone can see Mayorova’s travelogue through a simple search on Shutterstock.com, a stock image broker.

“It’s so funny that you have noticed these pictures in Massachusetts,” Mayorova wrote. “The thing is that I can’t see what each image is used for,” adding that the only information she knows about the purchaser of her images is the country in which they are based.

And that has made for some fun conversations.

“Sometimes my friends write me on a Facebook like ‘Hey, I’ve seen your photo in the mall in Cambodia’ ... or when I travel and meet new people, sometimes they say ‘Your face looks so familiar, did we meet before?’ ” she said.

In an increasingly globalized and ever-connected world, these types of visual connections are not uncommon. The funeral selfie featuring Mayorova was created by staff from Salon.com for an article it published in October 2013 titled “In defense of funeral selfies,” according to author Tracy Clark-Flory.

The online magazine used the composite image in Clark-Flory’s piece, in which she defended the emerging phenomenon of people taking selfies at those solemn events.

“These are attempts at chasing the feeling of being fully alive. These days, selfies are how we make ourselves real, to ourselves and the outside world,” she wrote.

The creators of the Florence Bank campaign say they, too, were hoping to use selfies to capture a sense of vitality.

“If you look at the images that we’re using in the advertising, it’s a lot of people who are having a good time — they’re engaged, they’re active, they’re people who look like the people who are in our market,” Curhan said.

While Mayorova is certainly not a local, Curhan explained that the bank aimed to use as many local people as possible in its campaign. In gearing up for the campaign, the bank last year asked its customers and employees to send in their own snapshots and selfies to be used in its marketing materials.

While many images were not of high enough resolution to be used, Tracey pointed to one example that did become a well-known part of the campaign: a customer proudly holding a fish he had caught.

The bank also enlisted dancers from the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and the Young@Heart Chorus in its first-ever television ad, dancing around Northampton landmarks like the Academy of Music, Miss Florence Diner and the Hampshire Courthouse lawn.

But the bank also had to draw on stock images of non-locals, Curhan said, partly because of logistics and cost. While the bank wanted to show that customers are capable of using their debit cards abroad, “it’s not like the bank can afford to fly someone to Rome to photograph them in front of the Colosseum.”

Cultural observers say the selfie has come to occupy a special space in the visual landscape.

“It’s not just a photograph,” said Professor Bruce D. Weinberg, chairman of the marketing department in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, likening it to an autograph. “It was crafted by their hand, it created a connection with that person.”

He said the selfie has both personal and social elements, allowing selfie takers to capture a specific moment in history, drawing both themselves and those viewing the selfie closer to that moment. “It’s not necessarily staged,” he said. “You can get a feel of reality — here’s what’s happening now, here’s how it looks.”

He said he can see Florence Bank’s motivation in using such photographs. “You would want to create images for people to identify with.” He added that because Florence Bank is trying to appeal to a range of people, the campaign might have been more effective if it had used a series of selfies in a collage to capture a broad range of personal experiences.

As for the case of the Photoshopped funeral background, Weinberg, Curhan, Tracey and Mayorova all chalk it up as a sign of the times.

Mayorova said she knows that her photographs — and face — can be used in any number of ways when she sells them publicly. “Of course, to me it’s pretty strange and I would never take selfie at the funeral, so thank God I’m wearing sunglasses on that picture,” she added.

Tracey said as hard as companies try to protect their brands, the Internet age has introduced variables never before seen. “It’s like, all bets are off. Things are moving so fast and there’s so many permutations of things,” he said.

“We’re really careful of so many things — every word that we put out there — we really want to protect the brand. As hard as we worked at this, there’s things that we can’t control.”

Weinberg says results of that lack of control are often inconsequential.

“With the Internet today, the truth is going to be found out,” he said. “The question is, who cares and to what extent do they care?”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.


 


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