NEW YORK: A growing number of brands are finding they can accumulate valuable consumer insights by paying ordinary people to take photos of themselves while they carry out day-to-day tasks.

As well as offering a degree of authenticity, these selfies are thought to convey information that goes beyond traditional research methods – in other words, the gap between what focus groups say they do and what they actually do.

As reported by the New York Times, a Chicago-based start-up called Pay Your Selfie has been commissioned by some brands to gather thousands of photos for which users get paid between 20 cents and $1 for each task completed.

These brands include some leading players, such as Procter & Gamble's Crest toothpaste, which wanted selfies taken while consumers brushed their teeth with their favourite Crest product.

From the insights obtained by Pay Your Selfie, data and marketing executives at Crest discovered a huge spike in brushing from 4pm to 6pm, which could help inform the best times of day to anchor future social media campaigns.

The work for Crest also revealed that around 11% of the men in the photos were shirtless, which Kris Parlett, a senior communications manager at P&G, said was a level of comfort that the company rarely sees from other research methodology.

Ravi Dhar, director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management, added that selfies can help brands to reach an understanding of what ordinary rituals accompany certain types of consumption.

However, it is not just major brands like Crest that have been exploring the marketing and data possibilities of selfies.

Freshii, a Canadian healthy fast food chain, sponsored two tasks on Pay Your Selfie which Alex Blair, a Freshii franchisee, said helped to inform the company about its product range and store locations.

For example, participants were asked in one of the tasks to provide selfies with "healthy on-the-go" snacks, but some returned photos of themselves with Snickers candy bars.

"We focus on organics and cool new macronutrients, and our consumers are into quinoa and kale and bean sprouts," Blair said. "But some of these photos were so far from that wavelength, it's really helping us kind of realign with the mass market."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by Warc staff