Chute: Tracking Underground Oscar Winners By Photo-Sharing Buzz

Two respected characters actors, Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne, won the top acting honors at the Academy Awards show Sunday night. But the award for biggest buzz, according to the social media bounce on Instagram during the broadcast, goes to actress and singer Jennifer Lopez for a full-length photo of herself in a sweeping Elie Saab gown.

That image was tagged as a favorite by nearly 450,000 people during the six hours taken up by the Oscars show and the red carpet preview before it, according to an analysis by San Francisco-based visual marketing company Chute. Those statistics matter to celebrities and product marketers who are trying to cultivate enduring relationships with loyal fans and customers, says Chute’s co-founder and CEO Ranvir Gujral. Such fan activity might later translate into box office draw, clothing sales, and music downloads.

While other adtech companies track social media buzz based on comments and text posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other channels, Chute focuses on the traffic in photos and videos shared on Instagram and Twitter. Gujral says Chute will be adding more visual sources to its analysis.

Marketers can use Chute’s tools to gauge the effectiveness of their high-priced media ads during an event such as the Oscars or the Super Bowl, Gujral says. A big broadcast network such as CBS, which aired the Grammy awards show Feb. 8, may find that the online discussion surrounding photos and video clips has been hijacked by other media outlets. Vogue and MTV did this through their own coverage of the music awards this year, Chute found.

Why does Chute focus on photos and videos rather than text? For one thing, it’s a good way to find consumers who already like a product or person, Gujral says. A Chute study found that posts containing photos are four times as likely to contain positive opinions than text-only messages, he says.

The selfies people post as they unbox their new brand new running shoes, or the vistas they capture at travel destinations, can be valuable assets to include on the websites or ad campaigns of brand marketers, Gujral says.

“In some cases, those moments are better than what brands would create themselves,” Gujral says.

Chute has developed an automated process to find social media users posting favorable images of a client’s products, and to ask their permission online for the use of those images in client advertising. When minors express interest in allowing the use of their photo self-portraits in ads, Chute’s Workspace triggers a follow-up procedure to get permission from their parents, Gujral says.

The candid images captured by users are often more appealing to viewers than staged studio shots of models snapped by professional photographers, Gujral says. And they’re a lot less expensive for brand name advertisers, he says.

“One of our core value propositions is to save brands money,” Gujral says. Marketers now have to keep up a relentless presence in social media channels, he says. “Brands are now publishers—they have to produce compelling visual content every single day for Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Snapchat.”

Gujral used Chute’s mechanisms himself to see if one of his photos would get picked up by an advertiser. He’s pictured above in what he calls his “shining moment,” when his mug was featured by a big hamburger chain.

Chute has helped outdoor equipment supplier REI to encourage customers to contribute their own photos to a company Instagram project called #REI1440, eliciting “impeccable photography” that would have been costly for REI to produce at such a scale, Gujral says.

Chute was founded in 2011 by Gujral and chief technology officer Gregarious Narain, who participated in the accelerator programs run by Y Combinator and Turner Media Camp in 2012. The company, which has 46 employees, has raised a total of $13 million from investors including Salesforce.com, Foundry Group, US Venture Partners, Freestyle Capital, and the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund.

Chute’s clients include Samsung, Benefit Cosmetics, Taco Bell, Condé Nast, the NBA, and the New York Times. As a private company, Chute doesn’t disclose its revenues.

Chute finds photos associated with people or products through a search of the text connected with the pictures, such as brand names, keywords, hashtags, and Twitter handles. But Chute is preparing its system to detect some visual elements within photos themselves through a partnership formed in late 2014 with Cambridge, MA-based image recognition company Ditto Labs.

Until now, Chute has delivered analytics that allowed clients to assess the success of their own websites and social media messages. But the company has just added a new feature called Chute Insights that allows clients to study visual marketing across an industry sector, and see how they measure up against their competitors.

The tool would allow a small retail outfit to study the marketing strategy of a much bigger company, and learn about its customers’ responses and their broader interests, Gujral says.

“A competitor such as ‘Dick’s Sporting Goods’ could use Chute to understand REI’s customers and what they like,” Gujral says. “We’ll track anything you want.”

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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