The Cult of Maersk: New Trends In Industrial Imagery

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All below deck. A cargo hold on one of the E-class vessels © Maersk, 2013

All below deck. A cargo hold on one of the E-class vessels © Maersk, 2013

It may have passed you by, but there’s a strange, fantastic, new obsession in the photo world and it’s driven by a shipping company. 22,000 followers looking at… cargo…

Maersk is the biggest shipping conglomerate in the world. They’ve also got one of the best collections of photography on Instagram. Comprising enormous ships, stacks of containers and cross-sections of colossal cargo-holds that upend your perception of scale. But it’s popularity isn’t just about size, or ships, or some bizarre visual offshoot piggybacking the popularity of Scandanavian noir.

At IMSO, we have noticed a considerable increase in the interest for industrial imagery. From a sales perspective and in terms of searches on Image Source, ‘Industry’ ranks as one of our highest searched for categories. It’s a response by clients and agencies seeking to communicate a sense of something solid, being ‘anchored’, in the age of the credit crunch and ‘funny money’ where the manouverings of High Finance left consumers dazed and confused.

The other driver of this ‘industrial’ trend is simply a reflection of how the ‘digital’ has permeated every aspect of our physical lives. Digitisation can be overwhelming and we are nostalgically reconnecting with aspects of life that can’t be programmed, refreshed or deleted. Hence the ‘Nostalgia’ trend not only in visual communications, but also in our hobbies and past-times. Etsy and brands like Lomo and Roberts have become commercially successful by playing into this. In music, vinyl sales have had their best year since 1997, keyboard manufacturer Moog has released 3 new synths that hark back to their analogue ancestors. Analogue is everywhere.

And the Big Daddy of it all, Instagram is itself founded on this kind of sepia-tinged wistfulness. At IMSO we’re avid followers of Instagram, as it provides a fascinating, all-access window into the everyday lives of brands, companies and visual trends. Yes okay, there is a mindless stream of shoes, food and pets that also floods our feeds, but we also get to take the temperature of a large slice of image culture.

Which brings us back to Maersk.

Cargo hold 4 & 3 on one of our new Triple-E vessels. From the DSME shipyard in Okpo, South Korea © Maersk, 2013

Cargo hold 4 & 3 on one of the new Triple-E vessels. From the DSME shipyard in Okpo, South Korea © Maersk, 2013

Denmark-based Maersk are the largest shipping conglomerate in the world and the images on their profile combine epic scale with the raw, industrial beauty. When you think about it you understand why they have some of the best industrial imagery floating around the web: unprecedented access to the largest ships in the world, a global audience and an enormous workforce to mobilise as visual narrators of their brand.

Morning mist at sea © Maersk, 2013

Morning mist at sea © Maersk, 2013

It’s not just the IMSO team that have been amazed by Maersk’s series of images, their Instagram profile has amassed over 22,000 followers since it was created. Are that many people really interested in shipping? In some respects these images are the modern equivalent of 18th/19th Century landscape paintings, where images of giant mountains for example expressed the sense of being overwhelmed by nature – factories are the new mountains? These images of ships also echo the photography brought back by explorers in the early days of the craft – images of desert expanses, jungle canopies or ice-scapes that stretched into infinity.

In the digital age when we are so removed from physical processes we are increasingly obsessed with the act of manufacturing – How does it work? What does it look like inside? What are those shiny bits of steel? Industrial imagery facilitates this very contemporary curiosity and whets our appetite for more.

Frozen containers onboard a feeder vessel in Saint Petersburg © Maersk, 2013

Frozen containers onboard a feeder vessel in Saint Petersburg © Maersk, 2013

‘Access’ is also key here. Before Instagram, social media and even the ‘digital’ phenomenon – access to industrial sites for photography purposes would have been the preserve of the well-connected, the experienced, those with professional gravitas. However now, armed with just a smartphone, images of unimaginable wonder can be shared and viewed millions of times – all from the comfort of, well, anywhere!

So back to Maersk. We wanted to know more, to find out the story behind this growing band of shipping photo fans. We talked to Anna Granholm-Brun, Group Marketing and Branding Director for Maersk about their exploration into the social, digital, visual realm of Instagram, the motivations behind it and the success of their campaign.

Frozen over in St. Petersburg

Frozen over in St. Petersburg

What was the original motivation behind using Instagram as a means to document the activities of Maersk?

Maersk Group operates in the industries of transport and energy. Both of these industries have a wide variety of untold stories that would be interesting to not only the people and companies operating within them, but also many people who are generally interested in innovation, discovery and technology. By actively inviting the world to learn more about transport and energy Maersk is not only becoming an engaging storyteller, it is also building brand awareness with these stories. In 2011 we ramped up our social media efforts to complement our effort on traditional communication channels with the creation of an ongoing dialogue on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. Communication through social media allowed for us to tell stories both as a company and as 117,000 Maersk employees.

Maersk on Ice. In the Baltic Sea, near Saint Petersburg © Maersk, 2013

Maersk on Ice. In the Baltic Sea, near Saint Petersburg © Maersk, 2013

You have built a follower base of over 22,000. Were you surprised with the success of your campaign?

We were less curious to see if it would work and more surprised to see how quickly our Instagram account caught on. We always knew we had employees and stakeholders out there taking pictures and telling the story of Maersk. Creating an Instagram account allowed for us to start hearing the stories they were sharing and provide them with a larger pedestal to tell the story from.

Edith Maersk in a puddle. From the Port of Rotterdam © Maersk 2013

Edith Maersk in a puddle. From the Port of Rotterdam © Maersk 2013

Do you think these social activites have had a positive impact on the wider commercial success of Maersk Group and Maersk Line?

Absolutely. Maersk Group as a whole has worked hard from the very beginning to find the strategic ways in which social media communication can complement more traditional channels of communication and help us to achieve our business objectives. It is easy for companies to get involved with social media and not have a vision of what they would like to achieve with it. However, with Maersk we have been able to develop the image of our brand as a company that is transparent and inviting towards conversation about what we do. We have been on a journey over the past five to ten years moving from a ‘no-comment’ company to one that is actually looking to engage and create an ongoing dialogue with our stakeholders. This has been a huge benefit for the global brand. At the same time we are continuously exploring how social can help affect the bottom line in our different business units. Maersk Line is utilizing the power of social to get closer to their customers and increase the impact of their customer service. Maersk Drilling is utilizing the network features of social to help hire 3000 new employees over the next two years. Simultaneously, our other business units are also finding their unique use for social media, and this is the true value of social media both on an individual business level and at the Maersk Group level where you can see the synergies of how it all comes together.

Maersk Buffalo in the dry dock, getting a new, more energy efficient bulbous bow (the 'nose') © Maersk, 2013

Maersk Buffalo in the dry dock, getting a new, more energy efficient bulbous bow (the ‘nose’) © Maersk, 2013

Are the photographers professionally-trained and is everything shot on a mobile phone?

We have some followers on Instagram that are professional or highly skilled in taking photos, but the majority of our followers are regular employees looking to share a little clip of their life at Maersk. The filters within Instagram allow for you to instantly touch up an otherwise simple photo and make it into a unique point of departure for a story. This in my mind, has simplified the act of taking pictures and enabled many more people to capture a moment and make it unique. From time to time we will also upload branded photos that we use in other places to represent Maersk. However the bulk of our photos are uploaded by our followers. We also have an instagram feed on our blog (http://maerskstories.maersk.com/ ) where all photos tagged with #Maersk are fed. This is a great real time look into Maersk around the world on any given day.

A rainy departure. Good thing someone decided to invent the umbrella © Maersk, 2013

A rainy departure. Good thing someone decided to invent the umbrella © Maersk, 2013

Who is responsible for curating and publishing the images?

Instagram photos that are published by the Maersk account are published by the Marketing and Branding team for Maersk Group, and the agency that helps us with our social community management.

Stern of the Emma Maersk © Maersk, 2013

Stern of the Emma Maersk © Maersk, 2013

What considerations do they take when choosing the content?

We use the same process in choosing photos to publish on Instagram as we do for publishing any other branded photos. They should fit into the general Maersk theme (http://brandguide.maersk.com) and visually communicate what the Maersk brand is and does.

All below deck. A cargo hold on one of our E-class vessels © Maersk, 2013

All below deck. A cargo hold on one of our E-class vessels © Maersk, 2013

Do you have a personal favorite amongst the images?

It is hard to pick a favorite when there are so many amazing photos that have been published. However I tend to really enjoy the ones that have a story to tell. One good example of this a photo where you are looking into the rearview mirror of a car that is driving on a freeway in Mumbai. The driver’s eyes are concentrated and there is Maersk container in the distance. I like this picture primarily because you can imagine it coming to life in a split second, but also for the way it portrays the Maersk Brand – as a facilitator of growth supporting the customers we work with no matter where they are.

Maersk in Mumbai

Maersk in Mumbai

Want to see more?

If this has left you wanting more, visit Maerk’s Instagram profile.

Visit imagesource.com for more industrial, visual goodness.

As an extra treat, here’s a timelapse of the construction of the largest ship in the world, Maersk’s Triple-E vessel which was constructed at the DSME shipyard in Okpo, Korea. The video shows three months of time, and consists of 50,000 photographs taken during that period. A six-part documentary on the construction of the ship, filmed as a collaboration between the Discovery Channel and Maersk will be aired later this year.

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