Opinion

Shame on the shameless influencers who pollute our Instagram feeds

As brand placement on Instagram has become less and less subtle, it's becoming more and more irritating

03 March 2019 - 00:11
Couldn't make it through the day without my #InsertBrandNameHere coffee #CaffeineAddict #Coffee #CoffeeLover #SponsoredPost #Ad
Couldn't make it through the day without my #InsertBrandNameHere coffee #CaffeineAddict #Coffee #CoffeeLover #SponsoredPost #Ad
Image: 123RF/micchaelpuche

They're the rich and famous people you've never heard of and they're making more money for themselves and the brands they represent than some sporting champions, movie stars and supermodels.

The world is changing, and so is the nature of celebrity and the kind of content we're consum(er)ing. Some would say it's democratising - whether that's a good or a bad thing is a moot point.

Since the Land of the Free became the Land of Opportunity, America has led the way in creating a brave new world in which you can become anything you want, whether that be a YouTube star, an Instagram Influencer or a Twitter novelist in less than 280 characters.

Since the market is an ever-hungry beast and brands are always looking for new ways to sell, it's not surprising that an app originally intended for sharing photographs between friends and family - Instagram is a portmanteau of instant camera and telegram - has been commandeered by brands to get eyes onto products.

A few years ago, only stars like Rihanna were courted by brands as various as coconut water and Coco Chanel. Only Sarah Jessica Parker could get away with littering our feeds with poserly portraits of herself swapping Cosmopolitans for Stella Artois.

Then came the Influencers with their signature take on representing reality - makeup vloggers, YouTube stars, street-style fashion week posers - who build up their multimillion-dollar following by pretending that it's perfectly natural to wake up in six layers of toner, or that it's normal to watch other people watching Game of Thrones. Or better yet, that the thousand dollar brands you're wearing to hang out outside fashion shows in the fashion capitals of the world were paid for with earnings from the blood-sweat-and-tears day jobs you all do in your real lives.

Excuse me if I'm starting to sound bitter. I'm already pissed off that they allow sponsored content into my feed of well-lit elevator selfies, curated still-lifes, sunsets in the city and latest book discovery (office colleagues, I'm talking to you!).

I want to watch my friends' kids growing up and get a glimpse into the real life of some of my favourite celebrities, preferably without any makeup on. I'm tired of being advertised to, dammit! Please take that Louis Vuitton bag that you just scored for free out of my face!

Please take that Louis Vuitton bag that you just scored for free out of my face!

Brand placement on Instagram has become less and less subtle, and it's only slightly less irritating than the unsolicited insurance ads whistling for your attention from your SMS feed.

I get to watch you snuggling into the bed-size seat of your first-class flight to some exotic destination, bottomless champagne flute in hand. You get a first class trip out of it. Great deal.

"Thanks to @emirates for providing a girl with all the beauty sleep she needed to stay radiant," captioned one local "grammer" as part of a "paid partnership" with afore-tagged brand.

And now I hear there's a thing called nano-influencers, digital citizens as ordinary as most, with follower counts as low as 1,000, who are being courted for their influence. The point being that they're not famous.

We're going down the ladder here, people! Your average Joe is easier for brands to deal with, and far less expensive ... just give 'em some free samples - no need to declare anything.

The result, however, is more feeds infiltrated with micro-targeting. Your cousin suddenly loves some obscure moss milk from the Amazon - now you know why!

Not that even the most hardened of hacks doesn't love the odd trip under the auspices of brand immersion, but it's becoming shameless. Just look at all the #thankyous #insertbrandnamehere going up all over Instagram.

As journalist Richard Godwin eloquently put it: "In an era of falling circulations and declining advertising revenues, the balance of power has shifted in the direction of marketing."

In this sense, all the influencers are doing is profiting from a wider democratisation of shamelessness.

But as Godwin adds: "For the influencers, a paid post is not a shameful thing: it's a status symbol." It's capitalism in action.


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