Millions of people use Instagram each day to broadcast their everyday life. But it’s not just a platform for social interaction — brands and Instagram celebrities are using Instagram for monetary gain, and most Instagram users are completely unaware.
Most likely, your smartphone alarm woke you up this morning. You turned it off sleepily and began your morning routine: check your emails, the news headlines, your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds. When you got out of bed your smartphone wasn’t left behind. It’s connected to you the whole day, right until you set the alarm and do a final check of your feeds.
For most people, it’s hard to imagine life without smartphones. They are integral to peoples’ lives and world, and it’s easy for overlook the dependency on these devices until they are forgotten at home one day, or the battery prematurely runs out. People communicate ideas, meaning and feelings to the world through our smartphones by taking words and images and sharing them with others. Social media platforms exist in order to facilitate this sharing. Instagram, one of the world’s leading social media platforms, has become the primary stage for communicating through images. And its community continues to grow.
Naturally, brands and advertising firms have turned to this ever popular social media platform to promote products. It’s no longer effective for brands to stay offline. If a brand wants to reach consumers and get past the competition, they have to head to where the consumers are: online. With imagery being the key element to advertising’s success, brands have turned to image-based Instagram.
In order to promote their image and products, brands are aligning with popular Instagram users, or ‘Insta-celebrities’. These personalities — generally models and fashion bloggers — are paid by brands to feature their product in their photos, hence advertising directly to their thousands of followers. The partnership is more than not kept concealed.
This reciprocal relationship between brands and online personalities highlights the stark changes in media and advertising due to the popularity of Instagram. It also raises questions regarding covert advertising: Is it ethical that this partnership is concealed? Should consumers be kept aware of product placement?
Instagram: a Place Where Brands and Insta-celebrities Play
It’s no surprise that brands and marketing businesses have begun to harness the image-based social media platform. Beginning Boutique, a Brisbane-based online fashion store, is one brand that has used Instagram in order to promote their products and connect with customers. Their Instagram account has 259,000 followers and acts as a place for customers to keep up with the latest products and offers.
Beginning Boutique marketing manager Greer Alston explains that the reason they choose to use Instagram to promote their products is due to its popularity, especially among young people. “Everyone is on Instagram, so if we are there, then we are relevant,” she says. Social media expert Nicholas Carah reiterates this notion, saying that brands like Beginning Boutique are increasingly moving to Instagram because “brands go anywhere where there’s attention”.
Among this stylish, young user-base are ‘Insta-celebrities’ — commonly models and bloggers. Australian model Renee Somerfield is an Insta-celebrity and has a cult following of over 620,000 followers. Through making her life and world visible, Renee extends her work into Instagram and attracts the attention of brands that subsequently want to promote their own products through her Instagram.
Renee explains that brands began to contact her about paid Instagram posts when she hit 80,000 followers. Beginning Boutique is one brand who have established and maintained a paid partnership with Renee. “Renee started modelling for us and the reaction we got from our social media followers was really positive, so we then decided to work with her social media accounts,” Greer Alston says.
“It works out to be mutually beneficial for both of us. She promotes us to her followers and we then re-post her image and promote her to our followers. So both parties are growing.”
This reciprocal relationship between brands and Insta-celebrities is more often than not kept concealed, which raises potential ethical questions. Carah explains that although it’s more ethical to declare the kinds of relationships Insta-celebrities have with brands, it’s not strictly unethical to conceal them:
“Legally, people don’t have to declare that they are promoting on behalf of the brand. But you could say it raises ethical questions about the extent to which people should declare the kinds of relationships they have with brands. We certainly expect it of our politicians when they make statements in public … but I don’t think we’re at the point where we can expect these Insta-celebrities to do the same.”
Instagram user Hannah Kelly, however, has a different opinion. “I used to follow Tuula but got sick of how her posts were basically just ads,” she says. Hannah explains that she understands that following an Insta-celebrity comes with integrated advertising but that the Insta-celebrity should declare paid posts. “I think it’s wrong when every post just shows off an expensive Lover dress or whatever — especially when they don’t say they were paid for it but it’s obvious that they were.” Another Instagram user, Ryan West, is indifferent. “I follow a few people with tons of followers … yeah, they do post photos of brands’ products but I’m not too bothered,” he says. “I follow them because I find their photos and lifestyle or whatever interesting, so a few sneaky ads isn’t too bad.” When asked whether Renee thinks it’s fair for her followers to consume these advertised products, especially when they are unaware of the partnership, she explained:
“I choose to work with brands that I actually do believe in, and I only choose to post products that I actually like. I would never post anything that I don’t believe in, or that I don’t like, or I wouldn’t want my followers to go out and buy or purchase.”
When it comes down to it, brands and models need to make money and harnessing the increasingly popular Instagram is a major way to do this in today’s social media-driven society. Greer Alston admits that advertising on Instagram is also primarily about value for money. “The price you pay for someone to be wearing your product is much less than you would pay for it to appear in a magazine,” Alston says. “And it reaches a greater audience.”
Turning Instagram Selfies Into Six-figure Salaries
Renee Somerfield (@reneesomerfield) is leading the pack of Australian models and bloggers who have turned their social media accounts into big businesses. The Sydney beach bum and vegan has a growing Instagram popularity of over 600,000 followers and has turned her social media account into a business, where brands pay for mentions and she earns up to $1000 every time she updates her Instagram feed.
Loving Tan, an Australian self-tanning company, is one of the many brands that have worked with Renee to secure their product in her Instagram feed. Loving Tan public relations coordinator Rebecca Evans reveals that targeting the most influential Instagrammers, such as beauty bloggers and fashion bloggers, is much more valuable than traditional advertisements and gives your brand exposure that money can’t buy.
“We all know that social referral from a friend or someone you trust is so valuable and paying these girls to promote our product to their audience is much more beneficial than spending money on traditional media.”
Social media expert Nicolas Carah agrees that the seamless way personalities work branded content into their everyday lives and news feeds is what makes this new form or marketing, or more-so public relations, invaluable.
“It’s almost as though [Instagram] images are a little momentos out of someone’s life … there’s something quite personal about that”.
The March issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly exposed the rise of this successful yet deceiving business model. An ‘Instagram rate card’ card by Sydney PR agency Sweaty Betty revealed exactly how much some of the top ‘Insta-famous’ accounts are charging for plugs on their social media platforms. Antoinette Marie, more famously known as Sydney Fashion Blogger, topped the list with a rate of $850 + GST to post a client mention on her Instagram account. Other personal style bloggers who can be assumed to be earning six-figure salaries include Gary Pepper’s Nicole Warne, Tuula’s Jessica Stein who are both approaching 1 million followers.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have begun to notice and investigate the business practices undertaken by these Instagram personalities. The ACCC have released new guidelines recommending transparency for all commercial relationships in the social media world. New rules around disclosure and online product reviews state:
“Incentives should only be offered in exchange for reviews of your business if “the incentive is prominently disclosed to users who rely on affected reviews”.
Several Instagrammers have started crediting some of their posts as advertorials; however, many of those who appear on the Ministry Of Talent Rate Card do not disclose that their posts are paid for.
Nancy Hartley, executive creative director of a leading advertising agency, sees the vast benefits of social media advertising but warns that it doesn’t come without drawbacks: “If you put a foot wrong you can gain negative publicity just as rapidly”.
Renee is all too aware of the backlash that comes with representing other brands. As a vegan she ensures to only work with cruelty-free brands. She has, however, fallen victim to working with brands that don’t respect her beliefs, and her fans are always quick to point this out. “I recently starred in a nationally broadcast television ad for a beverage company and of course I did my research into this brand to ensure that they were vegan and cruelty free. However, after posting the video to my Instagram feed I was bombarded with comments from angry followers telling me that the brand actually tests their products on animals,” explains Renee. After a lot of damage control explaining to followers that she was not aware of these practices and having to delete and block users, Renee has since learned the risks that come with promoting other brands. “From time to time I get caught up with people that have an issue with a brand and take it out on me and my Instagram because I am posting about them, but I have learnt to ignore this and let the brand deal with their customers,” says Renee.
Popular Instagrammers are reaping the rewards of being paid big bucks to give up a post in their feed to those who are willing to fork out the cash, and see this new business model as a natural progression in marketing due to technology advances. Brands engaging in this new form of marketing are reaching greater audiences, making more sales and staying relevant.
Remaining Relevant: Marketing and the Social Media
Increasingly, brands and marketing businesses are using Instagram to promote their image and products. But it doesn’t work like regular advertising. Instagram contains no advertising model and runs off a user-driven infrastructure, making it so unlike traditional media. Brands and marketing businesses have therefore had to adapt to the platform. The advertising and media industry is one that constantly changing and adapting in order to always be appealing to their targeted audience.
The main reason for such changes is due primarily to the continual advances made in technology that constantly shift where a consumer is acquiring their information. Particularly now, social media and mobile applications have become the most effective way for marketers to engage with users because smartphones have become so intertwined in the everyday life of individuals.
Listen below to some young university students describing how they use their smart phones and what for, giving a good example of how technology has become embedded in our culture. Nancy Hartley, the executive creative director of Clemenger BBDO, which is one of the leading advertising agencies on a global spectrum, has seen firsthand the changes in which technology and social media has shifted how advertisers market to their audience. Nancy has been involved in the advertising industry for thirty years and has worked on a number of very effective marketing campaigns.
Having been part of the advertising business for so long, Nancy has experienced firsthand the progressive changes in marketing and how technology is a big part of it. She says:
“Technology has always been the catalyst for change. First came the printing press, then years later radio, years later again television. Advertisers had to learn how best to utilise each new medium,” she says. “Technology advances by the minute, so we are now in a state of constant change.”
More recently, Nancy was a part of the “Best Job” advertising campaign which had great international success and was one of the first to use social media. “We were given a budget of $1.2M to create international awareness of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef. $1.2M is a very small budget to gain worldwide attention, so we had to think of a clever way to make people take notice,” Nancy says. “We came up with the idea of ‘The Best Job in the World’ – Island Caretaker – complete with a pay packet of $150,000 for six months. Anyone could apply. We knew it was such compelling idea that media outlets around the world would pick up on the story and run it as news. Everything drove to the campaign website, where people could apply by uploading a 60 second application video. The applications got more and more impressive and the applicants themselves used their own social networks to gain votes and attention.” Nowadays, it has become a necessity for marketers to utilise the internet and social media platforms in new and innovative ways in order to gain the interest of their audience. This means that the most popular social sites such as Facebook and now Instagram have become pivotal to some businesses to promote their brands and remain relevant.
Instagram has skyrocketed in popularity among smart phone users, and advertisers are well aware that incorporating their brands onto such a personal platform creates a sense of relationship between the consumer and business. Social media expert Nicholas Carah puts forth: “Instagram is the coming together of a bunch of technologies. It makes images a really important part of everyday life. It’s almost as though [Instagram] images are little momentos out of someone’s life … there’s something quite personal about that.” So has using social networking platforms improved the advertising industry for the better? Nancy believes it has. “Definitely for the better,” she insists.
“It’s just another channel with which to communicate. And it’s not controlled by the advertiser, it’s controlled by the customer. One of my favourite ‘marketing’ sayings is actually a Chinese proverb: ‘Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.’ Social media allows people to get involved.”
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