With the rise of self-made micro-influencers, brands are thirsty to convert upcoming influencers into brand mascots. When the influencer becomes a pack-mule for so many brands, they lose their authenticity. Will this be a passing phase or will the market continue to consume the growingly vapid social media posts of influencers?
The fashion and beauty industries are known to foster cutthroat attitude, elitism, and pretentiousness that permeates even the highest and most influential rungs of the industry’s ladder. As in any industry, people with power and influence are more times than not, paid to partner, endorse and even befriend brands and companies that already have a lump-sum of cash—therefore are willing to dish out money for more publicity. This creates the inevitable monopoly of the established companies who can pay for their profits to inflate exponentially while smaller brands and companies struggle to get their foot in the door. Capitalism.
Political science tirade aside, it’s an unfortunate circumstance of a corporate world where authenticity and transparency are priced out. And out of this rut rose the ‘influencer’–a consumer’s confidant, and later, a company’s wet dream. Influencers came to prominence with the onslaught of social media and were, at first, genuinely people with an insatiable interest in the topics they blogged and vlogged about. Whether in their personal blog domain or on their Youtube channels, these influencers spoke out of their bedrooms and living rooms. They worked full-time jobs during the day and attended college all while sharing their hobbies with the world on the side because, well, it was fun. And for us on the consumer side, it was relatable.
Then, of course, within the herd of bloggers in the community, several rose to the top and were approached by companies and brands who saw partnership opportunities in these budding talents. It was innocent enough at first–brands would send products to bloggers and ask for a review. But it’s only human nature to try and monetize this friendly exchange, and soon enough influencers were charging hand and foot for a quick review or product placement in one of their videos/photos.
Product shout-outs turned into endorsements to the point where an “influencer’s management team [could ask] for $25,000 for a “product mention in a multi-branded product review,” $50,000 to $60,000 for a “dedicated product review,” and $75,000 to $85,000 for a “dedicated negative review of a competitor’s product,” Kevin James Bennett , consultant and longtime beauty industry figure, told Vox on Aug 31, 2018.
Dedicated negative review.
How much more deceitful can beauty companies get, than paying people to badmouth their competitors. Worse, how betrayed must the consumers feel finding out their trusted and coveted influencer was being paid for a dishonest review of a product.
With shady business growing in the beauty community, more and more figures have stepped out to call out the dishonesty within their business conduct. A Youtuber who goes by the name PrettyPastelPlease, released a video calling out the beauty community for their profit-driven partnerships.
In the video Alex, also an influencer herself, mentions that she received an email from a company asking her rates for endorsing a product in either an unboxing video, a stand-alone video, or a personal video–the latter implying her lying to viewers and claiming that she had purchased the product with her own money, with no influence or pay from the company itself. A blatant lie. Not to mention entirely illegal on the advertising frontier where ads to consumers are required to be publicly stated and exposed.
Two days prior to PrettyPastelPlease’s video, Beauty Guru and makeup brand owner, Marlena Stell, made an honest video describing the difficulty she was experiencing promoting her own brand, Makeup Geek, because she could not afford to pay her fellow Youtubers and influencers the rate they proposed to endorse her products. She expressed her disappointment in the industry’s fickle and dishonest nature where talents were too often more infatuated with dollar signs than the hobby they rose to fame through, with social climbing than the genuine friendships and collaborations that got them to that point in their career.
With all these things held in consideration, it’s hard to take the word of an influencer when they tell you about the magnificent eye-shadow kit they received in the mail from a certain company. It is hard to look at the makeup gurus, video game nerds, foodies and other niche influencers that we used to love and wonder whether all their opinions are simply bought by the very brands that they are speaking about in their videos.
This influencer bubble and dilemma only took off further with the launch and rise of Instagram in 2010. Perhaps the most superficially personal of all social media, Instagram is able to reach its users in ways that other platforms could not. It possessed the potential for long-standing photo and video sponsored content on the user’s image profile page, and the ability to reach users live, giving fans minute by minute updates through the Instagram Story feature. What’s more? It was designed for mobile devices–always accessible. Bloggers and Vloggers, influencers from all other mediums flocked to Instagram, building their profiles and follower counts. Instagram itself also grew its own crop of influencers, not famous for their well-scripted Youtube videos or their well-written blogs, but purely for the envy-inducing photos they take and their well-versed use of hashtags. An unfortunate backlash of a growingly impatient society seeking immediate gratification and easily digestible content.
For those influencers who live off Instagram, it is easier then for their voice to be drowned out by the sea of brands and companies searching for partnership. When they have less of a direct outlet in the form of video content or long-written blog reviews, all they have to represent their online character is the photos they post and the small captions under them. But “big, mass brands tend to get very granular, down to controlling exact wording. If you control every word, what’s the point of working with someone who built their following based on their own voice?” asks an anonymous influencer marketing executive to Digiday on June 6, 2017. When the influencer becomes a pack-mule for so many brands, they lose their authenticity, and that is all they have in their profession. Their ability to come across as authentic and relatable to the consumers.
Influencers these days are going as far as buying their own followers to seem more appealing to bigger brands. After all, a larger follower count equals more consumers reached in an ad blast. But as Nik Speller, a senior influencer manager at Socialyse, told The Drum on June 25, 2018, “anywhere between 10% and 20% of engagement an average Instagram post is fake.” By that logic, the influencers who buy followers are conning both the brands they work with and the ‘fans’ they are endorsing products to.
It’s amazing that influencer culture has grown to the point it has now. But really, it’s not. In the past, influencers have taken the form of celebrities, politicians, leaders. Anyone we revered, or put on a pedestal. With the emergence of self-made influencers, we were hopeful that we could trust and admire someone that we felt closer to–someone like us. But perhaps that is even a stretch, and with time we have come to put these influencers on the very same pedestals as we’ve put our coveted celebrities on. So did they give away their character and humility themselves? Or are we the ones that pushed them to do so? At the end of the day, influencers are trying to make a living the same way we are…just that they are given a little more of a platform and therefore the ability to earn money in ways we can only dream of. If we were given the same opportunities would we do the same? Hard to say.
I’d like to say that this influencer bubble is due to pop soon, it’s already leaking. However by human nature we will always find someone else to worship, and influencers will strike back in a different form even after the eventual downfall of social media. So where is the honesty in this marketing world? Which are the products we can trust? Which are the brands that are actually reliable and quality? Reviews and rave aside, the only way to really know is to try it and find out for yourself. Independent thought is at too much of a loss these days. It’s time to take back what is ours.