How Instagram Made Me Fall Out Of Love With A Beloved Blogger

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Instagram/Jamie Varon

I want to talk about sponsored content on Instagram, and how recklessly we are allowing it to become normal in our internet lives. There is no question that Americans have a problem with consumerism, and that our relationship to material things is one of our greatest societal ills. But we are also grossly in debt. We are depressed, anxious, and medicated beyond what is considered normal compared to the vast majority of the world. We are being advertised to incessantly by companies who use our worst fears and insecurities to sell us things we truly do not need. And worse, these companies are attacking us on every front by convincing us that the emotional hole we have inside of us is perfectly shaped to their product.

Happy Meals aren’t very happy when you’re addicted to fast food and incapable of regulating yourself into a healthy lifestyle (because this is what these companies want — they want you weak-willed and dependent — while having you believe it’s your fault, not theirs, for being that way). You can’t find happiness in a cup at Starbucks — especially when your bank account continues to decline without you even realizing that you’re spending $140/month on something with no nutritional benefit.

Happy hour leads to an unhappy next day and a potentially unhealthy reliance on substances to get you through the day — because they want you to think your days are so bad that the only thing to get you through it is a strong drink (or a pill, or a chocolate bar, or a…). Companies need to make money, sure, and capitalism isn’t inherently bad, but the tactics have become both more aggressive and more subtle to the point where sometimes we don’t even know that we’re being advertised to. The internet, with all of the barriers its broken in media, journalism, and conversation, has allowed this constant advertisement to slip unnoticed in the cracks of our daily scrolling.

The newest integrated marketing scheme is hawking product at bloggers who, in turn, hawk that product onto their followers. Sponsored content is not new, but the pervasiveness of it on Instagram, specifically, is a fairly new phenomenon. There is a blogger I started following over a year ago who I loved for her brash and defiant attitude toward the beauty industry, specifically about body acceptance. She was political, strong, opinionated, and intelligent in her commentary about American culture. Now, as her followers and reach have increased, nearly every post on her Instagram is sponsored, showing off new products, new clothes, new interior furnishings all paid for by corporations looking to cash in on people who may consider her life to be aspirational.

The problem is that, while her life is a sponsored fest of glitzy newness, all of us (her followers) need to actually buy this stuff. We need to use the money we earn working our jobs to buy the things that are given to her for free while she sits around promoting how great her new things are. It’s frankly manipulative, dangerous, and reckless to use a hard-earned following to spread consumerism — to paint your heavily-sponsored life as so perfect that the only way other people can aspire to it would be to drop thousands of dollars to make your advertisers happy.

And I do love Instagram for hunting for new things to buy that people I enjoy are talking about. That feels genuine. But, when your life has become one sponsored post after another, it stops feeling authentic and, instead, feels like a truly manipulative way for corporations to infiltrate literally everything about our daily lives. I don’t shame anyone for their hustle, but I’m personally more inspired by someone’s hustle and then seeing the fruits of their labor on their Instagram, to see what they bought with the money they earned, or the innovative ways they made something beautiful with less, instead of seeing what some corporation gave them in order to subtly market to their thousands of followers.

Sometimes it feels like Instagram has turned into a glorified conference center where people will do anything and everything for FREE SWAAAGGGGG. To me, getting free things in return for hawking out products to my followers is unappealing. I used to get sponsorship offers often for an old blog of mine and I always turned them down. I refused to turn the tables on my followers and, instead, wanted to keep a sense of responsibility to my word and integrity.

I think there is a time and a place for nice things — and I am not above feeling a sense of joy about being surrounded by some material luxuries. Yet, I have to keep myself in check, to keep that little panic that rises inside of me when I see people on Instagram who have so much more. I can’t let myself believe I don’t measure up, because I will put myself into rampant financial distress trying to keep up with others.

I’d rather promote the idea that if you work hard and well, it feels rewarding on its own to buy yourself nice things you actually desire with the money you have earned — instead of aspiring to receive free “swag” in order to advertise it to my followers. Is that truly what we aspire to now? I don’t know. I mean, everyone should feel entitled to do what they need to do, but sometimes it seems so deceptive to use your platform to market something so unattainable. For once, it would be nice to see anyone in an elevated position of power decide to opt-out of the norm, and hold close to some semblance of a value system, instead of throwing all their morals out the window for a paycheck from Skinny Tea. *shrug* But maybe that’s just my delusional idealism talking, and we all have a price.

Jamie Varon writes, designs, and overthinks. What she thinks about most is how we should all just hug and chill and make each other feel less alone. Find her here: Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

  • “We need to use the money we earn working our jobs to buy the things that are given to her for free while she sits around promoting how great her new things are”

    While I think there are definitely bloggers/instagramers/youtubers/etc that overdo it, surely you understand that for many of these people, this IS their job. Maybe they get free products, but they’re also likely paid directly by the advertising brand. Just because their job is different than your doesn’t make it any less valid.

    I do think many become indiscriminate about what they promote, and that’s annoying, but for the most part, I don’t really see anything wrong with someone being paid to promote a brand they love. There’s a lot of beauty bloggers I follow and I spent a few hundred dollars on a new make-up this year, virtually all at their recommendation. I used their discount codes too, and in many cases I even bought the products branded with their name in partnership with the make-up line, so I know a small part of my money was definitely going directly into their pockets. No harm though, their videos are rad and so are the products they recommended.

    Don’t hate, just unsubscribe =p

    • Fritz Vanburgson

      I wouldn’t qualify the rejection of manipulative advertising which preys on human insecurities as “hate”. We should call it out and reject it wholesale – it’s harmful to us, family members, and society. Encouraging people to spend money on things they don’t need in order to attain a lifestyle that’s not healthy in the long term isn’t a good thing even if it is a job. Not all jobs are equal and if the only way you can profit as a person is off the fears/insecurities of another you should take a hard look at yourself.

      • Jamie Varon

        I love everything about this comment. It’s weird how normal and okay so many people have become with being sold an unattainable lifestyle. That is the crux of some people’s employment and is steadily fed to us through their Instagram. It’s terrifying! They make their lives look perfect in order to sell us things through affiliate links or to cash in with a sponsor. This is not honest work. This is horrifying.

        • Magical Unicorn

          I would argue that it’s not just through Instagram though, most industries today operate on consumerism and making people feel insecure so that they buy buy buy in hopes of filling that artificial void. It’s how the system works, how they make us spend, and how products are designed.
          So yes, in a way, it is true that encouraging people to spend money on things is at the center of many industries, but there comes a point where it’s up to us to extricate ourselves from this vicious circle and create our own small corner of sanity.
          I love how lucid and straightforward your article is. And I just followed you on Instagram 🙂

      • “Encouraging people to spend money on things they don’t need in order to attain a lifestyle that’s not healthy in the long term isn’t a good thing even if it is a job.”

        This describes virtually every job, in every industry.

        • Fritz Vanburgson

          I see what you’re trying to do with that blanket statement but it doesn’t hold up as strongly as you think it may.

        • Chic Noir

          Nurses, doctors,civil engineers,mechanical engineers, 911 operators and farmers just to name a few.

          Really???

          • VeronicaMariaG

            Devil’s advocate: the pharmaceutical industry gives so much funding to certain hospitals but doctors have to hawk their products.

          • Chic Noir

            Intresting, trust no one.

      • Mac D

        This is so bang on.

      • “Encouraging people to spend money on things they don’t need in order to attain a lifestyle that’s not healthy in the long term isn’t a good thing even if it is a job”

        While I don’t like how advertising is literally everywhere and everywhere you look someone is trying to sell something to you; people need to take responsibility for their emotions and their actions.

        I understand how powerful advertising is and how the marketing of certain lifestyles is very enticing but you hold the power over your own emotions and whether you act on them or not. When you see an advertisement that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy the product being sold.

        • Fritz Vanburgson

          Okay, and? I never said people shouldn’t take responsibility for themselves so you’re arguing about something irrelevant to something I said well over a year ago.

    • Jamie Varon

      Here’s the thing: I follow certain people because they promote things they love. If I’m following a beauty blogger who is giving me tutorials on makeup/hair, I know they are being paid to promote product (granted, A LOT of YouTubers get paid for the ads that run before their videos and not for the products they actually use). When it’s obvious that I will be shown products that the blogger is invested in me buying, I am fine with it. That seems honest to me.

      But, when I’m following someone based on something else entirely and suddenly I am being subtly advertised to, I find that very manipulating. It’s all about the context.

  • It is so true that stategic marketers of products try to manipulate the consumer. When I was going to JFK University, we had a specialist in marketing come in and give us a lesson on marketing. First thing he said was, “make up a problem, then solve it with your product”. “People buy the product once they believe they have that problem. You have to make it believable, convincing and real”.You often see this problem solving consumerism with most commercials today. They start by talking about a problem you may have, then end it with problem solved, by using their product. From beauty to medicine, hambugers and candy, they all do it. While this is deceiving, I understand how you can get annoyed and confused by bloggers mixing advertising business with pleasure. Bloggers that are taking free products from companies, then in turn try to sell their products to their followers is just another way companies are cashing in on new ways to get new people. It’s crazy that companies are doing this to popular bloggers. It just lowers my thoughts of that company and the blogger, especially if it has nothing to do with that said blogger. Just another propaganda ploy. Yuck!! Love this very interesting and thoughtful made me think article!!! Thank you Jamie for your awareness and awesomeness!!!

  • Erin Williams

    If you follow people that you don’t know on instagram, you are flat out asking to be marketed to, so I don’t see how this comes as any sort of surprise. That’s what they do, that’s who you chose to follow, you are the curator of your own instagram feed. I follow 67 people, and can name exactly three brands that I’ve chosen to follow, because I love their message and personality—their posts make me smile. They are brands that I purchase from mayyyybe once a year, if that. Then there are a handful of people that I follow because they are in the industry my husband’s business is in, and this is my way of keeping up with what is going on—I was going to be surrounded by their products either way. The remaining ~60 people are people I know personally, not brands of any sort. The result is, I do not get marketed to in any way I am not comfortable with.
    This world you talk about of instagram being full of swag? That sounds like total nonsense to me, it has nothing to do with my experience of instagram, because I have curated my own experience to my own tastes, which have no room for that bs. If you’re tired of the bs, take control of your feed and stop following people who manipulate you. Try not following people who are selling you things at all. If you don’t like the blogger lifestyle or think it’s healthy? Maybe stop supporting blogs.

  • nell

    Eh. All advertising (especially to women) is about preying on people’s insecurities, I don’t see how sponsored Instagram posts are any different. Instagram is a free social service that has to make money somehow, not a human right. You are completely free to follow, unfollow, or quit altogether if you don’t like what you see. I don’t like it when people act like they’re victims of advertising, especially when they clearly understand what advertising is supposed to accomplish. Advertisers are never going to stop doing things like this, because it works really, really well. It’s on us as consumers to be smart about it.

    • “I don’t like it when people act like they’re victims of advertising, especially when they clearly understand what advertising is supposed to accomplish.”

      100% agree.

  • I have noticed this with many fashion bloggers. There are many whose style I loved when they started off because they were operating with what appeared to be a reasonable budget and had to be creative to come up with new looks. This past summer alone many of these bloggers posted the same $2500 Chloe bags, or listing thousands of dollars in clothing on their “must have” lists. I get that you’re earning income this way, but to put it simply – I work a full time job, make a decent living and can’t afford to buy $1500 shoes every week. I can imagine that the majority of people who follow them can’t either, but will try because it’s a “must have” right? It’s encouraging people to continue trying to keep up with the Joneses, and it’s unhealthy.

  • Adriana Farrell

    Sounds like the poster is trying to blame her lack of self-confidence and self-control on marketers.

    Blogging, and promoting products, is a job, whether you like it or not. It’s called marketing. This woman is paid to market, and you’re boycotting her because in *your* opinion she’s “selling out” or promoting things she doesn’t really believe in. Many people begin blogging because it’s an easy way to get your food in the door in the world of advertising or marketing. Pretending that those two career fields are inherently evil or manipulative & deliberately destructive is both naive and petty.

    This site frequently leans towards shaming people who have lives/careers/partners who are easily afforded luxuries that everyone else has to work for by accusing them of deliberately manipulating, guilt-tripping, or trying to show up those of us who have to save for a year to afford some expensive designer item. I’m extremely disappointed in the amount of elegantly worded tantrums filled to the brim with bitterness over someone flooding your Instagram feed with things you can’t purchase without ruining your fiscal integrity.

    Strong, empowered women aren’t intimidated by other women with more. They aren’t intimidated by the excess, or success of another person. They’re either inspired of it, or platonically happy for them. Accusing someone of trying to make you insecure is just a cheap tactic to rid yourself of responsibility, OP. No one *forces* you to buy anything, no matter how guilty you may let yourself feel. You press “confirm order”, you pull into that drive through window, you walk into that overpriced boutique.

    How about instead of blaming the marketing & advertising industry for our insecurities, we take charge of our own actions and free will, and make better choices?

  • Cheyenne M.

    I totally understand the point the author was trying to make, but the irony of having ads littered throughout this piece was not lost on me.

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