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.