Instagram: it has become ubiquitous with photos of breakfasts and atrocious selfies, and not just selfies of your friends but of celebrities as well. These photos make celebs seem more like normal people, providing a window into their life which comforts many of us mere mortals. Sometimes though, these selfies have more to them than meets the eye.
"Just been for a run. So exhausted" writes a celebrity, with a photo of themselves rather red in the face. So, famous people have to exercise too, isn't that comforting. On closer inspection, though, there is something rather dominant in the photo: a clothing brand. Shoes, leggings, top, all items of clothing are of this brand. The brand name is even a hashtag. This seemingly innocent photograph is in fact a glorified advert, and an extremely effective one at that. Not only does this famous person exercise, but they exercise wearing *this* brand, and all their followers who aspire to be as good as this famous person will also want to exercise with that brand too.
Look at my new shoes! Or in other words: buy them
The idea is not disimilar to having a hunky actor flaunt the latest oversized watch, but there is a marked difference. The watch ad is on a billboard, and the hunky actor has been photoshopped and airbrushed to within an inch of reality. Instagram, on the other hand, is very real. Its photos are meant to be fleeting moments of real life, and this grounding in the everyday makes the advertising more subtle and effective.
What makes me most worried though is that I can't see Instagram itself benefitting from this. I admittedly have no idea how such an agreement occurs between a brand and a celebrity, but either way Instagram HQ doesn't seem to be involved. For a free app used by millions, Instagram could be missing out on the revenue front here, revenue it needs.
It is a great shame, but as more and more people use it, Instagram has changed over the years. On birth, it was a place where creative people shared great photos with a retro tinge, but this era has passed and given way to countless awful plates of food and duckfaces, and now big brands are cashing in on the photo-sharing service.
I am, though, being entirely hypocritical. I have Instagram, and I take some pretty atrocious pictures. But, sharing photos, whether of food or boring holiday snaps, is great fun, and Instagram's shift from a place for photographers to a place for people doesn't have to be seen as a bad thing. Instagram has created a truly social service, where pictures tell a thousand words, no matter how awful the photos are. I am adamant though that I never have and never will publish a selfy.
A quick selfie by Ellie Goulding, with a rather dominant brand
I do not take issue with the common people using Instagram. What I take issue with is the systematic use of Instagram by big brands to exploit these people into purchasing their products, whilst giving no benefit to the company who created the platform. Tumblr has taken these "hidden ads" and made it beneficial for them: adverts now pop up in users' feeds like a normal post, but Tumblr puts them there and makes a financial return. To stop themselves being used as an advert, Instagram needs to sort this issue, and soon.