What is “digital influence”, really? Let’s be honest: this new expression hides a business reality. Before Instagram, the major advertising method made available to brands was the purchase of advertising spaces, be it on TV, in the city or in magazines. No need to say that such advertising spaces were – and still are – painfully expensive.

With Instagram coming, brands (especially clothing and accessories) quickly realized the benefit they could gain: an instant, worldwide advertising space – and almost free, if they did it right.

And this is how brands played with women’s egos: since many of them wanted to present themselves in the best light possible (Instagram is not into comedy or trash, Instagram is into beauty), since some of them wanted to script their life as a dream life (read: a “luxury life”), brands would transform women into their coat hangers. By offering products.

And as simple as that, brands have gone from expensive ad spaces to free advertising.

With Instagram coming, brands have also played with women’s ambition by luring them into amazing “influencer” careers. But who makes a career as an influencer, frankly? Do you know any of them, personally? I don’t.

On the other hand, I know a lot of women who are offered products, restaurants or trips to promote them on Instagram, and that seems like a bit of a lousy business plan for anyone who wants to make a living solely from Instagram. Because a product doesn’t put food on the table, right.

But in the meantime, brands will have potentially reached a billion users, for the price of a product, a restaurant or a trip, that is to say nothing compared to the purchase price of a TV or press advertising space.

Besides the fact that brands play with the ego and ambition of some of us, these new influencing practices still pose serious ethical issues, if you ask me.

I’m not talking about women who occasionally promote products, or do comparative tests, or are occasionally offered inexpensive products. I’m talking about women who promote lots of expensive products on a very regular basis.

I can’t understand how a person who wants to make a career (read: make a living from it) in digital influence can maintain an editorial independence and genuine opinions when given expensive gifts. And if by chance the opinion of this person is negative, what chances will she have of being approached by other brands, which will probably be more cautious to submit their products to her if there is a risk of negative opinion? – these brands being in a logic of buying advertising space, and not qualitative tests, I remind you.

On Instagram, what does a brand do? It directly advertises on its own account, but it also uses “influencers”. Meaning: women with big Instagram accounts and “strong influence” (whatever that means). Smart brands will look at the followers-likes ratio and the engagement rate of the influencer’s account, dumb brands won’t even see that the followers have been bought (I’m telling you about this, because in the US, there are still a few feted “influencers” who have a million or more followers, and who peak at 20,000 likes per photo, yes we have a problem, Houston).

By turning to influencers, what does a brand do? It looks for “covert content”. In other words, undercover advertising. In other other words, nothing less than a deceptive commercial practice, whereas advertising content must be disclosed as such, according to US and French regulations, for instance.

The confusion is misleading, especially when you know that 71% of American Internet users, for example, do not differentiate a press article from an advertisement disguised as an article.

Do you want to participate in deceptive advertising? I don’t.

Do you want to see your Instagram timeline overwhelmed by deceptive ads? I don’t.

Along with these ethical issues, there is also the economic reality of an Instagrammer’s life.

First of all, it’s great to pose in a Dior dress, but if you have to return the Dior dress after the photo shoot, I don’t see the point and it’s complete almost deceptive advertising – regarding the dream life and the account of the influencer, this time.

Also, I don’t understand how someone who wants a career in digital influence can endlessly promote products – one in two or three posts with the #ad made mandatory by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the French DGCCRF is on the move – and not become a coat hanger with no credibility.

Because there is a huge difference between being a spokesperson and a coat hanger.

By definition, the role of spokesperson assumes great selectivity. No one can validly be the spokesperson for 50 brands at the same time. And being the spokesperson for a few very seriously chosen brands probably doesn’t make a living.

Do you see the squaring of the circle? Yes, that’s it, this squaring is infinite 😉 Option 1: you have ethics and you will starve. Option 2, you are not starving but you lost your credibility.

For the record, now: do I regularly receive collaboration offers? Yes. Do I refuse them? Yes, most of the time. If I like a young designer, I write for free an article promoting the brand (and I often buy a product because, well, let’s be consistent), I pay my photographer and translator because my finances allow me to do so.

Does that make any economic sense? Nope, but it is my bubble of oxygen. 99% of what you see on my Instagram gallery or here is my real life, at least my life as I see it with my eyes. The remaining 1% concerns dresses loaned by friends who specialize in costume (I name Marcel and Jeannette) for “historical” photos published in Faust Magazine.

I pay for everything because I don’t want to lie to myself or to you. I was paid for two articles in five years, because I was approached by two big brands with a consequent cash flow, and because these brands were absolutely consistent with my values. But also because I was totally aware that we were talking about advertising for these brands. And so did I put the famous #ad.

In fact, we are all worth so much more than being brands’ muppets. Please stop tagging brands on Instagram – unless you have a specific message to send, whether it’s a product benchmarking study or else – because it doesn’t help (except the brands that have already sold their products to you or other women).

We’re all worth so much more than being free coat hangers on Instagram for the benefit of big brands with insane cash flow.

Or alternatively, you know what? Get paid. At a high rate 😉

NB. So… here is a gorgeous Monoprix dress (who tags Monoprix? That’s it, almost no one) in collaboration with Laure de Sagazan. I always mention the brands I wear at the end of my articles on this website – never on Instagram – if it might be of interest to someone who has fallen in love with a piece and wants to embark on a treasure hunt on the second-hand market).

September 4, 2020

Laure de Sagazan x Monoprix dress – YSL cuff – Monoprix purse – François Pinton sunglasses – Castaner espadrilles – Prada headband