From Good To Ad

So this week I'm sinking my teeth into a hot topic. It's time to set the record straight and talk about that all important, rather elusive #ad. This teeny weeny little hashtag pops up frequently on both our Instagrams and in conversation. Let's speak candidly here and admit that #ad can often be the root of ever growing cynicism and in an Instagram world where authenticity is the aim (and rightly so), the balance between what is business and what is purely pleasure can sometimes get a little bit murky. As a blogger/Instagrammer/Influencer (take your pick) the topic of "ads" is an awkward one. The ideology behind sponsored posts for a number of you out there is simply "it's all for the 'gram" or more sadly, "it's all for the money". Both of these perceptions are debatably in some way true whilst simultaneously being very much misjudged. How and why have we got to the point of deeming ads to be entirely disingenuous from the influencer? With a little help from this post I have decided to share my thoughts on this topic and hopefully provide you guys with some clarity along the way.

Let me start off by talking you through my process when selecting sponsored posts and apologies in advance for taking things back to basics, sometimes you've just got to start from the top. A brand approaches me with a product, a range, a campaign or a concept. And this is the part we must all remember here- It's my job to choose which of these campaigns or collaborations works for me. Inwardly I will ask myself a number of questions. Is it relatable? Can I talk organically and fluidly about this? Am I excited by it? Will my followers care? Is the mix of brands featured on my page varied enough as to be inclusive? These are all big questions with answers which will fundamentally decide whether I choose to accept or decline a collaboration. Every sponsored post on my feed is ultimately decided by little old me which leads me to ask, how and where did this pure and simple fact get lost? 

Planning a collaboration is a mutual task shared between both the influencer (sorry, it's easy to use this job title but believe me when I say it's not a label I'm mad keen on) and the brand. I recently spoke on a panel discussing the topic of marketing on social media and one of the questions I was asked was, "Do you think too many girls/boys are accepting campaigns which don't relate to them?". Hmm, well that isn't my place to say but how about we rewind a little and ask, "are brands doing the correct amount of research before approaching influencers?". It works both ways. One example which pops into my head was a collaboration proposal I received from a dating app aimed at twenty something year olds living in London. Well I have a boyfriend and I've lived in Manchester my entire live. Needless to say it didn't take a second thought to decline. These are clumsy mistakes and a little comical but it does happen. Granted the example I gave was a little extreme but it hammers the point home. I can't speak for every influencer out there but informed decisions play a pivotal role from both the blogger AND the brand. 
Now this isn't a game of "pass the blame", not at all. But when my authenticity on social media is continually up for debate it's certainly something I want to discuss more openly. Every now and then you will get a campaign offer which takes some real mulling over, I'm not going to lie. But ultimately these are the collaborations you end up turning down. If it's a difficult decision it can't be right for you. That said I've also accepted campaigns I've never given a second thought to. Ones where I've instantly known that works for me, that speaks to me, that's relevant to me. However these can still be the campaigns which get picked up by one person or another for "questioning" and it's in these instances that I really start to second guess my image on social media or the kind of person I'm conveying to others. It leaves me wondering "do people know me better than me?". Outside in the real world the obvious answer is no one knows me better than me, but on social media there is only so much control I have over my followers perception of the kind of person I am. Basically there's no eloquent way of putting this but sometimes you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

It can be something as flippant as someone tagging their friend in one of my posts with "Oh she recommends this" and the friend will reply with "yeh but it's an ad". My Instagram is not all smoke and mirrors. If you spot the #ad you sadly don't simultaneously crack the Da Vinci code. First and foremost #ad is there for transparency. It's a quick and efficient way of letting everyone know "this post is sponsored". I promise you it's not the mark of evil and there is no witchcraft afoot. When someone points out that my post is an ad I will not be sat in my lair shaking my fists like an evil genius who's plans have been scuppered... "And I would have got away with it if it wasn't for those pesky kids". I don't resent using this hashtag, not even slightly. As some of you may have learned by now I'm a firm believer in honesty and that goes for my social media too. Blogging is my livelihood and sponsored posts are apart of that. We don't question a shop assistant on whether they're being paid to help us and ultimate encourage sales, so why question a blogger on whether they've been paid to show you a product? If they truly believe in the item in question than surely it makes no odds to anyone. There is really no trickery behind my job, if a campaign is right for me I will accept it and I'm happy to let people know. 

Since we're having this heart to heart I should mention that having your posts written off as "just an ad" effects me on a slightly more personal level too. It's the social media equivalent to rolling your eyes at someone and whether intentional or not, it kind of makes me feel like a puppet on a string or like I'm paid to say whatever is put in my mouth. Sorry to repeat myself here but I can't remind people enough that I've chosen these collaborations. There is categorically nothing you can pay me to say. If I don't believe in something I won't want to talk about it. Granted sponsored posts can often seem a step away from reality and possibly a little flowery but this is all down to creative briefs and trying to make a concept come to life in one singular Instagram post. No you're right, that influencers bottle of perfume probably isn't always neatly displayed in a field surrounded by petals but it's a nice, aesthetically pleasing way of showing his or hers audience a product that they've chosen to speak about. Reality is important, sure! But hey, creative licence is cool too!
Truth be told the reason I decided to write this post was because I recently collaborated with a popular chain on Instagram and was met by one or two comments insinuating my post was- for want of a better word- phoney. The reasoning behind these opinions? Because I avidly talk about vintage clothes and often visit independent businesses. Yes this is very true, I do both of these things but that's not all there is to me. It's important to remember that on Instagram you are only seeing a very one dimensional side to someone's life and you are only shown what that person chooses to show you. This criticism took me by surprise as I genuinely do use this particular brand often, it was content I was more than happy to share and it was one of those aforementioned "no thoughts needed" campaign offers. It's just unfortunate I can't always show every nitty gritty detail to my day. I would just hope that people appreciate I am in fact a normal person. I do like chains, sometimes I eat fast food, heck I'm even partial to a Gregg's when the occasion arises. The point I guess I'm trying to make is that I'm simply not going to show you this on Instagram religiously. Why? Because it's the every day and who really cares? Just because you didn't see it on Instagram, doesn't mean it didn't happen. This editing of what you show people is no more fake than choosing a particular cafe because the cakes are Instagrammable or they have a great toilet for a mirror selfie. We are all guilty of cutting to the nice parts where Instagram is concerned.  

It's interesting how we want authenticity but only if it's well thought out, completely politically correct and appeases to absolutely everyone who sees it. It's frankly a little exhausting and maybe slightly contradicting. It's seems a little damaging to only want me to continue just showing vintage shops, independent businesses and the bits you personally find agreeable. That's sadly just not real life and is subsequently creating a unachievable lifestyle for both myself and my followers to aspire to. Criticism is the occupational hazard of being a blogger/influencer, that much is true. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't read the odd negative comment and instantly think "if you don't have anything nice to say than don't say anything at all". I often feel the culture on social media is that expressing an opinion and being judgemental have now sadly merged into one and the difference between starting a debate or an argument have gotten confused. We're so quick to take the higher ground with people we don't truly know. There is no right or wrong opinion and everyone's is valid so arguing yours on a strangers post just seems counterproductive. We would never dream of expressing an unprovoked opinion to someone we passed in the street so why is it now the done thing on social media?  Whatever your thoughts or even irritations are with influencers/ad does it fundamentally need to be vocalised to one particular blogger at that one moment in time? Actually scratch that, does it need to be vocalised to a person? Instagram truly is a funny world but we have to remember it all revolves around choices from every side. Choice on what we post, choice on who we follow and choice in what we say.

I don't blame anyone for cynicism behind sponsored posts. On an app where you can be whoever you wear to be as long as you take the right photo it's easy to point the "disingenuous" finger at someone or for that matter anyone but I do think you'd be shooting in the dark. There's definitely a debate to be had around #ad but personally I believe in just taking someone for face value, stop over thinking it and learnt to have a little faith. The choice is both yours and mine.

Sophia x

Photography by Rosie Butcher

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate you writing about this! Personally I'm not too fussed with seeing sponsored posts on Instagram. I actually really love seeing the creativity that people put into their ads and (in the case of clothing brands) seeing how things look on a real person rather than in a fully styled campaign. I think as long as people are transparent with posting ads then it's all good, why not use a platform that reaches thousands of followers to let them know about a new brand or product? I find your sponsored posts very authentic too x