A few months ago, someone was introduced to me as an influencer. Not a stylist, model, blogger or photographer. An influencer. Is that her… job? Well yeah, she’s paid to be here because her Instagram is so popular and she has a massive following. She’s for publicity.

After some searching and article browsing, I found influencer marketing is often described as word-of-mouth marketing on an unprecedented, 21st century level. Ted Wright, author of a book on the topic describes word of mouth advertising as “identifying your influencers and coming up with a story that is interesting, relevant and authentic that ladders back to qualities of your brand and then sharing that story as much as possible.” (Stelzner 2015).

So in the context of Instagram, the interesting story is now following the lives and ootd’s of popular rich women and men, who are paid to wear, use or enjoy certain banded commodities.

I also see it as a next step from celebrity endorsement, the same way fashion photography went from the studio to the “immediacy and realism” of street-style photography, which also brought about the beginning of fashion democracy that “challenged the rarefied vision of the designer through individual interpretations of style” and the decentralising of fashion style capitals now possible with the internet acting as an “everywhere and nowhere” as discussed by Jess Berry (2012, 133-137) . Ordinary people, with children, gluten intolerance and wealthy spouses become models/representatives in their everyday lives, and this product means that. It’s Baudrillard’s accurate and abstract, ‘symbolic exchange’ at play, interested in sign value and what objects mean socially to the consumer (1993).

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Margaret Zhang eating with her bag and sunnies

This is my completely stylish life and I love my [insert product here]. I seriously can’t get through my day without [product]. What did I used to wear before my [product]? Omg haha

“They actually buy what I tell them that is trending,” says Sara Donaldson of Harper and Harley (Morgan 2016). Mercedes Benz gave Donaldson a car to ride around in, she said “It was really great because I got to travel in a Mercedes Benz and show my followers that not only is this the top that’s trending at the moment but this is the car that goes with it as well!” (Morgan 2016). MATCHING MERC WITH MY TOP PLEASE. At least this one is open about her page being linked to a shop…


Harper and Harley’s Sara Donaldson doing some impromptu earring changes featuring a Jaguar.

It’s similar to that cringe you feel when you notice an insultingly blatant product placement in a music video or film. There’s just something wrong about advertising through people who claim to be authentic and honest but really have the same ulterior motive as any advertisement not hiding its function. It says a lot about how we read images today.

Brandon James cook is onto something good, “People are losing interest in influencer marketing – largely because, as it turns out, people don’t like being sold” (Cook 2016). He backs up this hopeful statement with survey findings by Markley that found micro-influencers have better reach and higher engagement rates then the hugely popular profiles (Cook 2016). THERE IS HOPE


Zhang’s photo of a photo photo. Artist.

One of my favourite influencers at the moment is Celeste Barber who endorses not constructed images of bought style and ‘easy’ good looks but the realistic lives of the majority of women in Australia who drink wine, have trouble putting on skinny jeans and don’t look photoshoot-ready first thing in the morning. She uses satire to draw attention to the absurd nature of some of the photos by celebrities and influences that contribute to the construction of this idealised lifestyle of glamor.

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I think this is what we need, but I don’t know how much it would sell.


Baudrillard, Jean. 1993. “The Order of Simulacra” Symbolic Exchange and Death. London: Sage p50-86

Berry, Jess. 2012.’Street-Style, Fashion Photography, Weblogs and the Urban image’ in Fashion Capital: Style Economies, Sites and Cultures, edited by Jess Berry,129-145, Oxford: Inter-disciplinary Press

Cook, Brandon James. 2016. “’Influencers’ are dying and im not sad about it” Fashion Journal. 6 June http://fashionjournal.com.au/fashion/features/influencers-are-dying-and-im-not-sad-about-it

Morgan, Elysse. 2016. “Influencers cash in on social media’s power” ABC News. 24 March. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-24/influencers-cash-in-on-social-media-power/7274678

Stelzner, Michael. 2015. Word of Mouth: Getting Others to Talk About Your Business. May 1 http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/word-of-mouth-with-ted-wright/