The Mystery Behind the Influence of Instagram and The Popular Culture Industry
Instagram has influenced humans and created a mystery around how artists and influencers have managed to sell the popular culture industry to the public. Celebrity fan-based products have created a culture of consumption and distraction with no end. Product placement is widespread in today’s world; social media is an excellent way to connect with people and sell products. However, it is controlled by executives who make decisions on product placement much differently than when television was popular in the past. As a result, many artists/influencers have “sold out” to consumer franchising. Although Instagram has enormously influenced artists and popular culture, this has driven our addiction to the fan-based product industry. How have Instagram and other social media platforms managed to do this to our culture? People have become exceedingly compulsive with social media; as a result, other areas of their lives suffer from trying to be part of a digital world.
Jean Baudrillard’s work, “Simulacra and Simulations,” points out that society has replaced reality with symbols and signs, and we have a perceived fact seen through the symbolism of media and a false culture. Social media platforms such as Instagram have obscured our ‘real’ needs with that of products sold to consumers for profit and commercial gain. Instagram creates a mystery around how our data is tracked through algorithms and what we post every day, whether it’s celebrities selling their fan-based products or just people having fun sharing photos. The impact of social media and the popular culture industry still emphasizes sharing content with other users and communication; however, the influence of platforms like Instagram on artists and industry seems to be connecting one group with another, just as television did in the past.
How Artists and Influencers Brand Their Products
Artists and influencers brand their products to consumers through Instagram; many have used this to grow professional opportunities and make a living. Has this fueled our addiction to the fan-based product industry through social media? The word influence has been around since William Shakespeare’s time from about 1580, meaning “exertion of unseen influence by persons” (Scott 2019). The word appears in a quarter of Shakespeare’s plays (Scott 2019). He describes being influenced by a kind of irrational servility. In today’s world, the consumption of fan-based products seems to be over-promoted by artists and celebrities through Instagram while being controlled by executives who make final decisions on product placement. Stars like N.B.A. athletes put their workouts on Instagram, and enthusiastic fans in turn purchase products from well-known sports franchises like Nike and Adidas. Famous athletes usually endorse these brands. A-listers such as Beyonce and Kylie Jenner, to name a few, announce pregnancies and births on Instagram instead of on magazine covers (“How Instagram Rose”).
Many artists and influencers make a living and fund their expenses through Instagram. Cristiano Ronaldo, the most-followed person on social media, is estimated to make more than $40 million annually from Instagram as a professional footballer. He promotes the anti-dandruff haircare brand Clear through Instagram. This is an excellent example of self-branding through social media. While developing their public image and gaining financially, self-branding also encourages the promise of rewards for artists and influencers. “Moreover, there is an implicit assumption that everyone is expected to self-brand in order to realise his or her fullest potential” (Khamis et al. 2017). Platforms like Instagram also promise fame and wealth to ordinary users encouraging the practice of micro-celebrity for anyone that posts on their site. Social media like Instagram create a culture of consumption and distraction for humanity; product placement is a billion-dollar industry with no end in sight.
Stigmas Associated with Product Placement
Stigmas can be associated with much of how product placement is promoted through social media compared to when T.V. and cable were dominant; platforms like Instagram have produced more fake branding and advertisement than ever. Compared to T.V. in the past, social media seems to have sponsored fan-based products on an enormous scale; as a result, many artists/influencers have “sold out” to consumer franchising. Before social media, audiences had no direct access to celebrities except by attending official events such as concerts or meet and greets. Instead, fans could see these artists’ and celebrities’ public image through T.V. appearances, music, and commercials (Wong 2017). Before Instagram, television shows and commercials advertised products to the public as a method of product placement with 30-second clips on T.V. or previews before the movies (“Product Placement”).
As Pfeiffer Law points out, “brands are turning more and more to product placement as a more subtle form of advertising” (“Product Placement”). One of the oldest examples of products advertised in films was the Lever Brothers’ Sunlight Soap, featured in Lumiere cinema back in 1896; this was in Europe when motion pictures first advanced. Another product featured was during the 1930s’ when Proctor & Gamble advertised Oxydol soap powder during daytime dramas; this advertising practice coined the phrase “soap operas.” Both examples mentioned here show how product placement isn’t new; the widespread use of social media today makes it challenging to determine how genuine a product is.
Movies in the past three decades like “E.T.” and “Home Alone” all have similar forms of marketing to the public; this is also a form of product placement. Most of what is marketed and sold to consumers is controlled largely by executives who manipulate how product placement is advertised. However, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has helped establish rules and regulations for how product placement is used through representation by artists or influencers and social media. When T.V. and cable were dominant in the past, people spent less time focused on devices like smartphones and were never addicted to social media. As Pfeiffer Law states, “consumers are less likely to be able to differentiate between organic content where an influencer simply happened to have a particular product with them in a photo and branded content where the influencer included a specific product in a photo because they were paid to do so”. Ultimately, this consumer-based economy has fueled our addiction to the fan-based product industry. The practice of self-branding capitalizes on how media is produced and distributed; it preys on a culture that is being overtaken by over-consumption and narcissism.
The Nature of The Product Itself
Although Instagram is widely used for product placement by influencers and celebrities, the nature of the product itself plays a role in this effect. Are artists and influencers automatically “selling out” when they get sponsored? Most people today live a daily “grind” of working long hours and being mentally stressed. Our obsession with pop culture and consumer products keeps us constantly tuned to an online world of images and appearances. The media and online content are incredibly prevalent in today’s society compared to the past when T.V. and cable were the primary sources of entertainment. Within the last century, fame and the promise of wealth advertised through celebrity tycoons have given rise to an overaccumulation of buying cheap manufactured goods to increase economic gain. The rise of corporate capitalism has given way to an integrated spectacle where the economy controls the state. As Guy Debord states in “The Society of the Spectacle,”
Imprisoned in a flattened universe bounded by the screen of the spectacle that has enthralled him, the spectator knows no one but the fictitious speakers who subject him to a one-way monologue about their commodities and the politics of their commodities. The spectacle as a whole serve as his looking glass. What he sees there are dramatizations of illusory escapes from a universal autism. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him.
Our whole society has strayed away from familial ties; our slogan has become, “work harder, buy more.” Social media has harmed autonomy, resulting in more control over society, like our data, spending habits, and contemporary life. Social media encourages and promises fame to ordinary people who use their platforms; as Khamis states, “Within a political culture of neoliberal individualism, self-branding is encouraged with the promise of reward” (Khamis 2017). One of the most famous food bloggers is 36-year-old Vani Hari, the Food Babe. She established her signature label on social media and had over 46 000 followers on Instagram in June 2015. This is an example of a micro-celebrity using social media platforms through self-branding. In this case, the nature of her product reveals the truth about packaged and processed foods, thus making big businesses more accountable for their actions. Vani Hari’s fame through social media and subsequent success can be seen through her ‘approved’ signature brand and product.
But does promoting an ecological cause on social media vs. promoting, for example, a mobile phone play a role like the product? Influencers such as Selena Gomez have been among the most popular Instagram influencers in the music industry. Recently, she had over 400 million followers on Instagram and Facebook; she has worked with many major brands such as Adidas NEO, Pantene, and Coca-Cola. In addition, her estimated cost in 2018 was $800,000 per post, making her an enormous product placement influencer on Instagram. Selena has learned the art of good product placement, but does selling products means she is “selling out” by being sponsored by these large companies?
Instagram is more about hidden advertisements directed at users to boost sales than just self-branding. Artists and influencers on Instagram continue to grow their profiles while creating a culture of consumption and distraction; it is almost certain that influential executives and corporations are trying to influence the population behind the scenes. Product placement has become more global, and our addiction to material things only increases the global advancement of consumer capitalism. Ecological issues and the importance of democracy in society give way to commercial gain and cultural capital.
Hope For Humanity in a Digital World
Instagram has influenced not only artists and celebrities but social media users and fans of products being marketed and distributed to consumers. There are more fan-based products on the market than ever before; we live in a society that consumes and disposes of commodities generated by corporations who make decisions on product placement with no end in sight. A challenge to humanity would be to see through the capitalization of democracy and media production and become more discriminating about how we reward ourselves through self-branding. The FTC should create a more forceful structure for product placement while making social media platforms like Instagram accountable for how they market their content to users. As Jaron Lanier states, “Our willingness to suffer for the sake of the perception of freedom is remarkable” (Lanier 2010). – Let’s hope we can all see through the illusion of fame and fortune so prevalent in our world.
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