Performative authenticity: Influencer sponsorships and consumerist culture

Once celebrated for being authentic reviewers of products, influencers have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years with regard to their reliance on paid promotions. More often than not it seems that influencers are promoting items they have little interest in, and it’s easy to understand why when the influencer marketing industry is set to be worth $15 billion by 2022.

Of course, when influencers are able to reach thousands, if not millions, of people with a tap of a button, it makes sense that companies want to make use of their followings to increase sales. However, with an over saturated and quickly expanding market, the process of working out who is actually passionate about the products they post seems almost impossible. Who can you really trust and who just wants to make a quick bit of cash?

Love Island, along with reality television more generally, is perhaps the prime example of how normal people can be turned into marketing puppets as they gain millions of followers. Unlike the influencers who do have genuine passion for creative content, the majority of ex-islanders fall into the influencer role post-television. If you have ever followed an ex-islander I’m sure that you’ve seen the promotions including teeth whitening products, air fresheners and other various, random goods. A lucky few even sign sponsorship deals almost as soon as they’ve stepped back on UK land, such as Amber Gill who agreed to a seven- figure cheque in return for being the face of Miss Pap. It is unclear as to how much say she had in the actual design of the items, yet her social media followers facilitated the transaction and as a result Miss Pap achieved sales of over £1 billion for the first time.

It goes without saying that not all influencers promote items just for the sake of earning a bit more that month, or that large followings actually equate to an equal amount of influence. More and more brands are turning towards smaller accounts to help with advertising. Not only is it less expensive, but smaller creators can actually have higher levels of interaction and engagement. However, there is always the danger that smaller influencers take more opportunities in order to make ends meet when first starting out.

The accounts that I personally trust the most are the ones that are sincere and open about their brand partnerships, as well as promoting products that I genuinely feel align with their own lifestyle. Norwich’s own Brittany Bathgate is a good example of this. With nearly 400,000 followers, it’s hard to find a promotional post of hers that doesn’t seem to fit with her personal aesthetic and values, resulting in sponsorships that feel genuine.

Influencers with followings of all sizes should take on sponsorships responsibly and most would agree that they should try to only promote items that they would use themselves. However, as social media’s presence continues to grow and mass consumerism is going nowhere soon, it’s likely that authenticity will only become harder to find.


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Elizabeth Woor

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January 2022
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