Consumerism and Social Media

In my project, I am investigating the representation of the self on social media, most specifically Instagram. On the surface, it seems that Instagram is just a novel method for users to share moments of their lives through images, it is also being used by companies to sell products.

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Whilst some companies make their own specific Instagram accounts, which other Instagram users can clearly identify as brand name, some companies choose to pay other Instagram users to model clothing. This process however is not clearly advertised in these images, other than the model perhaps tagging a particular clothing brand in the caption. In 2015 Instagram model Essena O’Neill decided to put the record straight and tell her million Instagram followers, that her social media activity was just selling herself as a model and advertising different products.

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O’Neill talks about a concept in Instagram that is yet to be addressed properly, brands selling clothing without informing the audience that the material is actually advertising. In TV programs any obvious brand names are required to be censored out or there has to be a notice about product placement, in radio, presenters avoid using specific brand names to prevent any idea that they are promoting a particular company. However these sorts of restrictions are not applied to social media, users and companies are not required to censor out branding and logos or state that there is product placement in their images. Therefore an image which appears to be of a woman in a dress about to go to a special occasion could actually just be a staged photoshoot aimed to promote a piece of clothing. This apparent deception could pose a problem to the idea behind my project, which is using Instagram to represent the self in an authentic way. If images like the one above featuring Essena O’Neill promoting a dress are the norm on Instagram, it appears that we can’t take any image at face value. Consumerism has a place in social media, however whereas it used to be easily detected in the form of logos, marketing and advertising, now it appears to be hidden.

Aside from the influence of hidden advertising, consumerism can be found in another way in the images of Instagram.

As users, we see images that have been promoted by companies and we copy the same aesthetic because we want our images to appeal to other users, we use marketing techniques to market ourselves to the audience of social media. Below is an image from the Jack Wills Instagram, the idea of using hardwood flooring as a background is an aesthetic that has been utilised by companies to sell their products. Now however we as users are copying the same aesthetic, perhaps in the attempt to try and look professional, or are we just unconsciously copying what social media is informing us is the ‘right’ way?

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In addition to this, users may unconsciously decide to promote different products in their images, just because the process of sharing everything is now so embedded in our society. The concept of the ‘prosumer’ has become ever more relevant in the age of social media; formerly meaning ‘professional consumer’ the term now refers to a producer and consumer, where users of social media act as brand advocates by sharing and endorsing products. Product placement occurs everywhere across social media, as people tag and share images of them using particular items.

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In this image, at least three recognisable products are being advertised from different companies: the Starbucks drink, the Apple Macbook and the Apple iPhone. The clock and the wallet are being advertised too, but I am unfamiliar with the particular branding of these and therefore can’t assume which companies would benefit, however someone else viewing this image might know exactly where these come from. Again as well, we see the same background featured from the earlier images, although the composition is not quite the same the user is mimicking the aesthetic by using the wooden background, whether they meant to or not. When analysing my own images on Instagram I can see how I have become the prosumer too, I have been promoting products while consuming them and all of this activity is taking place on social media, where the images are viewed by a global audience.

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I need to be aware of these influences in my images when analysing them, it appears that I am not free from all the pressures of consumerism, because it is so embedded in my lifestyle. I can’t simply ignore the fact that my images have demonstrated that I am a prosumer, so I must address this in my project. I want to choose some of the images that show the most evidence of this prosumer activity, to try and see whether other users can find a familiarity with them and in turn evaluate their own images. Do we even realise we are attempting to reproduce the same aesthetic or promoting all of these products, or are we just following a pattern that society promotes as the right activity?

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