Essena O’Neill, AVON and the commercialisation of social media

A big instagrammer has recently decided to leave Instagram, and in doing so, has provided me with the catalyst to put some long gestating thoughts on the commercialisation of social media, and blogs down into a blog post myself.

If you haven’t seen her video, it’s embedded below. The majority of mainstream media reporting on her actions have focussed on things like the Guardian’s:

 Essena O’Neill, 18, said she was able to make an income from marketing products to her 612,000 followers on Instagram – “$2000AUD a post EASY”. But her dramatic rejection of social media celebrity has won her praise.

On 27 October she deleted more than 2,000 pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion”, and dramatically edited the captions to the remaining 96 posts in a bid to to reveal the manipulation, mundanity, and even insecurity behind them.

You can watch the video yourself here:

I’m not really interested in the debate of whether it’s a clever marketing strategy to push her new website or not but it does highlight a few interesting things.

Firstly that you can charge a couple of thousand dollars for sharing a picture on Instagram if you have enough followers, and secondly that Instagram has warped into something very contrived- less insta more curated if you will. 

Additionally, I note that the majority of the most successful Instagram accounts are run by women. It’s a natural draw to fashion and lifestyle (a report I read a while ago showed that Justin Beiber was the only male in the top ten most followed Instagram accounts). I recently attended a seminar that included a session by two Israeli Instagrammers on how to build a successful Instagram account. I finished the session convinced it had more to do with their look (blonde, slim and in lycra) than any specific social media strategy- it was aspirational for other women and if a bloke wanted to follow to look at attractive girls in running gear, he was catered for too. We only have to look at the constant media bombardment on women’s fashion to know that the marketing arm will take any opportunity to target women that they can.

Which moves us nicely on to Avon’s new advert. They send mystery boxes of make up to beauty vloggers, who “review” them and are astonished to find out such a sweet product is from Avon!

This tweet (from my parent blogger twitter account) sums it up nicely for me:


Type in “fashion blogger disclosure issues” to Google and you’ll be inundated with articles like this, this, or, from a blogger, this, that show the problem is endemic. Of course it’s not just fashion bloggers that get free stuff but don’t disclose it, us parent bloggers do it as well. I’ve heard stories that freebie products for review aren’t enough for some “pro” bloggers (my views on pro bloggers aren’t very nice) any more, they charge a fee, often in the hundreds of pounds, to either review a product or attend an event that has an inherent value in itself, or won’t take products below a certain value (often in the hundreds).

I’ve written before about the effort versus reward when it comes to product reviews, and also about bloggers valuing their work but I’d argue that as the value of a product goes up, the disclosure relating to the fact it was a freebie should commensurately increase. Likewise if a fee has been charged on top of having a product, that should be disclosed, as it’s effectively just an advert, or a “sponsored” post and shouldn’t be treated any different to that in terms of disclosure. Would I take a review seriously if I knew the author had received £400+ for writing it from the brand? Of course I wouldn’t and whatever disclaimer the post has about objectivity should be similarly laughed at.

For context, I’ve got a £850 HP AIO computer sitting next to my desk for review. This is due to be returned to HP next Monday. I’m not being paid to write about it, I just thought it would be interesting to have a go on and see how it compares to the Lenovo machine I have. If I write good stuff about it, that will be based on the machine itself and the fact I always do research before saying yes to any product- if it looks duff or has poor reviews elsewhere, I won’t touch it. I have been on press trips abroad- Germany (3 times), Abu Dhabi, I’ve been invited to France twice too but I’ve never tried to paint them as spontaneous trips I’ve sorted myself, I’ve always made it clear that Nissan took me to the Nurburgring or Playmobil took me on a tour of their factory. Doing otherwise would be duplicitous and as Amber writes (linked above), “Bloggers Who Don’t Disclose Are Giving Us All a Bad Name”.

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