Whoever you are on the t’Internet (@wanktank or @princesskindheartunicorn), you sometimes see a flicker of #AD or #SPON on Instagram from one of your stalwarts and think, ‘Here we go, they’ve sold out, now it’s going to be a slew of protein powder shizzle and flogging sausages – and while I love a pork product, I’m outta here’.
Chances are, we follow our favourite pixel pushers because their posts entertain us, or inform us, or make us feel a bit less alone through the 3am feed and, at first, didn’t have them slipping a sausage into their posts willy nilly.
But there’s been change afoot these last few years. The reality is regular people, not celebrities, are better placed to flog the goods. It’s basic consumer behaviour: I see Cara Delevingne trotting around in a velveteen catsuit and admire her, while quietly weeping into my soggy Weetabix.
Then I clap eyes on Zoe from Dress Like a Mum (@dresslikeamum) who has every bit as much pizzazz as the Delevingne and she speaks to me about whacking a boob out to breastfeed and the right dungarees for that life-giving easy-access. That’s my girl. (For the velveteen catsuit, I’d go to Natalie from Style Me Sunday.)
Keeping four daughters fed/watered/alive, writing a book (How to Grow a Baby and push it out) and being a fanny-tastic midwife, there’s Clemmie and her husband Simon (@mother_of_daughters MOD, @father_of_daughters FOD) who make me laugh whether it’s a sponsored post or not.
I’d far rather see FOD in his dressing gown, slipperless and loitering outside a bin for Fat Face than Jennifer Aniston wafting her locks on the tele for L’Oreal. I’m wondering where his slippers are, I’m willing a slipper company to invest in his trotters.
And then on my side of the fence, I’ve flogged/vlogged the shit out stuff, including bog roll. I was asked if I felt I’d sold out? No, not at all, I’ve got 33 years of experience on the crapper and if I can, I’m gonna use it to pay the mortgage. My hashtag is ‘parenting the shit out of life’ – what could be more befitting than wiping arse for comedic effect? It was my most-watched vlog to date and one of the reasons there was limited backlash (or splashback?) was, I think, because flogging 4-ply is, perhaps, better left with an everyday human than a cartoon koala or former soap star. (I won’t lie, asking the marketing manager if ‘I need to back onto the pan’ was a small low.)
This is a shift across the media landscape as traditional magazines and newspapers tumble. We’ve lost The Independent print edition, InStyle, FHM, Zoo, Loaded, All You Magazine, Company, Bliss, Motor Boats Monthly… the publishing graveyard is littered with titles that once prospered.
My own work as a journalist saw me earning not much more at 33 than I was almost a decade earlier and I’m now swimming upstream to keep pulling in the dime as a blogging, vlogging, pixel-pusher. (Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…)
These closures are the reason budgets are coming towards The Real People on the Internet. (And while Instagram is an occasional curated wonderland of filtered unicorn reality, these are Real People, trying to put their experiences to good use).
But you shell out hard dollar for magazines. There’s a clear contract right there as you reach for Take a Break to check out H from Steps’ hopeful return to the limelight. And there are ads; stacks of them. I get digit strain just flicking through Vogue to get to the actual editor’s letter (often lurking around page 46).
This is no magazine-bashing exercise – long may those ads reign if they mean good writers get to tell me about interesting things – but the process is: pay dollar, flick through ads and read content that tickles your fancy. There’s no furore around the process because it’s all clear for the eye to see. And while people and their families are not magazines, the principle is the same: Instagrammers put words and pictures together, just like magazine editors. I started blogging for the same reason most writers do: I like writing and think I’ve got something to say (though many have disagreed).
The issue is that the transition from magazine ads to ‘influencer’ ads has been murky. If I’m going to invest in a sausage, I want to know it’s not because Wall’s has told me it will sate my porky cravings. As a consumer, I need to know whether it’s Wall’s or @loveagoodsausage’s choice of banger. (Sometimes it can be both – but the flogger needs to have set the scene before the ad, otherwise it just doesn’t cut the mustard.)
“Whether it’s a vlog, blog or Instagram post, it needs to be clearly signposted,” explains Sarah Mawson of PR firm Celebrity Intelligence. “Consumers are generally understanding of these types of posts – they know bloggers are just doing their job and it builds trust as they know exactly what’s going on.”
And that’s the crux here. Bloggers aren’t just wafting about with fizz in their hands, casually posing/posting here and there to cash in. Running a blog is on par with running a magazine but without the other bums on seats. You are word monkey, picture researcher, editor, tea maker, ‘Bob in IT’ and occasionally a quiet crier when someone feels the need to tell you you look like a jacket potato.
Building a career on the Internet is not for the faint hearted. A magazine writer can edge behind the editor when the shit hits the fan, an influencer has to face the music – often very personal music about their kid’s ‘rubbish hair’ or like @samfaires (after posting a pic of her breastfeeding): ‘That’s one baby’s lips away from wankable’.
And while some Instagrammers have bigger followings than those magazines, their readers don’t pay a dime. It doesn’t even cost to download the app. So what’s a little ad? What’s a quick scroll, instead of a quick troll?
I started Mother Pukka because I was angry about how hard it is to raise a family and have a job. Now it has become my job, I use it to parp on about flexible working, so that it might be a little less hard by the time my kids go to work. I use it to try and make people laugh, because I think that’s best way to get through the travails of parenting. I use it to give some publicity to small, parent-run brands for free to try and help them earn a fish-finger crust. And occasionally I use it to get paid by brands (trying to keep it to less than one #AD per five or six posts). I only do it for products I like, and I only do it in a way that feels natural to me and won’t – I don’t think – leave any lasting mental scars on my kids (because, you know, we’re probably all doing that a bit anyway without realising it: ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad,’ as some poet once said). And I always stick an #AD on it, so everyone knows what’s what.
Because the truth is, noone wants a rogue sausage sneakily slipped down their throat.
Image: Miles Aldridge