How Instagram Influencers Changed Marketing “Kylie Jenner Made Me Buy This Stupid T-shirt”

by | Marketing, Branding, Business | 0 comments

“Butt ugly? Got a face like a half eaten sandwich?

Boy does the internet have a job for you!

Pick up your phone and start selling on Instagram baby, you’re a star!”

If the sorcerers in the Instagram marketing department ever lost their savvy, maybe this would be the ad you’d see for their company. It’d probably be slipped almost incognito between a couple of funky headlines about recovered UFO technology and Edward Leedskalnin somewhere up on too.


But this is the real world, and Instagram haven’t lost their ever-lovin’ collective mind.

They’re busy punching out ridiculous profits, year over year, and dominating the mental real estate of just about everyone with access to the web.

Good for them. But as for us, the mere plebs on the sidelines?

Well it’s 2022, and Instagram is yet another heavy hitter in a long line of “onlines” whose success is pinned to their capacity to offer you a slice of that action, baby.

In fact, for Instagram, they’ve basically turned the act of helping their subscribers to get some of that “action” into an artform.

While everyone else was busy swatting the palm leaves and debris off their face in the unfolding savage maelstrom that was post-GFC America, the weisenheimers behind Insta (as it is colloquially known) were gettin jiggy wit the final tweaks on their new lovechild. There it was, wrapped in swaddling clothes, the infant social media giant pawing at the sky, blissfully unaware of the havoc its modern day product evangelists would wreak on the fledgling world of online marketing.

It’s 2010.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, an American entrepreneur and a Brazilian-American software engineer have unleashed the Kraken on an unsuspecting public. No-one, probably not even Systrom and Krieger would predict the seam-busting colossal growth to come. Within only 2 months, Instagram had one million registered users. Within a year, 10 million.

It was hard not to notice. Within 2 years, the company had closed a deal with Facebook to sell for roughly $1 billion USD.

By 2018, Insta picked up another billion- this time, one billion registered users.

Zuckerberg and co. certainly got their money’s worth; In the same year, the social media behemoth was valued at an unthinkable $100 Billion dollars.

And the beat went on. These days, it’s said to be downloaded and used in roughly 170 countries. Wowee.


Pencil-neck midget rises to become a towering Ronnie Coleman. Is that the whole story here?

Absolutely not. You see, while the cigar-chomping fat cats at Insta HQ were busy charting the unstoppable growth, there was another equally prodigious shift taking place. Some cheeky bastard figured out that this little app was just all too swell for flipping goods and making a quick buck.

Then some other equally cheeky bastard figured out that the first cheeky bastard would happily flog his wares on his behalf… for a fee of course.

Et Voila!

“Social Media Influencing” was born.

I mean, it probably didn’t quite happen like that, but you get the drift. Instagram paved the way for “influencer marketing”.

“Kylie Jenner Made Me Buy This Stupid T-shirt”

When Paris Hilton wandered across our collective TV screens way back in 2003, the most common questions people had were “who the hell is this woman?” and “What does she even do?” The answer wasn’t clear. Apart from being the heiress to a vast fortune, Paris lacked any discernible talent. Out of nowhere, it seemed as though daddy’s money had allowed this airhead to be paraded onscreen for the whole world to see, but to what end was anyone’s guess. The “event” of her arrival as a thing on the Hollywood social scene, though odd and puzzling, was not without significance.

Looking back, it was an opening salvo in the war for the public’s attention that was about to be waged by individuals whose fame would be rooted not in any specific ability as in the past, but rather in the mere fact of their (often eccentric) existence.

It was this ability to capture attention for the sake of attention that would later be financially weaponized by the likes of Kylie Jenner. With the help of Instagram, the young Kardashian turned her ability to draw a following into a viable business model, striking deals to recommend products throughout her feed.

The model worked.

As of 2021, the net worth of the 24-year-old is $700 million.

But how? And why?

Kyle Wong, CEO of San-Francisco based software company Pixlee offers a clue.

One of the biggest shifts in marketing is the fact that a brand’s message today doesn’t have to come from the brand”.

That model we saw in the past- billboards, newspaper ads, TV spots, infomercials, even static online advertisements- they all took a top-down approach. A company spoke to its target customers from an ivory Manhattan tower. Often ad men struggled to push past the feeling of distance between themselves and the consumer. Ad campaigns were unwieldy and costly undertakings, where the burden of error laid solely upon the shoulders of the company doing the advertising.

Alongside the breakneck growth in Instagram’s popularity, appeared a revelation: Companies could begin paying everyday individuals to reach out to their target audience and talk to them intimately, on a “street” level. And they could do so both covertly and overtly.

Running channels on Instagram, the regular everyday normal guys had built up trust with their audiences, and companies realized that that trust could be gently leveraged, or even viciously hijacked, if the price was right.

An avalanche ensued.

Hollywood quickly caught on also, and the numbers reflect it. In 2022, the influencer marketing industry is projected to be worth a colossal $16.4 billion dollars.  

(Note: This figure includes all major social media platforms, not just Instagram)

Everyone from Cristiano Ronaldo to Taylor Swift is hawking products. By now, it’s an inescapable reality baked into the platform.  

So, did I really buy Kylie Jenner’s T-Shirt?


I lied, okay?

I never bought a damn thing from that shrill harpy. I’m way too high brow for that. You can tell by my Beavis & Butthead themed cargo shorts.

But I digress.

These days, there’s two major ways influencers are making moolah on Instagram: Sponsored posts, and affiliate marketing.

In recent years, the FTC has clamped down on sponsored posts, saying that these will require a clear marking with either a #sponsored or #ad. Nevertheless, rumors abound of under the table deals, which often arises from followers in response to suspiciously off-brand spamming of particular products.

As far as the money goes, earning $700–$900 per picture is not unheard of for those with more than 100,000 followers. One sponsored photo may even bring in $2,000 to $3,000 for those with roughly 500,000 followers. That said, the sky is (as always) the limit for the A-list crowd, whose financial benefit extends to movie and television deals, as has been the case with the Kardashian family. Kim Kardashian for example apparently nets anywhere between $300,000 to $1 million for only a single post, spread across all her social media profiles.

Affiliate marketing is the other most common route, with instagrammers opting to openly market products, in order to receive an agreed upon commission for each sale.

What really sets apart Instagram Influence marketing is the level of trust that the content creators have established. The stats speak volumes:  79 percent of marketers view it as essential to their efforts in generating sales or sales leads. A whopping 83 percent of Instagram’s users make use of the platform to locate new products. 87 percent of users who saw product information postings on the site decide to take an action such as following a company, going to its physical location, or going ahead and buying something.

Perhaps key to fostering trust is the tiered approach that has evolved over time. Generally, those using the platform to recommend brands- the influencers- are broken up into 4 main groups:

  • Nano-influencers. Having less than 10 thousand followers, these are the most relatable, down-to-earth personalities.
  • Micro-influencers. Those with less than 100 thousand followers, often perceived as experts in a particular niche.
  • Macro-influencers. Those with 100 thousand to 1 million followers. Sometimes these are celebrities, but more often than not, they’re influencers who turned product marketing into a full time job.
  • Mega-influencers. Those with more than 1 million followers. Typically public figures, celebrities.

Companies aren’t always looking for big name celebrities to lend their name to their service or product. In fact, depending on the campaign a little-known unkempt woodsman out in the sticks of Louisiana with an eye for quality, an awkward speech pattern and a 9000 follower count, may be perfect.

It really depends. That’s the beauty of what Instagram has created.

It just so happens that those odd guys with the small followings don’t like to put their name to junk products, and companies recognise this. Thus, a boutique product pushed via a guerilla influencer marketing campaign through 50 carefully selected accounts can be far, far more effective.  

Or hey, maybe it IS Kylie Jenner’s audience an advertiser is looking at targeting, with their T-shirt. They can do that too. Advertisers can customize to not only reach their audience, but to reach them through the people they trust, in a way that actually speaks their language. No longer are the ad guys relegated to a one-size-fits-all approach, nor are they stuck with the burden of speaking through the static medium of print. Through Instagram, a dynamic conversation can be struck at any level, measured, tracked and adjusted as necessary, through a brand ambassador that understands the customers on a gut level that can’t be matched by the ivory tower ad men.   

So there.

That’s how Instagram influencers changed marketing.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk. Ha.


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