Thousands of famous and semi-famous people make money by posting photos of themselves with certain products on Instagram. Some people seem to make all their money this way—Lindsay Lohan, for example. Meanwhile, millions of other people also post photos of themselves on Instagram, often also near or with products, but get nothing in return. Instagram, its parent company Facebook, and Lindsay Lohan are all making money—why shouldn’t I get in on it too?
Despite the fact that I work for a hip online media company in a bustling metropolis, no brand has ever asked me to represent their products online. The Instagram marketing industry, however, has grown so much in the last few years that there are now entire agencies dedicated to connecting “Instagram influencers” with companies looking for online buzz. One such agency sold to Twitter last year for a reported $30 million. The money is flowing, and since Instagram #ads cost companies very little compared to traditional TV spots, any idiot with a decent following can get in on the action.
Why not me?
I’ve never been arrested before. I have over 2,000 followers on my various social media accounts. I got a lob last year. Shouldn’t I be afforded the same economic opportunities as Vanessa Hudgens, this Vine star, and Soleil Moon Frye?
Just look at this:
A pregnancy announcement wrapped in a gift bag wrapped in an ad for a pregnancy test. Beautiful. Audrina Patridge isn’t even famous anymore, yet she was able to monetize an accident.
I could do that!
When I saw Audrina’s ad, I knew it was time to take action. Without anything fancy like an “agent” or “contracts” or “permission” in place, I decided to post my own ads on Instagram, drawing inspiration from the countless examples I’ve seen in my feed over the years. I chose to hawk six products I really believe in (#ad).
Then I invoiced the makers of those products for the payment I deserve.
I began my moneymaking experiment on Christmas, with a very expensive toothbrush.
Philips Sonicare DiamondClean black edition toothbrush
Previous celebrity promoters: Lo Bosworth, Sophia Bush, Jamie Chung
My #ad copy: “The best gift this year!! Thank u @philipssonicare! Hope some of my followers got one too. #getthefeeling #ad”
On December 25, I spent 20 minutes ignoring my family to take selfies with the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean black edition toothbrush. After I posted the ad, some of my followers seemed to think I was joking. I was not. In fact, I immediately got to work researching how much I should get paid for my labor.
I determined my “rate” according to data found in this Harper’s Bazaar article about Danielle Bernstein, a 22-year-old fashion blogger who by her own admission makes $5,000 to $15,000 each time she hawks a product on Instagram. Bernstein has 992,000 followers, so with an average rate of $10,000, she makes about one cent per follower each time she posts an ad.
When I began this experiment, I had 388 Instagram followers.
With confidence, I invoiced Philips Sonicare for $3.88. Here’s what I emailed the relevant parties at the company:
My name is Allie Jones and I’m a writer and social media influencer in New York. I’m looking for the right person to send an invoice for my promotional work on social media—please let me know if I should route this elsewhere.
I have attached an invoice for my work: one (1) promotional Instagram for the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean black edition toothbrush. I didn’t hammer out a deal with you guys beforehand, but my current rate is $3.88 per promotional post. The Instagram can be found here: [link]
Thank you so much.
All told, it was an easy 30 minutes of work. I moved on to my next ad.
Bootea Bedtime Cleanse 14-Day Teatox
My #ad copy: “Gearing up for 2016 with BooTea! Thank you @booteauk for the cleanse. Check them out at bootea.com #bootea #teatox #spon”
ATTN: THE POPE AND ANYONE I LOVE: Please disregard this ad. I only did it to make money; I do not think you should try a “teatox.” What celebrity teatox ads don’t tell you is that most teatoxes contain tea made with senna, a laxative. I tried one last summer for a story, which I never ended up writing, because I was too embarrassed at the time to publicly describe the results.
Now that I have put some distance between me and the tea: It fucked me up. I got horrible diarrhea, so I stopped drinking it, and then I got so constipated I couldn’t shit for a week. I had to take laxatives just to straighten myself out. Do not try a teatox unless you are really desperate for some excitement in your life.
Obviously, I did not re-sample this teatox before promoting it on Instagram. Though I worry that my ad may have convinced someone I like to try it, I have to pay the bills somehow.
I invoiced BooTea for $3.88.
Eos Sweet Mint Lip Balm
Previous celebrity promoters: Hilary Duff, Christina Aguilera, I honestly can’t think of this person’s name even though I’m looking at it
My #ad copy: “Ohh I love @eosproducts!! Sweet mint flavor YUM #ad”
Just yesterday, several consumers filed a class action lawsuit against Eos alleging that this lip balm gave them “severe rashes, bleeding, [and] blistering” on their lips.
This company needs me as a spokesperson now more than ever.
I invoiced Eos for $3.88.
Clearblue Plus Pregnancy Test
Cost: $9.74 for a two-pack
Previous promoters: Jessie James Decker, a former Bachelor contestant, Kendra Wilkinson
My #ad copy: “Negative! Whew! LOL thank u @clearblue [prayer hands emoji] #ad”
Unlike some people, I am not pregnant. This allows me to reach a subset of the population currently underserved by Clearblue’s marketing scheme: women who don’t want to be pregnant. Yes ladies, the results are negative. We love it.
I invoiced Clearblue for $3.88.
Cost: $570 for 100 tablets without insurance
Previous celebrity promoter: Kim Kardashian
My #ad copy: “OMG. Have you heard about this? I don’t have #morningsickness but maybe you do. You can change your lifestyle and diet, but nothing helps. Why not ask your doctor about #Diclegis? I’m so excited and happy to partner with Duchesnay USA to raise awareness about treating morning sickness. If you have morning sickness, be safe and be sure to ask your doctor about the pill with the pregnant woman on it and find out more www.diclegis.com www.DiclegisImportantSafetyInfo.com.”
As you now know, I am not pregnant, so I don’t have morning sickness. But I do want to make money promoting products on Instagram, and it’s rumored that Kim Kardashian made quite a lot to hawk Diclegis on Instagram last year. To make sure I got the right message across, I copied Kim’s post almost exactly.
Then I copied Kim’s second ad for Diclegis, which she was forced to post after the FDA complained that the first one was “misleading because it presents various efficacy claims for Diclegis, but fails to communicate any risk information.”
Having covered all my bases, I invoiced Diclegis’ parent company Duchesnay USA for both posts: a grand total of $7.76.
Waist Gang Society Waist Trainer
Previous celebrity promoters: Lindsay Lohan, Snooki, all of the Kardashians except Kendall and Rob
My #ad copy: “A little waist training before I go to the gym! The only place I get my waist trainers from: @premadonna87 @waistgangsociety Get yours! #spon”
For the uninitiated, “waist trainers” are corsets that are supposed to train your body to be smaller in the waist area. Do they work? Not like that, I don’t think. But I will say that whatever bad karma I incurred by bragging repeatedly about the (preferred) empty state of my womb has been rendered immaterial by the fact that the waist trainer crushed it so badly I am now definitely, probably infertile.
Shit is highly uncomfortable.
I invoiced Waist Gang Society for $3.88.
Disclosure: In order to cut down on production costs for this ad, I actually used a discount waist trainer I found online instead of a designer one from Waist Gang Society. I’m running a business here.
As of today, both Philips Sonicare and Waist Gang Society have yet respond to my invoices. Are these companies having trouble coming up with the cash to pay me? I’m no expert, but I’d say things do not look good for Philips Sonicare and Waist Gang Society in Q1.
I did receive a timely response from Eos, but it did not give me any confidence in the company’s liquidity:
Thank you for writing us and for your interest in reviewing our products. I’m so sorry, but we do not provide compensation for unauthorized promotions or review of our products.
We invite you to follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/eos and on Twitter at twitter.com/eosproducts. Please also join our email contact list to be kept informed of product news and special offers. You can sign up at the bottom of any page on our website or follow the link on our Facebook page. Thank you again for writing us and for your interest in our products.
Bootea’s advertising budget, however, seems flush. An employee named Allysa responded to me right away:
Thanks for your interest in promoting our product!
Kindly state the number of followers you currently have on your social media accounts.
Hope to hear from you soon!
After I replied with my follower count, another employee told me I was going straight to the top:
Thank you so much for your interest in Bootea.
I will forward this email to our marketing head, if he wishes to discuss your proposition further he’ll be in touch.
Unfortunately, I have yet to hear anything from the marketing head at Bootea.
Clearblue was straight up rude.
Dear Ms. Jones
Thank you for your message.
We did not request that you post on Instagram on behalf of Clearblue, therefore we kindly request that you remove “#ad” as it incorrectly implies a relationship with Clearblue that does not exist. Please find your returned invoice attached.
Lucy Lehane MSc. MCIPR Chartered Marketer
Scientific, Medical & External Affairs Manager
I got quite the professional response from Diclegis/Duchesnay USA, however:
I have governed myself accordingly, and I have made exactly zero dollars promoting products on Instagram to date. I maintain that I am owed $27.16, plus interest.