Instagram has connected me with an overwhelming level of supportive, real individuals who encourage me to expand the repressed creative urges (thanks science). People are generally more than willing to go to bat for you and your content if you truly put your soul and energy into it. You'll (and we'll by extension) share recipes, ideas, helpful commentary and/or critique, product reviews, and even passing massive heart eye emojis in the comments. You're all sharing your experience(s) in the kitchen, whether they be good, bad, a complete disaster, or the beginning of something that is truly joyful. It becomes a creative outlet for you, displaying the confidence to be able to express your feelings on a passion through writing about food in my case. Life is good. You enjoy the challenge. You enjoy the experimentation. You enjoy the social aspect of it.
Continuing to do this will inevitably grow your audience. An increase in your influence will inevitably lead to branded, sponsored content appearing in your feed. You might get a DM, an email, maybe even a phone call (for all you freaks that keep a phone number on your 'gram profile) from people that enjoy your content. What's this? You want to send me a bottle or two of wine to use in a recipe? Hell yeah I love free shit, plus I can easily take down a bottle of wine in an evening. And that's your downfall as a creator; that's where integrity begins to erode, not by your doing, but by the temptation from someone or something much more nefarious than it seems.
Brands. I'm talking about the toxicity of brands and sponsored content here, if you aren't catching on.
Brands that are looking to increase their digital presence online can farm out their work to third-party advertising agencies to do the work of setting up social media posts, promotion, etc. A lot of these agencies are looking to exploit the carrot-on-a-stick mentality of giving you two bottles of (subpar) wine to, what is essentially, buy the cheapest advertising space they will ever purchase. Payment in cold hard cash for services rendered? Blasphemy, this [INSERT PRODUCT] is just as good as cash (can only be redeemed at Chuck-E-Cheezes in Indiana and Ohio only). I hesitate to call this a consciously malicious practice, in that they are complicit in the exploitation of adventurous/enthusiastic content creators who may be creating content to challenge themselves in the kitchen, but it definitely exploitative in nature.
A brand that seeks to do this level of grassroots advertising and outreach is similarly capable of reaching a plurality of potential sources for new advertising opportunities. Creator A talks about a product, Creator B finds out the connection and pushes the same product onto his or her audience. The cycle multiplies, arguably faster than traditional print media, broadcast media or otherwise. It is clear which party holds the power and the largest share of what is to gain. You've all seen the meme where someone claps back to an eXpoSurE agreement instead of monetary compensation, saying that their rent is only 43 or whatever the number exposures per month. Exposure can be good for people like me who aren't necessarily in love with the idea of monetization of my content. So a share is great to gain a following; we all want to be popular and liked, I'm not here to argue the point of social media, go read a sociological thesis on the matter.
Brands also inherently affect your editorial, oftentimes by design. How can I possibly write an even average review for something I didn't buy and was "gifted" to me (knowing well that there's a very slim probability I'd ever jump at the product on a Tuesday night grocery run). I HAVE to endorse this somehow, even worse whenever the agency requests that you include a 200 word essay and links back to their client's website, thus completing the trauma cycle induced by 8th grade writing assignments as a kid. By displaying a brand, not out of your own will, but as an obligation for receipt of a product, you have opened your entire audience to a subversive advertisement that some cannot distinguish from a genuine endorsement.
I have turned down more brands than I have worked with based in part by their reputation amongst other creators online, but mainly with complete and utter confusion how their product that would fit anywhere inside my aesthetic or cooking philosophy. Yeah, sure an instant ramen packet would be PERFECT for my line of cooking, as would pre-bottled combinations of brown sugar, soy sauce, and hoisin. I want to be extremely careful with what products I endorse or feel comfortable working with on a regular basis. Otherwise, I lose all credibility in my perceived authority in my sphere of a thousand people that know I exist. I personally hold little to no brand loyalty, or at least publicly. I have certain things that I can speak for in private or things that I prefer to use in my own kitchen, but the farcical activity of incessantly posting branded content and tagging the multi million dollar company on Instagram will do you or I no good. Cooking *isn't* all about having the next biggest line of (insert haughty french name tourtière dish) to show off to your entertaining buddies.
Allow me to wax my self-indulgent philosophizing to say that cooking is one of the base human instincts that keep us alive. Anyone can do it, our ancestors did it with extremely primitive tools, people in dimly lit YouTube videos do it. You don't NEED expensive equipment to do it (at any level, I've seen extremely good cooking out of very basic kitchen gadgets). Skill, enthusiasm, and research make a good cook. Not a "perfectly balanced" Riesling with ye olde foode photographye props. I'm not here to argue if fancy tools make the job easier, they arguably do, but that's not the point of this essay.
I hope that none of this information is revelatory at all, and that *I'm* the only naive asshole willing to make content for what is now free labor.
All of that, just to say: There will be *no* more sponsored content on my page for the forseeable future. My vision and cooking philosophy was challenged by a recent encounter, and I will simply not be taking product without payment in addition. I encourage you to do the same. This practice is as toxic as it is unfair to creators such as myself, if you even consider me a creator.
Now that we're at the end...it's painfully clear I am specifically not pleased with my dealings with Pacific Rim wines or their hired ad agency THAT Agency (referred to as TA). Do not work with this company, and I would implore you to spread this knowledge.
Stop reading here if you don't care about the specifics or drama. Thanks for coming.
To summarize my dealings: I was asked to create content in return for two bottles of wine (valued at a whopping $24 total) and a non-specific amount of exposure on their social media platform(s) totally 1 million impressions annually. Lemme know if that's actually an impressive number (it isn't). The representative from TA (let's call her Obama) that set me up with the deal initially gave no indication on a time frame to post the content, an important detail to dissect, and that I should email them when I post so they can uphold their end of the bargain. I was to create a recipe using their wine, with a middle school writing assignment of 200 words and from 2-4 links back to their client's website. Cool, I can do that. A few months go by (don't @ me, life got in the way) with me finally publishing the content at the end of January. This entire period, they've been flying under complete radio silence, because why should an ad agency hound an independent content creator about his or her schedule? Seems wild to assume that.
So, I send an email to Obama about my published content. No response, and then later a returned email saying it could not be delivered. Awesome, not sure what that means beyond Obama left the office for a new job. I send a direct message back to Pacific Rim wines, informing them that I posted the agreed-upon content. It was left on "Seen" for 5 days. Unprofessional. I think by then, PR actually engaged with my content in the least-effort way imaginable. A like. No comment, no thanks for making content either publicly or in my DMs. Just a like. Hardly enough serotonin and dopamine to fill a neuron. Finally I get a reply from a new representative, let's call her Dern, to email her instead. So, I forwarded the entire conversation Obama and I had to Dern to fill her in on the details. This should clear everything up. Narrator: things were not going to be clear.
Dern either willingly ignored my email or is terrible at her job. Seven full days go by without a reply, an update, a heads up, anything. This is now nearly two weeks with a mainly one-sided interaction with TA, and I'm tired of my content not being reposted as part of our original agreement. Other brands that I have worked with were extremely grateful for the content I made and generally reposted things within minutes of them seeing it. On a fundamental level, that's really all I want, the repost for exposure for a) my own personal influence and growth and b) for their end of the agreement. I send a formal email to Dern informing her that I will be removing the content within 24 hours and that if they wish to repost my content, it will be reinstated. Nice and firm; I have years of sounding like a complete asshole via emails.
Reminder: two weeks pass with radio silence. All of a sudden, I get a reply *within the hour* claiming that my content was "planned to go out" on Feb 20, but Dern can "talk with my team and see if we can get it out tomorrow, Feb 13". Right. That wasn't impromptu at all. By now, I'm completely done with the entire interaction, so I agree to let them post it on the 20th. If they do, great, transaction complete. If not, then that's why you're reading this. I thank them, because I'm a total asshole.
No reply. It is currently the afternoon of the 18th. I'm waiting, with little expectation, for their repost. The content will likely be removed anyway, as there is little to no incentive or legal binding for me to keep the post active with the links back to their ecommerce site. Expect some snarky follow-up post including that second bottle of wine that I used.
Oh, and the wine was frankly awful. It was unpalatable on its own, and was only edible by cooking or baking with it. I tried to pawn it off on the in-laws after cooking with it, and eventually left it with my mother in law. I'm not sure she finished it or tossed it down the drain. I haven't cared to ask.
Make my coq au riesling recipe; it's excellent. Use any dry riesling you'd like. Make my upcoming pear and riesling tart. Use any sweet riesling you'd like. Just...maybe look elsewhere, like a riesling actually made in Germany or Eastern France.