Sponsored content on Instagram user feeds was once seen by many as “selling out”, but now it’s considered cool and a sign of success.

According to The Atlantic, rising Instagram stars have taken to posting fake sponsored content to big up their credibility with followers and, further down the line, potential sponsors.

“People know how much influencers charge now, and that payday is nothing to shake a stick at,” Alyssa Vingan Klein, the editor in chief of Fashionista, a fashion-news website, told The Atlantic.

“If someone who is 20 years old watching YouTube or Instagram sees these people travelling with brands, promoting brands, I don’t see why they wouldn’t do everything they could to get in on that.”

The transition from moderately successful Instagrammer to a pro – or a Key Opinion Leader in the jargon – and someone who attracts real sponsorship, can be tough. And getting that first sponsorship deal is usually the hardest.

Not only do brands want to see an army of followers, they also want to see promotional abilities and past campaign work. To help overcome this hurdle many rising stars are choosing, as The Atlantic says, to fake it until they make it.

It reports the case of Sydney Pugh, an LA lifestyle influencer. Sydney posted a fake advert for a local cafe, purchasing a mug of coffee, photographing it, and adding a promotional caption carefully written in that particular style of ad speak anyone who spends a lot of time on Instagram will recognize.

“Instead of [captioning] ‘I need coffee to get through the day,’ mine will say ‘I love Alfred’s coffee because of A, B, C,’” Pugh said. “You see the same things over and over on actual sponsored posts, so it becomes really easy to emulate, even if you’re not getting paid.”

Not everyone is happy about this fake “sponcon”, however.

Some, more-established influencers see it as a race to the bottom – because brands can land free promotional content, some have stopped sponsorship completely, or slashed their rates.

“I don’t think people know they’re screwing each other over,” CJ OperAmericano, a 22-year-old TikTok star, told The Atlantic. She described how she recently lost out on a brand campaign to someone who offered to do it for a tenth of the price. People now treat brand deals “like a verification badge”, she said.

Sourced from The Atlantic; additional content by WARC staff