Want An Instagrammable Life? It’s For Rent In SoHo

October 5, 2018

Look closely at the following photos, and tell me what you see …

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Pillow fights encouraged. #VillageStudio

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Sure, you could just call them a series of perfectly curated Instagram posts. A pretty girl with some photo-worthy product packaging. A matching prop or two, likely coffee or flowers. Perfect lighting brought to you by an effortlessly cool room. A white comforter and trendy pillows and a four-post bed and pink wallpaper with artsy tree branches. Wait a minute – is that all the same room?

The bedroom available for influencer use within Village Marketing’s rentable space. Credit: Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Welcome to the newest addition to the world of influencer marketing: a stunning Chelsea apartment available at your disposable for photoshoots and content creation. It has a cozy bedroom with a four-post bed, a dreamy bathroom with clean countertops, an inviting living room with pretty books and intriguing artwork. And it can be yours for a day – a backdrop for shooting pictures that garner thousands of followers and make advertisers salivate. But something feels off about the whole concept.

The New York Times recently profiled this New York residence owned by Village Marketing, and I sent the article around to some friends to see what they thought about the idea of an “Instagram apartment for rent.” Turns out, most weren’t fans of the concept:

“What the __?”

“On the one hand, I truly love a clean, aesthetic feed. But where’s the originality? Are you truly gaining a following for being true to yourself, or are you just posting pretty pictures to gain money?

“I could see why some people would find it beneficial, especially in cramped apartments in New York, but it feels really disingenuous.”

“I just personally prefer people who feel more real and attainable than people who try to present a perfect image.”

“The more I try to justify it, the more I’m like, ‘nah, that’s crap.’”

Despite my friend’s comments on preferring more “genuine” and “real” feeds, sponsored content on Instagram has proven wildly successful for advertisers. A PR friend of mind commented on how influencer marketing and its heavy brand presence has changed the platform and types of images we consume. She commented, “it’s interesting because Instagram is a platform used for promoting real people and encouraging everyday sharing, but it continues to shift into something more editorial, based on how it’s curated.”

She brings up an interesting point. Is Instagram just taking place of the editorial content we expect from things like magazines? For decades, the Vogues and Cosmos of the world have presented products through curated sets made to look like living rooms, and all sorts of advertisements in beauty and fashion have been heavily criticized through the years for their botched photoshopping and unrealistic expectations of beauty. Some magazines – and TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, movies, you-name-it – are more curated than others. But a more fact-driven news broadcast doesn’t negate the demand for or purpose of a mindless sitcom or guilty-pleasure “realty” show. So, should we start viewing Instagram accounts in a similar way, with different Instagrammers taking on different roles, post purposes and degrees of “realness”?

Actress Busy Phillips, whose viral Instagram account is celebrated for its authenticity and even landed her a late-night talk show to debut this fall, drew the connection between TV advertisements and the often-criticized sponsored Instagram content. Phillips took to Instagram stories (how fitting) to explain, “as a television actor, when we work in TV, what we’re doing is making a product so that networks can sell ad space,” and she argued Instagram content is just a different version of that product for advertisers to tap into. At the end of the day, Instagram is just entertainment, right?

I spoke to another friend of mine who works as a national brand’s social media coordinator and often partners with Instagram influencers in the home and lifestyle space. As someone who conducts countless photoshoots and develops various kitchens sets and photo-worthy living spaces for her company’s Instagram feed, she immediately understood the appeal of the Instagram Penthouse highlighted by the NYT. “I think from a business perspective it’s so smart. Everyone is looking to create the best content and there is clearly a market for spaces like that,” she explained. “However, I think that it completely deters from why people originally started following influencers, which in my opinion is because they create unique, valuable content.”

At the end of the day, it’ll come down to how individual users want to consume Instagram as an experience. I think as more brands flood social feeds and more Instagrammers seek to achieve this “perfect” editorial look, there will be a greater divide in how Instagram users are recognized and defined. Even now, I seem to have loose – but separate – categories for the accounts I follow, and each has its own purpose. From personal friends to celebrities, national brands to micro-influencers, I don’t expect all the accounts I follow to provide me the same type of information or serve the same purpose. Sure, I love many micro-influencers for their inspiring captions and their “realness,” but that doesn’t mean I don’t also enjoy a heavily branded post from Bella Hadid, splattered with Nike logos. Give me Planet Earth, but that doesn’t mean you can take away my Keeping Up With The Kardashians, you know?

As one of my Instagram-loving friends commented, “maybe this is just shedding light on the fact that social media isn’t always ‘real,’ and it’s just about creating a pretty picture of ordinary life.”

What’s your take? What do you think of the Instagram Penthouse?