Many of us have seen it: the unsuspecting message in our Instagram inbox or comment on one of our posts. They usually say something like, “Hi, sweetie! We think you’d be perfect as one of our brand ambassadors. Are you interested?” If the answer is yes, we then have to order one of their products, post flattering pictures of ourselves using, holding, or trying the product for the first time, and write a caption about why the product is so wonderful. You are then sometimes asked to recruit more people to be brand ambassadors for the product.
How is this a scam?
I responded to a few of these requests to get a better idea of what this whole, “influencer”, “brand ambassador” thing is all about. After all, many of my friends were doing it and loved it; I was curious. Here’s what I found out:
1. The offers are NEVER free
My friends who are brand ambassadors told me that companies send you their product for free so that you can advertise for them. However, every, single brand that has asked me to be an ambassador has always ended up with some sort of catch. I get a discount, but I still have to pay for the product. Or maybe the product is free, but I have to pay a hefty price for shipping. Or, my favorite, where you have to pay for the product in full, shipping and all.
They say that you have the opportunity to earn a commission, but it’s usually a nominal fee – some unspecified percentage or around $3 per sale. They’re obviously hoping that this commission base will incentivize people to work extra hard to sell the product. But, how many people do you know who actually buy items promoted by influencers they’ve never heard of on Instagram?
2. They are basically hiring you, but won’t pay you even minimum wage
I know that the lines concerning legality are fuzzy regarding this kind of work, but even gig economy companies have you sign a 10-99. These companies are manipulating you into being their salesperson by dangling a carrot in front of your face in the guise of a free or discounted item (but you still have to pay for shipping) and the promise of a tiny commission IF you sell a product for them. This brings me to my next point…
3. Do you know how much money actors earn for doing commercials?
I am very much generalizing here, but union actors make an average of $15,000 per TV commercial (encompassing day rate and residuals), sometimes less for internet spots, and non-union commercials are always a buyout, generally around $500-$20,000 for one commercial. For modeling gigs, ad agencies will pay on average somewhere in between $250 an hour and $10,000 a day. How does that compare to what you earn being an influencer? I’ll let you do the math.
4. Most people haven’t even heard of or used the product before promoting it
Sometimes people don’t even like the product that they’re promoting. I’ve always had the philosophy that if I’m not going to be paid to sell a product, it has to be one that I believe in. No, I’m not going to pay to sell a pair of glasses when I don’t wear glasses, or an acne cream that I don’t use, or a processed food item that I know is unhealthy. Speaking of which, many of these companies are smaller, boutique companies. How am I supposed to know if their product is safe, tested, or FDA approved? If I don’t use a certain type of face moisturizer because I’m happy with another one, I don’t believe that it’s ethical to lie on social media to get people to buy the one I don’t use for a meaningless reward. This includes earning a 3% commission.
5. This is basically multi-level marketing
Multi-level marketing, in short, is selling a product to a consumer without having a retail store (usually online). These salespeople will then recruit and train a network of their own salespeople, who then recruit and train a network of their own people, and so forth. Drawn out on a chart, it resembles a pyramid. These multi-level marketing platforms often end up being pyramid schemes, which are illegal in many states. Some of these companies on social media are acting as pyramid schemes, selling cheap-quality, non-refundable products in order to collect money for people at the top of the pyramid. Others are more on the multi-level marketing side, with legitimate products, but profits still meant to benefit mainly the people at the top. To summarize, either way, you are a pawn in their game.
The brand ambassador summary
Companies on Instagram and other social media platforms who are asking users to be brand ambassadors are MAJORLY taking advantage. They know that if they use the words “free”, “discount”, or “commission”, they won’t end up having to pay a fair wage to actors/models. And, yes, even if you’re not really an actor or model, you become one when you’re influencing. This includes both in video and print ads. The principle of it is sneaky, unethical, and manipulative, and they’re getting away with it. Plus, there is no one to hold them accountable to prevent it from happening.
However, the crux of the matter is that people are falling for it.
Yes, there are some people who know what’s going on and they’re fine with it. They make enough at their day jobs so they’re not doing it for the money, and get offered a product that they truly believe in and are excited about promoting. But the majority of people have lowered the standards for themselves on what they should be paid. They are fine with literally paying to advertise for a company and don’t even realize it. This is especially a problem with people who are actually actors, because they are saying to ad agencies that they are ok with working for basically nothing. This is why the commercial industry is a rapidly declining field for actors.
Here’s the bottom line; don’t lower your own standards or self worth for this “brand ambassador” madness.
You don’t need to give in to the creepy people calling you “sweetie” and other pet names. This is more than just doing a favor for a friend. It’s a job, so you should treat it as such. You deserve to be paid fairly for your time and resources.