Who’s Sponsoring Who?

Sponsored posts often have this way of creeping up on us without warning. Have you ever come across a post on your Instagram feed that you didn’t actually notice was sponsored content until you took a much closer look? I feel like this happens to me a scary amount of the time. And it’s brilliant. Maybe I wasn’t following that brand/retailer, but now I feel like I should be. Or maybe you ask yourself why you weren’t following them. Now with new sneaky algorithms, the Internet knows us all too well. For example, I don’t follow Bloomingdales on Instagram, but this post blends in so well and I do follow the model in this photo, Joan Smalls. I’m sure I also follow a lot of retailers that sell their clothes at Bloomingdales.


In Chapter 6, Shields discusses different types of social media marketing assets. These are organic media, shared media, sponsored media, and influencer media. Within sponsored media we see acquisition advertising, amplification advertising (this is where we’ll see sponsored or “boosted” posts), and native advertising. The most successful advertising techniques that I’ve seen have been either amplification ads or native ads. Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest are cluttered with advertisements disguised as trendy, platform-relevant content. Facebook even provides developer tools for incorporating native ads into brand strategies.

Facebook seems to be especially good at integrating these amplification ads into their landscape. The specific language of “suggested post” makes the audience feel like they aren’t being forced into anything–it’s simply a suggestion. It comes across almost like they want to help you out more than promote a specific brand for their own monetary gain. Here’s a “Suggested Post” that showed up on my News Feed recently from the Gap:

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 12.01.26 PM.png

The post looks clean and doesn’t stand out too much from the rest of my feed, has a disclaimer noting sponsored content, but it isn’t super obvious or flashy.

Ads through Facebook are not only amplified through these sponsoring mechanisms, but through certain aspects of social influence as well. In addition to advertisements brought to us as “suggestions”, we also get them because one or more of our friends “Like” the brand or retailer’s pages. This could very easily be considered influencer media (Shields, Chapter 6) because it utilizes our familiarity and trust of our social networks. Because so-and-so like this brand, there’s a small chance that you would like it too! It’s kind of scary how well this strategy ends up working. Facebook is a master manipulator, but a really great resource for brand marketing.


Shields, Ben Ryan. Social Media Management: Persuasion in Networked Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 2016. Print.



8 thoughts on “Who’s Sponsoring Who?

  1. I think sponsored posts are an interesting topic. As a form of ad I think they are very smart, and not very distracting to the user. Websites used to be built in ways that had ads forced in peoples faces and this led to worse websites. Now a site like Twitter doesn’t need a big ad banner at the top of the page, it can simply insert a few sponsored posts into the regular Twitter stream. I’d take sponsored posts over banner ads or pop ups any day.


  2. Jenn,

    I think that your point that these ads are more like suggestions is spot on! I think that this component is the most important feature of these ads because it is what makes them not so annoying. I see these ads all the time but they aren’t a pest because I look at them and decide whether or not I am interested and you’re right, in some cases I am! If I am interested I am thankful for the ad because the product and brand found me instead of me having to search for it through online shopping. Is that lazy? LOL…In any case, I think that modern ads on Facebook and Instagram are great because they aren’t annoying and flashy and because of the algorithms in place, they are relevant.




  3. I also got something out of your point that “suggested” post makes it seem less pushy and more helpful to users. I’ve never felt particularly annoyed by the suggested ads that come up on my feed because they are subtle, like you said, and tailored to me so they don’t feel jarring. Sometimes I even scroll back up to get a better look at a suggested ad if it truly caught my attention. However, the really disturbing thing to me is that sometimes, it’s not just the accounts I follow that produce suggested ads for me. One time, I had been googling different heaters for fish tanks. The next time I went on Facebook, there was an ad for aquarium starter kits. You can’t tell me that Facebook finds aquariums to be a hot topic for the average consumer– certainly not like Doritos or Pepsi. Sure, they gave me an ad that was tailored for me, but I was freaked out. I don’t want Facebook to get overly helpful in “suggesting” ads for me if it means spying on me while I’m on Google.


  4. As Marla pointed out, it can be scary when your ads are cultivated by what you were just searching, but I find it incredibly useful. If I ever am wanting someone to get me a specific item as a gift, I’ll tell them to look it up (for a very good reason, of course). Then they have ads popping up for that so it stays on their mind and makes me more likely to get it.

    Additionally, many of my friends use ad blockers and keep suggesting I use one as well. I don’t want to use one because I actually want to see these adds because, as Jenn pointed out, they are often for brands/people I wish I was following in the first place. I hope my friends come to this realization as well.


  5. I really like your point about the “suggested post” instead of using the word sponsored. Especially since we are so familiar with and sensitive to obvious advertisements through social media such as banner ads, making an ad appear as though it is only there as a light suggestion somehow seems less forceful or “in your face.” I have also found myself overall enjoying the advertisements that have shown up on my Instagram feed for they always relate to other accounts I follow or posts I like. Instead of an ad they appear, similar to Facebook, as a suggestion for a page relating to my interests that I should click on and discover more about. I am curious how Snapchat will begin to incorporate more ads in a seamless manner. As of right now they appear after watching different snap stories and they have been fairly obvious and not very targeted so I am curious if they will transform as well as Instagram and Facebook advertising has.


  6. I distinctly remember the first time I came across a sponsored post on Instagram because I immediately realized how genius the idea was. The ad actually excited me because it fit me so well – it was a little embarrassing. As you point out, these posts are very well tailored to the feeds that they’re appearing on, and in a way, actually makes the advertisements useful. I’d much rather learn about a sale at Bloomingdale’s than see a flashy neon banner ad for a body shop pop up in the header of the website. Skimming over everyone else’s comments, it seems like most of us agree about this concept. Is it because everyone viewing this blog possesses an interest in social media and can therefore appreciate the brilliance of sneaky/useful advertising? Or is it because the millennial generation as a whole tends to be much more lenient about privacy and information sharing. I don’t have a concrete answer, but something tells me that if an ad perfectly tailored to my grandfather popped up on his computer screen, he’d be more freaked out than intrigued.


  7. You’re completely correct about how these platforms are master manipulators. Whenever I notice one of these promoted posts, even if it interests me, I never click on them. I never analyzed this until now, but I think I try to handle my lack of control about how and when these posts pop up by not paying attention to them or clicking on them. The posts are always so camouflaged and don’t look too much like ads, and somehow this annoys me just as much as when the ad is too obvious. The platform that bothers me the most with their sneaky ads is Snapchat. Someone mentioned Snapchat in a previous comment, and what I have noticed that they do is they try to make it seem as if an ad is just simply the next snapchat in a series of stories, and this is one of the trickiest ones. As ads have evolved throughout the years, they somehow have managed to still annoy me no matter what.


  8. This post is spot on! I actually used to hate sponsored posts. Like LOATHE them, but now, instagram kind of has shown the world a tasteful was to put ads, or like you would say suggestions up. Honestly, I think it’s too the point that I don’t even realize they are ads sometimes because they blend in with the rest of the posts on my news feed. BUT – snapchat.. I can’t stand ads on there. They are so frustrating and annoying because they randomly pop up after snaps, when all I really want is to move to the next snap story. I think snapchat needs to develop a better way to show ads, but besides that, social media platforms are really stepping up the way they include advertisements into their platforms.


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