Has the Instagram era of brand influence truly ended?

Has the Instagram era of brand influence truly ended?

Success for influencer-backed brands was once almost guaranteed. Now, TikTok has changed the game, and consumers are becoming increasingly discerning. It presents opportunities for new brand and influencer partnerships — if executed correctly.

Has the Instagram era of brand influence truly ended?
Has the Instagram era of brand influence truly ended?


  • More than just a name
  • Potential stakes

Gille Peeters, the founder of Belgian jewelry brand Fragille, isn’t keen on social media marketing. It was an opportunity to leverage the influence of celebrity influencer Victoria Paris (with nearly two million followers on TikTok) for his brand.

On February 10th and 11th, a capsule collection designed in collaboration with Paris will debut at Fragille’s store in Tribeca, New York. The duo met when Paris visited Fragille’s store in Antwerp last summer. They are expecting to create a significant buzz. According to Paris’s analysis, her largest following comes from New York.

A Victoria Paris fan recognized Gille Peeters through a media collaboration with the influencer when Peeters was checking into a hotel. She thinks it’s a good sign as it’s her first time in the U.S.

Paris sees this collaboration as a trial run — she wants to establish her own jewelry brand but doesn’t want to dive into it blindly. “I’m an influencer. I’m not an artist,” she says. “I don’t know the structure and system [for] producing these products — I just know what I like.”

Self-awareness is a sign of a larger trend: influencer-founded brands are losing their allure. For example, the recent downfall of Something Navy by Arielle Charnas, a brand that raised $17.5 million in 2019 but has since ceased operations after a series of layoffs, store closures, and liquidations.

In the changing landscape of social media, long-term collaborations with businesses provide influencers with a roadmap to explore fashion brand market opportunities without transitioning to full-fledged founders.

Collabs between influencer Victoria Paris and Fra-gille. Source: Vogue Business Jamie Ray, founder of the influencer agency Buttermilk, says: “As Arielle Charnas experienced with Something Navy, initial victories are insufficient to ensure the long-term ‘health’ of influencer brands. These brands, like any other, are living, breathing organizations that require regular attention.”

As the market becomes more crowded, new platforms (specifically TikTok) have altered consumer habits, affecting their relationships with influencers. While glossy IG images that followers could purchase were once bestsellers, consumer preferences now lean toward more authentic content.

Eileen Flynn, director of strategy at Gen Z company Archrival, says: “The influencer brand model thrived on exclusivity and aspirational appeal in the Instagram age, where curated imagery was key.”

“As consumer preferences shift towards authenticity and connection, coupled with influencer-led business ventures reaching saturation, the allure of these brands has diminished. Consumers now seek more from a business than just a brand name; they want quality, sustainability, and brands that align with their personal values.”

Dan Hastings-Narayanin, deputy editor-in-chief of strategic consultancy The Future Laboratory, notes a polarization among influencers, between micro-influencers with high engagement levels and those who have achieved celebrity status.

“The group of influencers in the middle ground between these two groups, which thrived during Instagram’s peak, has now lost its appeal. Influencers who flourished in the 2010s, gaining access to fashion week events or designer showcases, are now grappling with a crisis of trust — and so are their brands.” Hastings-Narayanin believes this trend is a combination of algorithms and social media user fatigue.

This is partly thanks to TikTok. Ray from Buttermilk says: “TikTok has disrupted the mold by prioritizing content over the influence of followers, creating an environment where anyone can be a creator — whether they have 2,000 or two million followers.” The format of mass content, short attention spans makes it challenging to attract long-term followers, beneficial for brands.

And that’s okay, insiders say. Anyone can be a creator, but not everyone needs a brand. Writer Camille Charrière is adamant she doesn’t want her own brand: others are doing it better, and the world doesn’t need more, she says. “I get frustrated seeing too many people launching mediocre brands and putting more mediocrity out into the world, under [the guise] of it being a creative expression or anything when it’s really just a money-making scheme.”

More than just a name TikTok encourages quick, cheap purchases. Paris, who has never created her own product line, reflects on the early days of Covid. “With the rise of TikTok, we’ve seen these giant corporations selling goods where people just need to sign up, put their name on a T-shirt, and make a lot of money. I constantly see people my age liking to slap their names on anything. No quality control, no thought.”

But as it evolves, TikTok has also created a talent content mode, Ray says. “A savvy consumer now has the right to accept or reject influencer brands. Slapping your name on a product and hoping the audience will support or rescue you won’t cut it anymore. Social media users will actively reject the appearance of ‘another product’ in an already saturated market.”

However, influencer-backed brands still have appeal. According to Insider Intelligence, one-third of Gen Z consumers made purchases from an influencer-founded brand in 2023. But because they are more discerning, with more options, brands still need to know how to capture consumer spending amidst increasing competition.

Hastings-Narayanin says: “Behind-the-scenes content has shifted influencers from ‘stage lights’ to ‘real-life perspectives’ of creators and has made e-commerce a notable scene for TikTok audiences.” This is advantageous for influencer brands, as long as they don’t solely rely on their name to get the job done.

Alix Earle wants to establish her own brand. But she also plans to share behind-the-scenes on her podcast, “Hot Mess with Alix Earle.” It’s seen as a strategy to avoid becoming another influencer brand beyond control — far from social media algorithms.

Potential stakes When done right, collaborating with a brand can yield significant results with the necessary gentle push from influencers. Fragille saw increased interest from American consumers after Victoria Paris posted her jewelry purchases last summer.

Charrière has done a few collaborations like this. The first was with Mango in 2022, the second was with the biodegradable lingerie brand Stripe & Stare in November last year.

She says, Charrière’s collaboration with Stripe & Stare was “totally different,” as she wanted to work with this brand. The collection that she didn’t charge for was in the making for two years. She shares about her experience with Mango: “I always thought I wouldn’t be able to do something like that until I had an offer and no reason to turn that opportunity down.” The appealing part was the creative control Mango gave her: she and her husband produced it, picked their own team and artists.

However, it also involves compromise: “In the end, it’s not your brand,” she says. “You won’t be the most vocal person in such a project.”

This is changing, Hastings-Narayanin says. “Influencers, whether micro or macro, recognize the value of trust within their community.

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