Instagram influencer reveals insane amount of money brands make from ads

Carly Heitlinger via Twitter / J. Crew x Jeepersmedia via Flickr

Influencers can get a lot of flack, but Carly A. Heitlinger proved just how valuable their work is to brands by releasing the amount of money she helped J.Crew earn in 2019.

Sarah Tripp, better known as ‘sassyredlipstick,’ is a blogger and body positivity activist with over 700,000 followers on Instagram. She received a tremendous amount of backlash after revealing that, following J.Crew’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, she would no longer be creating content for the brand.

This brings up a pivotal question, more relevant today than ever: as primarily authentic community builders, is fulfilling unpaid work for brands something that influencers owe to their fans?

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As with most situations, there are two sides to be discussed. On the one hand, Tripp’s refusal to try on J.Crew’s clothing means her fans are missing on content they wanted, while also suggesting that her content is monetarily driven, rather than genuine.

On the other hand, Tripp is a self-professed “working mama,” who would be doing a disservice to herself and her family by working to create unpaid content.

To elucidate upon the latter perspective, Heitlinger’s comments, on the role influencers play in brand marketing strategy, are useful. Providing a look under the hood, Heitlinger explained that she, alone, drove $642,856.14 in revenue for J.Crew in 2019.

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While she did not reveal how much she was paid by J.Crew, those numbers earned by the brand are staggering—$54,000-plus in sales per month, as noted by New York Times Style reporter, Taylor Lorenz.

This derails a popular critique of influencers as entitled content creators who are lucky to be paid at all for doing such an easy job. Instead, it paints the picture that the marketing landscape has shifted and influencers serve as legitimate a function as traditional ad campaigns.

If Tripp and others are able to make companies so much money by tapping into their communities, then is it reasonable for them to do that work for free?

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While everyone would admire a musical artist performing for free to raise money for UNICEF charity, most would consider it foolish if that artist performed pro bono at a ticketed Fashion Week event with profits, instead going entirely to the hosting brand’s pockets. In the same way, influencers play a legitimate role in the economy, and their work doesn’t deserve to be undermined by its perceived ease despite the objective truth of its impact on revenues.

Sure, influencer communities are built on authenticity, so Tripp could have been more transparent and asked if her fans really wanted her to try the clothes on for free. She could have put her audience’s needs first and trusted them to understand her situation.

But people should understand their preferred influencers are professionals and appreciate that sometimes they need to be as incisive in partnership decisions as corporate-backed brands will be.