Designing with honesty is a hard thing to do. Whether it’s for a client or for yourself,  it can be very tempting to be seduced by what’s already out there. To throw up smoke and mirrors in order to appear bigger and better than you actually are. Designer Ross Sneddon takes a look at the dangers awaiting those who fall into the trap.


There is a proliferation of popular Instagram accounts which have racked up thousands of followers, churning out ‘content’ up to several times a day to meet the insatiable appetite of their audiences. Unfortunately, given the speed and volume of the content going out, half of it tends to be unoriginal: repurposed from somewhere - or someone - else.


Again, Instagram tends to bear the brunt of this. But in the eyes of many users, this content is not actually ‘stolen’. They simply see themselves as  'curators', collecting and sharing what they find beautiful or of value. While this is fine for the most part, some nasty problems can arise if they fail to credit the original work. Some readers may recall the case of supermodel Gigi Hadid being sued by a photographer for failing to credit him in a street style image posted to her Instagram account.


Brands can't keep up


Reposting content from a business profile becomes even more problematic if the ‘borrowed’ content is sold and displayed by businesses as part of their brand identity. In this thought-provoking post for photography site PetaPixel, skateboarding photographer Max Dubler recalls an instance where a brand posted one of his images, and refused to pay for the rights to do so.


Such issues are likely to arise for brands religiously following the 80/20 rule of marketing, whereby only 20% of content should be product or sales based, with the remaining 80% made up of content geared at inspiring the audience. Brands may struggle to source the 80% in-house, as most of their own assets will be product-focused. We are seeing an increasing number of brands reposting user content which aligns with the message and values of their brand.


Activewear brands often repost inspirational fitness quotes, or healthy meal images taken from bloggers or Instagram influencers (who they are not officially partnered with), while makeup brands might repost editorial or runway looks.


While this type of content may integrate seamlessly with a brand’s overall image and tone, the fact of the matter remains; these large, powerful brands are not producing all of their own content, but relying on outside - and unpaid - sources to produce inspiring and aesthetic images for their own commercial gain.


For example, a fitness instagram account could post a picture of your ‘before and after’ and use it to sell weight loss products. Brands are looking to other sources to plug a hole created by round-the-clock audience demand. This type of unmitigated content makes the job of genuine creatives, designers, marketers and artists much harder.


Our feeds have become full of clickbait.


This leads me into the dishonesty of a large percentage of digital content.  The majority of content now serves one purpose: clickbait. It becomes a simple means to get those views, likes, impressions, and shares. The quality and relevance of this content is becoming less important. It’s about results.


Problem is, these results are misconstrued. They’re based on a structure that doesn’t monitor the quality, just the mere numbers. This saturates the landscape for people who are actually making good content. It’s no surprise that digital is still stigmatised in the design industry.


As someone who works in digital design, I know this problem all too well. When pushing out content that is aimed at a younger audience, it can be a challenge to break into this landscape.  The challenge is to not disregard the way things are now but to understand it and use it to our advantage.


How to stand out


It’s true that as an audience, we consume content like no tomorrow. According to GlobalWebIndex, we spend over 2 hours per day on social media and messaging platforms. And here’s an even crazier stat: a survey carried out by Awesomeness and Trendara which studied 1,000 13-17 year olds found that Gen Z watches 68 videos a day across platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram Stories, and auto-play Facebook videos.  


The real trick is to stand out amongst the noise, and get the balance right. Posting a brand’s message on Facebook is no longer enough. There needs to be a presence and engagement in every corner of social media, to both resonate and touch a nerve with the target audience.


We shouldn’t be creating content for the sake of it. It’s important to ask ourselves ‘why’. Why are we creating this content? Is it going to resonate? What makes it unique? Doing this will help cut through the social media noise.


Although I do believe that the digital landscape is oversaturated with low quality content,  this does not mean we need to add to it. Creating good, rich content is great, as long as it is created alongside a well-thought out promotional strategy. As an agency, we are constantly thinking of new ways to cut through the noise and reach the right audience.


With an unprecedented amount of user content being produced daily - on Instagram alone, at the mindblowing rate of 95 million posts a day -  brands need to work harder to produce original, powerful content. After all, they’re now competing for ‘eyeball time’ with literally everyone who owns a mobile phone.