branding logo

Photo of The Cracks in Our Curated World

The Cracks in Our Curated World

Written by Anna-Rae Morris

November 21, 2017


With 600 million active users, Instagram’s influence is no longer news. The platform is no longer just for individuals but has given brands another venue to present exactly how they want to be seen.


Instagram’s aesthetic has changed dramatically since we first started scrolling back in 2010. In what feels and certainly looks like another lifetime, we were all simply trying to figure out this new platform. Mostly by posting overly vintage-filtered photos with thick black borders of our pets — hashtagged #dog #pet #saturday. Needless to say, in 2017, we have collectively stepped up our game and now take photos for Instagram. These images aren’t for ourselves, nor our memories, but for everyone else. Instagram has dramatized our performative online personas. What started as an innocent platform to share sunset photos and friends actually smiling at the camera, rather than fake laughing has now morphed into an all consuming, obsession-feeding ecosystem with the power to create entire careers.


Over half of U.S Millennials are active users. And that critical mass is part of the reason why Instagram is changing the way we eat, the way we design spaces, the way we portray ourselves, the way we travel and the way we interact with brands.


Social media influence on consumer behavior is growing. Recent surveys report that 72% of respondents made a fashion, beauty or style purchase after seeing something on Instagram. One-in-three have used Instagram inside a retail store to help them make a purchase decision. And 84% of millennials are more likely to plan a trip solely based on other people’s photos. Instagram is not only an outlet for discovering new brands and products but a source for research and vacation planning.


So what does this mean for brands? How can they connect with this audience without seemingly jumping onto a trend in how they portray themselves?


First we need to take a look current usage. ‘Honest’ moments are contrived — a group of girls laughing, an over-the-shoulder photo of a girl peering out over a landscape or the birds-eye-view of a perfect brunch are all planned, posed, and chosen from a series of almost identical shots. Plandids, a planned photo meant to look like it was taken unbeknownst to the subject, were once an entirely new aesthetic to Instagram. They almost always start with “can you take a photo of me…” and frequently involve the participation of Instagram husbands. Now this obviously-constructed reality seems to be losing its appeal. We now wonder “how long did that take to put together?”



We emulate the look and feel of corporations. How are these perfectly posed, curated and edited images any different from the highly crafted and seamless campaigns we see in media? Brands now find themselves in a precarious position.


The sameness of our curated image life is giving way to a new aesthetic. One that doesn’t take itself too seriously. One that reflects the imperfection of everyday life. More real. More raw. After growing up in an environment of likes and unattainable reality, millennials are finding a highly regulated self-surveillance to be, quite frankly, tiring.


They now seek to break down that perfection with a blend of self-depreciating humor, honesty and raw representation. We have already seen a shift from unattainable seamlessness to the more honest appearance of plandid photos — although as much thought has gone into them.


Brands such as Dominos actually play into the notion that their pizzas are not typically ‘insta-worthy’. “In this space, we actually are finding that less than perfect is sometimes actually perfect,” says Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer. “A lot of customers are out photographing their food. They know, depending where you take it and the light you’re under, food looks different. It feels much more honest and transparent when the images are imperfect.”


More brands, such as Airbnb and Converse, are starting to post user-generated content. And celebrities like Lorde, Chrissy Teigan and Busy Phillips win praise when posting real or humorous images with more genuine-feeling captions.



Conversely, Kim Kardashian recently posted a series of vintage-filtered family photos in striking contrast with the glamorous style she is better known for. The public labeled the images as fake, with one commenting “What’s with these new style shots? Like they’re in some run down beach house, so fake man!” Another wrote “These pictures are so contrived, why is it so difficult to be honest, to be real?!”



Everyone on Instagram — celebrities, brands, and the average user — walks a fine line between authentic reality and hollow posturing. If the audience can see a plandid a mile away, they can surely tell when a brand lacks sincerity.


In our world of perfectly constructed images, reality is king. And reality means imperfection. It’s the imperfections which help us connect, and which help us truly see life. And ultimately ourselves.








The curriculum for The Masters in Branding Program allows students to create frameworks to guide brand, design and business development, critically evaluate brand, business, marketing and design strategies and Master the intellectual link between leadership and creativity. Learn more...


Come check out the branding studio. Make an appointment...

Debbie Millman
Chair, Co-founder


Emily Weiland

Director of Operations, Graduate Advisor


Steven Heller
Co-founder, Faculty Advisor