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Bad Online

Instagram’s Millennial Lifestyle Ads Are Haunting Me

My feed is basically unusable thanks to these endless, patronizing ads.

Three Instagram Stories advertisements for a big blanket, a succulent subscription box, and socks that fight racial injustice
Screenshots via Instagram

Earlier this year, I made the mistake of buying something directly via an Instagram advertisement. It was a pair of earrings from a retailer with the feminine name of someone who is well-traveled and ethereal. The earrings looked like hand-painted pink and white China and back-plated with gold, but were probably just plastic and metal. They wrapped around the lobe and attached to the ear via a thin bar of metal that swung shut on a hinge into a clip, like a gate.

The earrings were expensive, a far higher price point than jewelry I typically buy for myself, but this was back in February when I thought I had a summer of fun events ahead of me, where fun earrings could be worn, and they looked really good on the Instagram model who had strolled into my Instagram Stories wearing them so I figured, yes, I will buck my basic instincts and buy this product which has so clearly been advertised to me based upon my Instagram activity. (Note: I am blacking the names of the companies in the screenshots of the ads because I don’t want you to buy their products.)

An Instagram stories ad for the EXACT SAME EARRINGS I AM CURRENTLY BLOGGING ABOUT (but in a different color) that I found while looking for other pathetic ads!
An Instagram stories ad for the EXACT SAME EARRINGS I AM CURRENTLY BLOGGING ABOUT (but in a different color) that I found while looking for other pathetic ads!

When the earrings arrived, I was deeply sad to find out that the model who looked so amazing in the earrings was also, unfortunately, much smaller than me. The earrings looked comedically small on my ears, not dangling like on the model but aggressively wedged around my fleshy earlobes. Feeling like a fool, I woefully went Straight To Cam and apologized to my Instagram friends for likely advancing this company’s advertisements into their feeds, and warning them that their products are not satisfactory for people with average to slightly above-average fleshy lobes.

I hoped that by doing so, I could put a stop to this cycle of consumer violence, and maybe it worked. After posting, one of my best friends, with similarly fleshy lobes, told me she too had been tempted to buy this company’s earrings. But alas, my one small mistake has led to what is basically an unusable Instagram feed, where each of my friends’ stories or posts is separated by an ad for things that are clearly meant for someone of my age range, but are almost so niche and patronizing that I can’t help but feel insulted any time I want to stop scrolling on the loud bird app, and instead want to see what’s happening with people and groups who I care about enough to follow via a private social profile that I don’t use in any professional capacity.

An Instagram stories ad advertising a stack of pots and pans with the phrase "This hack will turn you into a real chef. Want to elevate your..."

Among the list of, “What the fuck, are you kidding me, can you really be serious that I am the targeted person for this garbage ad,” include:

  • A huge, huge blanket maybe the size of two king beds that you can make a pillow fort out of
  • A DIY pedicure nail kit that’s supposed to emulate all the joys of getting a pedicure
  • A deep pan with several accessories that help you push the food around in the pan, and steam things
  • A short bookcase looking thing that’s so super versatile that’s supposed to get you a lot of compliments from friends who visit your house
  • A succulent subscription box that supposed to be the perfect gift for your best friend, or your partner, OR your GRANDMA!
  • An enamel pins and stickers subscription box which seem to have no theme except they’re mostly neon colors and all look like stuff I was excited to buy when I was 21
An Instagram stories ad for toothpaste you can bite: "Our tablet toothpaste is reducing plastic waste in landfills"

I am sure that one earring excursion was not all to blame for this swath of insulting ads I’m bothered by every time I open up the app. Yes, I have clicked on many of them through this past year, tempted to at least understand what it is that’s actually being advertised to me. If I’m actually interested in these products, I’ll go to their website instead of shopping through Instagram’s in-app browser. I am almost embarrassed to announce that I am a satisfied customer of that Parade underwear company, first introduced to me via Instagram Story ad, and am also a subscriber to Causebox (though I don’t believe the whole “sustainable products” element of the service and only bought in because I wanted an electric face scrubber they were advertising, again via Instagram stories).

An Instagram stories ad for socks with a Black Lives Matter fist pattern with the copy "Wear what you believe in. This radical idea is changing the world..." Socks that fight for equality, say the socks packaging.

These three ads out of potentially hundreds I’ve seen over the past year have worked on me, while I’ve begrudgingly flipped through the rest. Perhaps you know this about me, but I do not enjoy being advertised to. I think part of the reason I get so many of these “make your life immensely easier” ads is because I have friends who live in big cities with limited accessibility to, IDK, a local plant store or a Home Depot or a Target, where you could literally get so many of these things if you just lived close to these places and had private transportation and just wanted to get them. I also think I get so annoyed with these ads because they’re all just doing the same thing — using “millennial mauve” to color their company as friendlier than your parents’ big box store, or to insist that they’re more eco- or human rights-friendly than other brands, or whatever else that makes them more special than any other office product or hygiene or clothing brands you’ve bought from before.

An Instagram stories ad for a "cramp kit." "The drug-free way to an easy period" Buy one, get one free. "Herbal and nutritional relief for period cramps."
The fine print: “Herbal and nutritional relief for period cramps.”

But mostly, I just want somewhere I can go to see what my friends are doing and what Austin organizers are up to without the exhaustive qualities of Twitter and Facebook, and I can’t fucking do that if I’m being told to buy a blanket, or some earrings, or bamboo toilet paper, or any number of things that want to pretend that they’re not a part of consumer culture, but are just consumerism with a twist.