Louise Delage was a 25-year-old Parisian social media star, who – judging from her public Instagram profile, just about the only trace of her online – liked spending time with friends, eating at restaurants and being outdoors.
Her photos had simple captions (“Chilling with friends”, “Dancing”, sometimes just an emoji), were hashtagged to the limit of legibility, and received likes in the hundreds, even though Delage joined Instagram only on 1 August. She accumulated nearly 65,000 followers in a little over a month.
But being such a latecomer was just about Delage’s chief point of difference. Instagram has 500 million monthly active users (80% outside the US) and many – it’s tempting to say most – are either stylish, social, savvy young women like Delage, or brands marketing to them.
Her photos – of glasses of rosé at the beach; a family dinner, with melon and red wine; a glamorous selfie taken at an event, glass of sparkling wine in hand – are hard to distinguish from any others in a timeline.
That, it turned out, was the point. On 22 September, Delage made her last post to Instagram: a video clip, revealing her to be the creation of the advertising agency BETC, and the star of their “Like my addiction” campaign.
In every one of her 150 posts, Delage – rather, the model posing as Delage – had been pictured with alcohol.
The campaign was created for Addict Aide, an organisation that seeks to raise awareness of alcoholism among young people. Stéphane Xiberras, creative director and president of BETC Paris, told AdFreak that the agency had been struck by “the difficulty of detecting the addiction of someone close to you”.
The fake Instagram account aimed to show “a person people would meet every day but whom we’d never suspect of being an addict”.
Boosting Delage’s following in just a month was the result of an elaborate acquisition strategy, rooted “in native Instagram content and user habits”, said Xiberras. The look and tone of her posts, even down to her favourite filters, were informed by study of fashion bloggers.
Two to three images were posted each day at periods of high traffic: morning, lunchtime and late at night. Each included up to 30 related hashtags, as can be par for the course for Instagram influencers – even the ones that aren’t the constructs of marketers.
A bot was created to like and follow carefully chosen accounts on Delage’s behalf – thus prompting them to follow back – while influential teenage thought-leaders were shoulder-tapped to “spread the Louise Delage profile among their own followers” as part of a “Key Opinion Leader strategy” (capitals, AdFreak’s own).
By metrics, the campaign was a success, generating media coverage around the world – including a trending topic on Twitter in France – and a significant boost in traffic to Addict Aide’s website.
The final post to Delage’s Instagram, the big reveal, has had more than 160,000 views and generated more than 1,000 comments. The same video on YouTube has been viewed on YouTube more than 230,000 times.
But Xiberras told AdFreak it was disappointing that more of Delage’s followers had not picked up on her “serious alcohol problem”. He said he hoped that the campaign would serve as an “eye-opener” to help people struggling with addiction.
The medium might have been self-defeating – Instagram does not do awareness as well as it does fantasy. But one of the commenters on Delage’s final post wrote that he’d “got the message”.
He attributed the normalisation of alcohol to because of the “halo effect” of good-looking people – that whatever they did, especially on Instagram, seemed acceptable, if not desirable.
“Now,” he concluded, “please keep posting pics of her without alcohol.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010