It all started with my daily routine of procrastinating by scrolling through my friends’ Instagram stories. In between the usual pattern of breakfast shots, pets doing stupid things and not-to-subtle attempts to show that they workout, an ad catches my eye. It was run by a company named Halifornia Apparel, which was just text which stated “Become a major brand ambassador! Swipe up to apply”.

I know nothing about this company at all but somehow they have over 700,000 followers and a fair few of them are friends of mine. For a split-second I am fooled and think “Yes! I can definitely get this!” before I realise this was too good to be true. But instead of swiping away from this obvious I’m pulled back into it, intrigued by this one screen. And so against my better judgement, I apply to be their next brand ambassador.

Immediately I notice a few things which suggest to me that this is somewhat shady. The email I receive explains to me that they will be taking some time to evaluate my Instagram profile to determine whether I will be successful. I think nothing of not and move on with my day, except I don’t because within an hour I receive confirmation I’ve been accepted.

Now, I’m no detective, but considering their headquarters are in California and they respond to me at 2.30am their time, I’m going to assume no actual person looked at my awkward, awkward Instagram. Instead, I’m assuming a robot (which they affectionately name Kevin, even though I have no proof of this) ticked me off instead.

So what cool perks do you get with this awesome opportunity? I am a brand ambassador! That must give me some cool opportunities! Well…no. I got a referral code which gives me a percentage of sales every time it’s used (but let’s be honest that’s basically worthless. No one is going to be taking fashion advice from a man who wears a jumper with the word ‘nuggets’ on it) and more interestingly, a coupon code to Halifornia’s online store.

At last, we are getting somewhere, I could use this coupon to receive a shirt to model for them! Only that would be too logical, instead Halifornia offers a 50% coupon for you to use.

And finally, the smoke lifts from my eyes as I witness what is truly happening here. This company is exploiting the aspirations of those aiming to achieve influencer status, luring them in with the promise of exposure in return for sales. It also seems like they literally take anyone that applies to the brand, which is a major issue. It’s an underhanded business tactic to inflate their brand and pray off your own.

But surely they would at least deliver on the exposure part of the deal? Well yes, they put you on their social media but most likely you’ll be wedged in between thirteen other accounts on their story. You won’t receive any traffic to your page. In the words of DJ Khaled “Congratulations, you played yourself”.

It’s not illegal in any form to do what Halifornia is doing, and I’m sure many people have had success through their opportunity. But there is no way that it is a morally righteous thing to do, but does that even matter when marketing online anymore? And Halifornia isn’t even the only company doing this, brands such as Haute Swimwear, Elcosp, Poppy Apparel and Leo Mazzotti all offer these “ambassador programs” to lure unsuspecting, egotistical millennials the world over.

This is not the end of this, in fact it’s just the beginning. As influencers become a more and more powerful for marketers, creators of all kinds will have to become wary of anything that sounds suspicious.

Or alternately, just come to the realization that you’ll never be an influencer and that you should stop trying to become one. Go back to your engineering degree, the UEC shirts are a better fashion statement than any of these companies anyway.

Words by Bayley Horne