Millennial Models Are Becoming the Faces of Brands. If Their Faces Aren’t Cropped Out First.

Millennial models are taking to Instagram as a new medium for brand awareness. Kseniia Perminova/Shutterstock.com

Recently a breakdown for a popular swim brand (details and specifications of an upcoming job for which agents propose models) was sent to all the major New York modeling agencies. The job called for a model in her early 20’s, brunette, all ethnicities, at least 5’9 and with a “swim” body. Simple enough. It goes on to say the models must be able to do the full locust yoga pose, have at least 10,000 followers on Instagram and must not be part of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild, a labor union representing more than 100,000 film and television principal and background performers).

What was once a simple call for models has recently become particularly nuanced. Brands require evermore from the millennial model, who is increasingly more expensive and present in a company’s identity. Aside from marketing potential, brands are also seeking out talent that gives the consumer a sense of authenticity: surf brands are taking an interest in girls from beach towns, wellness brands are seeking girls who are known for their fitness regimes, and so on. The more Instagram followers, the more likes, reposts and comments and the more the brand broadens its reach. And if the model is not a part of SAG, union restrictions don’t apply, meaning brands can use behind the scenes video footage if they so choose.

Not so long ago, model “branding” in the traditional sense was reserved for the highly recognizable commercial model, not “blue chip” models who booked high end editorial, as they were not groomed to be household names.

Models who opened Prada and shot for Italian Vogue, much like the luxury goods they wore, were for the visual consumption of an elite few. Catalog models had even less to gain from mainstream attention. The models who required branding were the “money girls” who were groomed for Sports Illustrated and Victoria’s Secret. These were the women whose names needed to be known and featured on billboards, in interviews and in movies. They benefited from expanding their online presence, attending media training and making public appearances at celebrity events. But today, every model benefits from a personal brand.

From the modeling agencies’ point of view, branding is a matchmaking process; providing clients more than a selection of models, but a selection of talent that is symbiotic with their brand identity.

As agents, a major part of our day-to-day job is receiving breakdowns for jobs and negotiating rates based on the scope of the work and usage. For example, a model shooting a job for images that will be used for two months in a single magazine demands a much lower rate than if that same image were to be used for a year of advertising.

As it became more and more evident that social media has a greater reach and impact than traditional advertising, it also became evident what an advantage it is to brands to eliminate the restrictions of usage on images. Where we were once able to dictate where an image was seen, how many times and for how long, social media campaigns are fluid and impossible to contain. Once an image is used on an Instagram campaign, there is very little an agent or anyone else can do to control how long it can be seen or how many times other people repost it. In a way, once social media has its hands on an image (whether professional or personal), it becomes a part of that brand’s permanent image.

@Juliherzz Instagram features a number of tagged brands. (Photo via Juliana Herz Instagram)

Juliana Herz’s Instagram features a number of tagged brands. (Photo via @Juliherzz)

From a traditional marketing perspective this boils down to the classic system of added value. The former cash cows of the industry (including catalogs and print advertising) are failing to provide brands the same return on their investment in which they once reveled. In turn, they have to look at vehicles that require a one time investment but convert to immeasurable returns.

A model who is no more than an unknown clothes horse is drastically less valuable than a model who has endless potential for promotion.

Kristi McCormick, founder of the Matchbook Company and one of the industry’s premier casting directors, explains that this isn’t a trend but rather a logical progression of the business. She says, “These brands need ‘personality’ models now more than ever. This is a sign of the times and will not go away.  The ‘print ad’ is dying while the Snapchat video and social media posts are growing. If a model doesn’t stand out at the shoot and then doesn’t publicly support the client when their campaign runs, no one will remember them, or care.”

Participating wholly in a brand’s identity is now a matter of vested interest on part of the brand and the talent. Model agents are now in the position of selling identities to brands, from Balmain to Bauble Bar and everything in between.

Now, rates for such jobs have gone down drastically as many retailers have decided to use waist-down images of models. An unrecognizable shot demands far less money than a recognizable one.

Without the added value of consumer engagement, brands are cutting corners by using as little of a model as possible. It is no longer enough, in a rising number of cases, to be a malleable body. It is important to note that these companies are not just making arbitrary assumptions. They use proven formulas to substantiate their methods. McCormick states, “brands use ‘click through’ numbers as a measure of success when they book someone.  Then the they can say ‘after her face appeared in the advertising, our social media numbers increased by 30 percent.’”

So the question remains, what will be the trajectory of modeling going forward?

Which came first, the Kendall or the Coco? Kendall Jenner, who carefully crafted a path from E! Television to the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Katie Grand or Coco Rocha, a Steven Meisel muse who went from pop culture obscurity to almost 1M followers on Instagram?

Have we made influencers of models or models of influencers?

Canadian model, Coco Rocha poses for Instagram. (Photo via @Cocorocha)

Canadian model Coco Rocha poses for Instagram. (Photo via @Cocorocha)

During the great blogger boom of 2010 to 2014, it appeared that models were losing their luster as the ‘face’ of brands. Bloggers began to be known as influencers and began marketing themselves as representatives for major apparel and lifestyle brands.

However, somewhere between Chiara Ferragni and Cara Delevingne agencies adapted to the idea of expanding the models’ capabilities. Brands followed suit, finding personalities who can fulfill the entire scope of their needs.

“The line is definitely blurred now.  Influencers and high profile models are both up for the same jobs, same magazines, and same money. I am casting both categories at the same time to appear in the same ad campaigns,” says McCormick. She adds,The big difference is that ‘influencers’ give more of their time and attention to the client after they appear in the advertising. If a high profile model would give more of himself/herself after the shoot, (for example, social media posts about the brand and attending client events), he or she will stand out more and brands will re-hire them.”

There is and always has been an oscillating pattern in the fashion industry that focuses its spotlight on new symbols to act on its behalf. Models will always be at the core of fashion marketing in all of its forms, but where it goes from here is primarily dependent on long-term consumer reception.

Tiffany Press is a model manager based in New York.