Introduction to Visual Culture
VMS 202 Olson
Glossier’s Hyperreal Employment of Instagram Branding
No industry comes close to the beauty industry in terms of employing relentless
marketing and branding campaigns. Companies bombard women with magazine and TV ads of
nearly-naked models clutching bottles of perfume or celebrity endorsers with larger-than-life
dark eyelashes demonstrating the “magic” of a mascara formula. For luxury and drugstore brands
alike, the goal of beauty advertisements in the past was to induce a self-inflicted judgmental
comparison between the heavily photo-shopped woman in the ad and the woman viewing that ad
so that the insecurities evoked would prompt her to purchase the product. However, millennials
armed with a critical awareness of how women are portrayed in media are infiltrating the beauty
industry and creating new marketing strategies. They have reacted to the negativity in traditional
beauty advertising by choosing to focus on positivity in new marketing and branding campaigns.
Products are now represented as being for “real” women to use to enhance their natural beauty
and boost their confidence. Glossier, an independent company just a few years old, is the best
example of how the millennial beauty marketing and branding philosophy can be applied to
modern media channels to achieve success.
An independent beauty company with a small, but popular arsenal of skincare and
makeup products, Glossier has built up a loyal consumer base almost entirely through Instagram.
Glossier regularly updates their profile with carefully curated photos ranging from aesthetic to
promotional purposes. The company also uses the social media platform to interact with their
community of “Glossier girls.” Dubbing themselves “a beauty brand that just wants to be friends
with you,” Glossier uses their Instagram and their interactions with their consumers on the
platform to create a carefully constructed visual representation of their company that transcends
their physical products to convey a reality that operates according to Glossier’s company
aesthetics and philosophy1. In this paper, I will conduct a close analysis of two images from
1 Glossier’s philosophy is centered upon effortless, natural beauty; independent,ambitious career women; and a
propagation of pleasing aesthetics,which can be seen by their Instagram posts featuring works of fledgling artists,
clean architecture, and luxurious high fashion.
Glossier’s Instagram profile to demonstrate how the company has used the platform to launch a
marketing strategy that can be understood through the lens of Baudrillard’s concept of
hyperreality, Lacan’s sense of lack, and the commodity self. Glossier’s use of Instagram has also
helped the company to establish itself with different demographics of women that come together
to create the “Glossier girl” community.
Jean Baudrillard’s writing on simulacra examines the relationship between representation
and reality (Baudrillard 170). He posits that simulacra blur the line between the real and the
unreal to the extent that the representation is no longer based upon an original reality at all (167).
Building upon this study, his term hyperreal refers to a media reality that is perceived to be more
real than the real itself (166). The hyperreal is exemplified by social media profiles, whether they
be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. By choosing what photos we post and the 140
characters we type, we intentionally curate an online identity that others perceive as a more
accurate, more real representation of our reality than what actually occurs in our daily lives.
Instagram itself has become a hyperreal of images in a specific aesthetic style that dictates how
we document our worlds. We take photos that we perceive as aligning with Instagram’s
“aesthetic” and filter them accordingly, participating actively in the construction of Instagram’s
aesthetic hyperreality and the hyperreality of our own lives as created through our Instagram
profiles. This active participation in constructing a hyperreality ties into Baudrillard’s precession
of simulacra, where “the map precedes the territory” (166), or in the case of Instagram, where we
first post photos that contribute to a hyperreality which we subsequently attempt to emulate in
Although they are fundamentally a company selling skincare and makeup products,
Glossier has created a hyperreality of an Instagram aesthetic lifestyle using the platform. Most
noticeable is a recurring color scheme of blush pink, mixed with portraits of women with clear,
radiant skin and Glossier products carefully stacked in medicine cabinets or artfully arranged on
vanities. The collective aesthetic cohesion of these photos craft a hyperreal Glossier that is a
sequence of daily visual experiences composed of the aforementioned signifiers of the
company’s brand. Those who follow the company on Instagram can easily believe that Glossier
the Instagram user with an aesthetic lifestyle is more real than Glossier the company trying to
promote their products. This makes women more likely to purchase Glossier products in an
attempt to emulate the hyperreality of the Instagram aesthetic in their own lives2.
Consumerist culture is based upon a paradox: when we make a purchase, there is a
temporary satiation of desire that is accompanied by an anxiety to purchase more. Companies
capitalize on this paradox, showing us through ads how our lives would be better if only we
bought their product. Glossier takes advantage of this paradox, while also employing marketing
techniques that tie into Lacan’s sense of lack and the concept of the commodity self. Lacan wrote
on the “mirror stage,” or the first time that infants see themselves in a mirror, after which they
spend the rest of their lives trying to attain that “mirror self.” He theorized that this creates a
perpetual “sense of lack” that motivates our every action (Sturken and Cartwright 278-279). This
sense of lack is why we consume commodities. As we consume to try feel fulfilled, we build a
“commodity self,” or an identity composed of the products we buy and use. Instagram profiles
function akin to this “mirror self.” The photos posted represent only certain facets of our life and
gloss over the moments that we don’t want others to see. We are constantly trying to achieve the
life that our “Instagram self” lives, whether that be by purchasing certain clothes or arranging our
living spaces to align with the Instagram’s constructed aesthetic. The “Instagram self” may be
the contemporary equivalent of Lacan’s “mirror self”; we strive to, but inevitably fail, to live up
to the hyperreal life we construct on our Instagram profiles.
Glossier’s Instagram profile showcases a relatable lifestyle, but one that is complete
because of the company’s products. Each photo implies that women can fulfill the “sense of
lack” in their everyday lives simply by purchasing Glossier skincare or makeup. Their photos
encourage us to build a commodity self of Glossier products that, along with art, fashion, and
career ambition, will make us a member of the company’s “cool girl” community.
The first image I will analyze is a photo of Glossier skin tint and facial cleanser, on a
stack of books topped with a blush pink heeled boot. The stack of books includes the book
#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amaruso and The Motivation Manifesto by Brendon Burchard. This
book selection reflects Glossier’s strategies to attract ambitious working women as consumers.
The photo contributes to Glossier’s hyperreal because of its alignment with the company’s color
2 Convinced by Glossier’s hyperreal to buy products to emulate their own hyperrealities, these women participate in
a kind of hyperreal feedback loop related to Baudrillard’s theories. The result of Glossier’s Instagram hyperreality is
that women purchase their products and post photos ofthem, creating their own hyperreality; Glossier tries to
emulate in these photos on their profile, which yields a feedback loop (Financial Times).
scheme and its positioning of Glossier products alongside signifiers that could be a part of any
woman’s life. The blush pink boot signifies Glossier’s inextricable tie to Instagram culture’s
hyperreal of a “fashionable” lifestyle, constructed by users who post photos of products
arbitrarily deemed “in” or trendy by lifestyle media. Placing the products next to this boot and a
stack of books on career ambition signifies to Instagram users that Glossier is not just a beauty
company, but rather a means of personal elevation, perhaps to achieve the “Instagram self.” If
they purchase Glossier products, they will build a commodity self in alignment with their
“Instagram self” that is more driven, elegant, successful, and “cool.”
This Instagram photo looks like it was captured by chance, as if this display of
commodities was just lying around a woman’s home. By creating an illusion of spontaneity,
Glossier spurns blatantly promotional beauty advertising for an approach intended to show the
“realness” of their products. The intimate, authentic feeling the photo gives off attracts a sector
of women on Instagram who are interested in high fashion, and/or who are aiming to achieve
more in their careers. If Glossier were to post a photo of just the skin tint and facial cleanser
against a plain background, it would not be nearly as successful at drawing the attention of
potential customers and holding the attention of women who have already bought their products.
This photo interpellates3 women on Instagram by showing the company’s products integrated
into a way of life that they can imagine themselves leading. Glossier is manipulating the
personal, close-up angles of typical Instagram photos to brand itself as an authentic company for
stylish, ambitious women.
The second image I will analyze is a photo of Glossier products and the company’s
signature pink bubble wrap ziplock bags on top of a toilet, with a little bit of a bathroom counter
showing that also has Glossier products on top of it. The bathroom itself looks completely
ordinary; there is not an emphasis on style that was in the first image I analyzed; however, this
post still adds to Glossier’s hyperreality by reinforcing the idea of a Glossier lifestyle that
emulates Instagram’s hyperreal aesthetic. The products pictured appear to be in use by a real
woman, convincing women that Glossier products could be a part of their daily reality as well.
By featuring Glossier products and packaging arranged in an average bathroom, this photo calls
3 The concept of interpellation refers to how ideology hails us as viewers. In this case,the ideology is that the
average woman needs Glossier products because they already fit into her lifestyle (as demonstrated by the relatable
Instagram photos).Interpellation stems from theories of ideology, specifically Althusser’s theory that we can’t help
but be interpellated by ideology because our entire world is made up of ideologies (Sturcken & Cartwright 69-70).
attention to how they could enhance or fulfill our daily lives. This photo so seamlessly flows
with Instagram’s hyperreality, that it is something we can imagine posting on our own profile.
Also appealing to the concept of the commodity self, this image features an array of Glossier
products in a normal bathroom as if to emphasize that an identity constructed with Glossier’s
products, and the company’s corresponding hyperreal lifestyle, is very much attainable for the
Just as in the first image, this photo is casual, as if someone went over to a friend’s
apartment and found her bathroom looking like this. Instead of posting a photo of their products
lined up in a stock photo style, Glossier posted this image, which portrays all their products in a
more relatable setting. In this case, Glossier is seeking to attract the average woman who is
looking for skincare and makeup products that aren’t positioned in a fantasy world, such as those
of highbrow brands like Dior or Chanel. The photo was posted to interpellate women who want
products that can be integrated into their lifestyles. Once again, Glossier takes advantage of
Instagram’s original intent to be a personal photo-sharing platform to brand itself as authentic
towards a demographic of women looking for products that help them attain the existing
hyperreal they’ve created for themselves on Instagram.
Although Glossier is an independent beauty company, they achieved rapid growth and a
devoted consumer community because of their manipulation of media, namely Instagram.
Instead of simply using their profile to inundate women with advertisements for their company,
Glossier curates a collection of cohesive images that makes millennial women feel personally
connected with the company, akin to a friendship. With photos that feature products (without
being overtly promotional), women with beautiful skin, and photos that align with Glossier’s
artistic aesthetic, the company forges a more intimate connection with their customers on
Instagram, simulating interactions we have with real friends on the platform. Glossier “likes”
photos that are captioned with relevant hashtags and often reposts photos of their products taken
by customers, giving off a sense of collective ownership over the beauty company’s image and
vision. This social media marketing initiative has fostered an unwavering sense of loyalty to the
company that developed very quickly, emulating the fast-paced connections and reactions that
make up Instagram’s social media platform.
Glossier is a valuable example of the undeniable link between social media and
consumerism today, as well as being an example of how Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreal
and Lacan’s “sense of lack” in relation to the commodity self are still applicable to millennial
advertising methods. The mass amount of marketing campaigns taking place on social media
means that consumers have more options to choose from. This expansion of choice poses a
challenge for companies trying to collect a loyal customer base through social media: they must
stand out from the other brands also carrying out marketing campaigns, while maintaining strong
relationships with their existing customers to avoid losing them to other brands. Although social
media marketing campaigns involve elements of narrowcasting to target a company’s niche
consumer demographic, they must evolve to also become multidirectional so that customers feel
more of a personal connection with the brand. Glossier has managed to achieve this
multidirectional, yet niche audience-oriented social media campaign perfectly. They have
managed to attract the attention of celebrities, young professionals, and college students alike,
funneling these separate demographics into a community that is fiercely loyal to both Glossier
products and the Glossier “lifestyle.” It remains to be seen how other beauty companies will look
to Glossier’s social media strategies and subsequent success to accelerate their own growth and
secure customer loyalty as well.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
"Feedback Loop." Ft.com/lexicon. Financial Times, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
Glossier. (@glossier). Instagram, 16 Nov 2016, https://www.instagram.com/p/BMz-
Glossier. (@Glossier). Instagram, 9 Nov 2016,
Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual
Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.