If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you may be familiar with the feeling of hemorrhaging money. My own is three weeks away, and I’m fairly certain I lost $3,000 just opening my email this morning. Thanks to Instagram influencer Chiara Ferragni, I now realize that’s because I’m doing it wrong.
Watching Ferragni’s wedding unfold on social media last weekend, and learning in the following days that her nuptials in Sicily earned the brands whose products were featured in the extravaganza an estimated $36 million—not a typo—I feel a little bit naive, like Steve Martin in the opening scene of the 1991 classic, Father of the Bride. ”I used to think a wedding was a simple affair,” he says, massaging his feet in his confetti-strewn living room. “Boy and girl meet. They fall in love. He buys a ring. She buys a dress. They say, ‘l do.’ I was wrong. That’s getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition.”
And where the wedding industrial complex and the social media spotlight collide, it is a business proposition.
Ferragni, if you’re not familiar, is the creator of blog called The Blonde Salad. When The Blonde Salad was the subject of a Harvard Business School case study in 2015, Ferragni had about 3.2 million Instagram followers, and her business was projected to make about $9 million in annual revenue. Cute! Three years later, Ferragni has about 15 million followers, and is the president and CEO of two companies: TBS Crew (Get it? The Blonde Salad), a talent management and media production company that oversees Ferragni and her sister’s projects, and Chiara Ferragni Collection, a fashion label that generated more than $15 million in revenue in 2016.
In December 2017, Ferragni took on the CEO role while six months pregnant with her son with the Italian rapper Fedez. She described a refocusing of the business to WWD then: “Ferragni emphasized that the changes also involve increasingly putting herself at the center of every project,” wrote Luisa Zargani. “Ferragni … realized that the projects that worked best were those that saw her as the focus.”
Case in point: her wedding. This project was a weekend-long extravaganza that included at least four white designer ensembles, a sponsored Alitalia flight to transport guests to Sicily (with customized snacks, obvs), a floral welcome mat laid out on cobblestoned streets, lots of customized merch (mugs, buttons, etc.), and a Coachella-themed reception complete with a celebrity DJ, a ferris wheel, fireworks, and endless Instagram-able moments. See: Ferragni’s “wedding” Instagram story with panes featuring the customized Alitalia flight, the custom Dior dresses and shoes, the #suppliedbyPrada rehearsal dress, and the Lancome makeover in-process, as well as at least 40 posts on Ferragni’s own page—not to mention all the guests who used the hashtag #TheFerragnez.
According to the marketing analytics firm Launchmetrics, Ferragni’s wedding weekend earned the brands associated with the blessed event many millions in “media impact value,” or MIV, Launchmetric’s proprietary measurement of the monetary value of a social media post.
Sure, it may feel a little crude to put price-tags on sharing one’s memories of such a personal event, but let’s be honest. Weddings are, in a sense, exercises in personal branding, executed for their intended audiences. In some cases, those intended audiences might be simply one’s grandmother (smoked salmon platter at a Sunday brunch), the groom’s ex-hippie friends from college (Mason jars of signature cocktails), or whoever happens to be at City Hall (whatever!). In others, they may include the FOMO-stricken followers of a wedding-specific hashtag. In Ferragni’s case, that hashtag—#TheFerragnez—got a cool 67 million, um, engagements.
While we don’t know exactly how much Alitalia or Lancome paid for those posts marked as advertising, or whether Launchmetric’s estimates are spot-on, it’s clear that Ferragni’s wedding earned a great deal of eyeballs for the brands associated with it, and raised Ferragni’s public profile in the process. And also that she didn’t have to pay for those flights or couture dresses. But she did have to Instagram a lot. Here’s what that looked like.