On freebies, brands, and real influence
|Jul 23||Public post|| 10|
Colin here. In the startup scene of the mid-2000’s the social currency (and oddly, user acquisition tactic) was to be featured on Techcrunch. It was always number one on a founder’s list, and with coverage came a surge both of users and interest. I would always joke that the traffic that would come in the front door from a post like this was equivalent to the people who show up to your party, drink your booze, and then promptly leave.
Fast forward to today, the conduits have changed but influencer culture shows no sign of abating. It’s quite a lucrative industry across Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and every other conceivable platform. Entire industries, particularly travel, have been seduced by the glitter and glamour of those with a ton of followers. On Instagram, it has created a pervasive aesthetic comprised of glamour shots and trite; empty feeling luxury. And the PR teams from hotels and properties are flooded with propositions for free stays in exchange for coverage.
Why is this interesting?
All of this is why I found it so refreshing to read Andrew Tuck’s contrarian take in the Monocle Weekend edition. He recounts a recent observation of influencers in the wild.
A couple of weeks ago I was at an event where a posse of self-described influencers had been invited to attend. They were not hard to spot. They arrived en masse from another launch, swinging bags full of freebies. They found the photographer and posed poutily. During the speeches they went outside to smoke and gossip. They asked questions such as “Where are we?” and “Do you know what this is for?” And then, like a panicked flock, they were off, their chunky Balenciaga-trainer-shod feet vanishing into the mist. I’d love to know what influence they had on anything that day.
This is precisely the danger of brands aligning themselves with the marauding hordes. There’s often no actual love or familiarity with the product they are given silver briefcases of cash to hock. Plus, most will work for a competing brand in the most mercenary way the next day.
Most of all, though, this isn’t influence. Influence is a lot more nuanced. In fact, it’s so nuanced that it’s been shown over and over to be something that you can’t predict at any real scale. What these brands are buying is a form of ad space — reach — not influence. Real influence is about people who have painstakingly established credibility in an area over time, building a foundation that lasts with a set of people who notice. Tuck cites someone of this archetype he recently encountered in Beirut:
This week I have been in Lebanon and met up with a long-time Monocle friend called Kamal Mouzawak. We have followed his story for more than a decade as he has used food to do numerous things, from empowering women to saving his country’s culinary heritage. He does this via a farmers’ market, Souk el Tayeb, and a group of restaurants called Tawlet, where women bring in their farm produce and cook. There are stunning guest houses too. Two days ago I drove (well, was driven; I am not sure any outsider could survive on Lebanese roads) to the Tawlet in the southern town of Saida. The restaurant is beautiful, the work his team do is impressive and in the kitchen are Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian women doing work they love. That’s influence – that’s changing lives and changing the agenda around the environment, tolerance and culture.
Actual influence takes time. Actual influence takes often toiling hard over a topic without the glory of dopamine hits from likes, and bouncing around from opening to opening like a caffeinated group of children. And actual influence takes the chance of finding an audience who cares about those things. One space I pay a lot of attention to, the travel industry, has started to take notice. Vienna recent ran tourism ads calling out shallow visitors with the “See Vienna not #Vienna” campaign and one hotel even went so far as to ban all influencers. Hopefully the rest take notice and this is just another short-lived marketing fad. (CJN)
Sloth of the Day:
From sculpture/costume artist Karoline Hinz. “padded undersuit, separate full body fursuit with extended claw-gloves (movable) and separate head.face is sculpted, molded and casted in silicone with hair punched front and glass eyes. Claws are casted in semi rigid translucent polyurethane.” (NRB)
The WHO has declared the current outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a “public health emergency of international concern”. It’s the highest level emergency they have and one that’s only being used for the fifth time since the label’s inception in 2009. “Until now, only four events have met that criteria: the swine flu pandemic of 2009, the resurgence of polio in 2014, the West African Ebola outbreak, and the Zika epidemic of 2016.” (NRB)
New Yorker from 2015 on Meyer Sound Laboratories, who use high-tech sound systems to transform the acoustics of everything from restaurants to concert venues. (NRB)
On the media enablers of the Epstein narrative. Notably the Forbes contributor network. (CJN)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)