In a recent survey, 16-year-olds were asked what they wanted to be when they left college. ‘An influencer’ was the second most popular answer, sandwiched between ‘being famous’ and ‘Liberal Democrat spokesperson on rural affairs.’ 

Hijack good causes for cash

Surprised? I was too.  So I had a chat with my mum’s bingo partner, Moira. She’s an influencer. One week, she took a coke bottle in, pre-spiked with Bacardi. The next week, they were all doing it. That’s the power of OOH above the line influencer marketing right there. True, Moira was in the Mecca Bingo in Birkenhead, not in a Lear Jet en route to the Fyre Festival. But her campaign definitely went viral, and no-one furiously Tweeted out a pic of a cheese sandwich in a styrofoam box. Result. 

“Being a successful influencer is all about knowing your market,” Moira told me. “Ask Kendall Jenner. She knew that all the only thing thwarting the Black Lives Matter movement was a judiciously proffered can of Pepsi.”

Who knew? Influencers, that’s who. What did we do without them?

If only Moira had used Pepsi for her bingo moonshine launch event instead of Coke she could have solved systemic racial injustice while also getting her bingo mates pissed on 

Prop up a dictatorship

Artificial, economical with the truth and built entirely on self-promotion and sham. There’s a reason why the biggest influencers are drawn to Dubai. They were made for each other.

When influencers defied the lockdown travel ban and headed for the Emirate state ‘for essential work’, they soon felt the wrath of Holly Willoughby on This Morning. But they had an unlikely defender in the shape of Kathy Burke. 

“Like it or not, being an influencer *is* a job nowadays and she’s doing her best to hang on to that job. I think she’s being very canny,” Burke Tweeted of one influencer, doing her best to motivate sleep-deprived NHS staff back home with Instagram videos of her bouncing around on a camel in a Prada bikini (her, not the camel. Shame, because had it been the other way around, Prada could have slayed an entirely new demographic, and we’d now be living in a world of Camel influencers. Although, give it time.)

But Kathy, this is Dubai. The state where princesses go missing for speaking out against abuse, where women still need permission from a male ‘guardian’ to get married (and can’t divorce a husband who beats them up) and being gay is punishable by death. But it’s also the place where influencers and wellness gurus are flown out to star in product launches for jazzy flip-flops, protein flapjacks and candles that smell like vaginas. 

Is this really ‘canny’? Or are brands and influencers tacitly condoning a corrupt state built on slave labour and repression just to line their own pockets? In years to come, will the whole sorry industry be looked upon in the same way we did when bands chose to play Sun City and, by association, help prop up Apartheid South Africa? I really, really hope so.

Sell your soul

Of course, Kathy’s right. Like it or not, being an influencer is a job. But jobs are only jobs when there’s a transaction involved. And increasingly, the lurid, lawless economics of “sponcon” (sponsored content) are as inflated as any ex Love Island star’s biceps. 

That’s why I shudder when I see the term ‘influencer marketing’ in the recipe for a brand’s launch. These days, every marketing campaign has a budget for it. And however Instagram and co try to tighten the rules with hashtags and ‘paid promotion’ caveats, the $7billon-a-year industry is about as regulated as a rave in a car park. It’s a TOWIE pension fund where inappropriate, misleading or downright illegal posts are merely taken down with no more than a slap on the wrist. Who pays? The Gen Z’ers who suck this stuff up and splash their cash on anything their YouTube idols are paid to sex up. 

One such social media influencer, 25-year-old Hyram Yarbro, has millions of followers slavishly lapping up his skincare advice on Instagram and TikTok. No matter that his audience are people who think crow’s feet are things you’ll find fried in tempura batter in a Bangkok street market. God knows they’re years away from actually needing to worry about their skin. And yet he nets around $250,000 a month for his wise words on serums and seven-step morning skincare regimes. Wise words that, of course, are often sponsored, paid promotions and collaborations – not all of which are transparent, and many of which are contradictory, depending on who’s paying. It works. Any brand pushed by the baby-skinned influencer can expect sell-outs faster than you can say snake oil.

Enter into a loveless marriage

Why are some brands so hungry for a pouty narcissist to stroke their product in public? It’s, at best, an arranged marriage. A loveless coupling fuelled by cash and the cynical exploitation of an influencer’s hapless, impressionable followers. You thought your influencer was, like, your bff. Nah, they’re a brand. And we’re their product. That’s why Hyram’s just launched his own skincare line. Influencers are in it for one thing, and one thing only. Themselves. 

I know that a middle-aged bloke groaning about social media influencers is as pointless as my Dad saying to a 12-year-old me that Bananarama’s performance of Robert DeNiro’s Waiting showed a complete lack of choreography prowess. I know most people will view this rant with a face-with-rolling-eyes emoji. But still, there is hope…

Expect others to work for free 

Elle Darby’s half a million YouTube followers were treated to a feast of a festive treat last Christmas: a full half hour mukbang review of the McDonalds Festive Menu. It’s replete with such brilliant insights as: 

“Oh My God you guys, look at my new kettle. It’s got such an interiors vibe.” 

“I think I need at least five to seven business days to learn how to style my new hair.” 

“I always like to smell something before I eat it.”

“My favourite Christmas food is a mango sausage.”

So, you’d think, her wise words would be marketing gold to any brand lucky enough to be approached by the Big Mac-stuffing influencer. Which is exactly what she did when she attempted to blag herself a five-night stay at the swanky White Moose Café in Dublin by promising social media exposure for the hotel…

“As I was searching for places to stay, I came across your stunning hotel and would love to feature you in my YouTube videos/dedicated Instagram stories/posts to bring traffic to your hotel and recommend others to book up in return for free accommodation,” she reached out to its owner, Paul Stenson.

But Paul, clearly unaware of her video of the kettle with the massive interiors vibe, was nonplussed with her request.

“If I let you stay here in return for a feature in a video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? The waiters who serve you breakfast? The receptionist who checks you in? Who is going to pay for the light and heat you use during your stay?”

Stenson ended his email saying “P.S. The answer is no,” and subsequently banned all social media influencers from grabbing free crap at his hotel. 

An insane and foolhardy move, surely? Well, his hotel hasn’t closed yet. But he is considering buying a camel, just to drum up trade in the shoulder season. 

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