Generation #Ad

Beware the Kinder Man

It was a faceless man with a strange accent who first made me aware — and wary — of this new breed of influencer. He was hypnotizing my daughter with chocolate eggs. I called him the Kinder Man. All he did was open Kinder Surprise Eggs in video after crappily-produced video. Children — it turns out — are absolutely mesmerized by this low budget and easy-to-churn-out content. Kinder Man, for all I know, is paid by Ferrero, the manufacturer of Kinder Surprise Eggs. Or, at the very least, he’s tolerated since he’s been operating for years without his channel getting flagged by their lawyers.

One of many copycat Kinder influencer videos on the web. Screenshot: americatvLETSPLAY

Inside the ad machine

Two years after Youtube influencers first popped on my radar, I began working as a digital strategist in an ad agency. More and more companies were asking about influencers and MCN’s (Multi Channel Networks, which are basically talent agencies for social media influencers). MCN’s had been visiting me at the agency and plying me with meals and cocktails, hoping to land a contract with me. I was invited to converted hangars in Playa Vista, where sound stages had been constructed for some of the world’s top influencers. I also met with Silicon Valley start-ups purporting to have technology allowing them scrape millions of influencer profiles and buy advertising against them with guaranteed ad impressions and audiences.

Vlogger/Gamer SSSniperWolf
Exclusive Instagram mural for influencers. Credit: Vice/ Justin Caffier

Follow the #ad money

Trump’s election shined a spotlight on something that had already been brewing, and increasingly problematic, for years. One can point to the old adage of “no free lunch” in the case of “free” internet services like Facebook and YouTube. The sole purpose, it turns out, after much head-scratching by the average consumer, has been to mine our personal data and sell it to advertisers.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Money for nothin’ and swag for free

It’s no surprise people have been turning to aspirations of influencer fame as a viable end in itself. The rise of this transactional mindset is directly correlated to the advent of the modern ad tech industry. Gaining followers for views has become an end in itself — and some influencers even content themselves with fake followers, choosing to live with the lie, or hoping to bootstrap an audience of real followers. I’ll expose how this works later in this article.

Screenshot: Foodstagrammer alifewortheating

Apex influencers

The goal of aspiring influencers is to reach the level of celebrity influencer — the kind that are snatched up for exclusive contracts with Hollywood talent agencies. Not only are they comped free trips and meals, they’re also paid to shill products. Jenny McCarthy purportedly makes around $3,500 per post. Scott Disick, famous for being Kourtney Kardashian’s ex, got exposed for posting about a tea brand and getting paid a reported $20,000 dollars for it. These fees might seem exorbitant, but — as in the Dwayne Johnson example I gave above — the media math dollars make sense for brands when compared to the old way of advertising on billboards, print and television.

Industrialized clout

In January, 2018, the New York Times reported on a “Follower Factory”run by a company called Devumi. For a fee, the company sells followers and post engagement to celebrities, businesses and politicians. They run an estimated 3.5 million bot accounts that create a veneer of influence for whomever is willing to pay the price. Over 200,000 customers have used their service, including actors like John Leguzamo, models like Kathy Ireland, business icons like Michael Dell and sports personalities like Ray Lewis. TED speakers, pastors — even members of Twitter’s own board have used its services.

Screenshot: NYT, The Follower Factory

It’s just a prank, bro

Logan Paul
Jake Paul fans outside his Hollywood home. Credit: SAF/All Access/Splash News
Jake Paul on top of a news van. Credit: KTLA
Screenshot: PewDiePie’s infamous stunt
Kendal Jenner’s promotional post for the Fyre Island Festival

Shangri La La Land

Of course, the “exotic” has always sparked our imaginations. My parent’s subscription to National Geographic always conjured the exotic and mysterious, and piqued my curiosity and desire to travel. Now, with Instagram and YouTube, “travel porn” is no longer National Geographic’s domain. Thousands of accounts are dedicated to pictures and videos of tropical exotica and dramatic landscapes, in places that seem almost accessible. “If virtual nobodies, influencers who have risen to the top of the heap in mere months, can do it, why not me?” many followers might ask. Just ten to fifteen years ago the kind of lifestyle some of these influencers are living would have been impossible to conceive of — except if you were Hollywood elite, having your exploits complicitly documented in tabloids in order to cultivate allure. Now, cutting out the middle man, aspiring influencers can curate their own versions of the exotic tabloid spread.

Katarina Zarutskie posing for an Instgram pic. IG: katarinazarutskie
Melina Roberge aka “Cocaine Babe” and friend

Make a billion dollars with this one weird trick




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Drew Minh

Drew Minh

Author of NEON EMPIRE, a near-future thriller about influencers, coming out in September 2019 (CCB/Rare Bird Books)