Why we can’t have nice things: influencer karma drama

Grumbling and great plans are afoot in France this week. Great beasts of the industry are combining their forces to overthrow the terrible threat of our time – the influencer.

These insidious aberrates build up followings on the Instagram, posting pictures of themselves or locations, and build up followers who… like to look at their stuff… and then squeeze dollars out of innocent, vulnerable multi-national corporations. Just look at the filth they put out there… white-washed Greek fishing villages that inexplicably have no tourists in shot. I took sixty-seven selfies in one go in Saigon last weekend and the best one still had Gary from North Bend USA picking his nose in the background. I don’t want to know what these guys do to those tourists, suspiciously out of view… if there’s one thing I want off my lawn, it’s influencers.

In Cannes, they’re getting serious. Transparency is in. Being happy you had a metric to justify spend is out. Unilever CMO Keith Weed has some common-sense, couldn’t agree with you more, suggestions: no working with influencers who pay for followers, use bots or any fraudulent methods to boost their followers. But in true kiasu spirit, Singapore had launched its big influencer scandal as early as this Tuesday, with local photographer Daryl Aiden Yow being exposed by Mothership as less than honest on his profile. The photographer, who worked with Uniqlo, Sony and others, had claimed that all photos were taken by him but it emerged many were stock photographs, some where he had photoshopped himself into, and some he had even inaccurately located in his captions (a stock photo of Japan labelled as Thailand, for some reason).

The thing went up like a tinder box. Mothership summoned up the full spirit of investigative journalism and trawled through his profile, showing before and after shots where the Instagrammer deleted or edited his captions. Other influencers shared their opinions (they were against it). Scoot got a cheeky Facebook link post up inviting people to go to Greece for real (hurrah earned media).

People like you and I heard about the existence of Daryl Aiden Yow. And today the Straits Times are reporting his subsequent apology, harrumphing at length on the dangers of brands diverting their cash to these strange newfangled things.

Hi everyone, I didn’t intend to release any statement regarding recent events, largely because I did not know how I could accurately express how sorry I am. But seeing how people are now making baseless and false allegations against those close to me—simply by mere association-- I have decided to confront the facts instead of leaving them subject to speculation. I did not want to let any more people down. The outrage regarding how I have conducted myself is justified and I accept full responsibility for my actions and all consequences that arise from those actions. I was wrong to have claimed that stock images and other people’s work were my own. I was also wrong to have used false captions that misled my followers and those who viewed my images. Having marketed myself as a photographer, I fell far short of what was expected of me and disappointed those who believed—or wanted to believe— in me. For all of that, I apologise. Those close to me disagree with my actions and have asked, whenever they felt that something was not right about my images, that I stop my actions immediately. I did not take their advice seriously and would give reasons that I thought would assuage any concerns they had over those images—just enough so that we would move on to other issues. I let them down with my actions. I would also like to take the opportunity to clear the air. The end-products of my collaborations with my friends remained honest and fair. Whatever my shortcomings were, I did not bring them to my collaborations. That would not have been fair to those who collaborated with me, and they would not have allowed such practices to be carried out in any event. These people are hard-working professionals and I was hurt to see people make baseless allegations or insinuations against them or question their integrity. They should not be hounded for my errors. To that end, I hope that these baseless allegations or insinuations would stop. I know I have erred and hope that I will be given the time and space to grow and better myself. For those who have stood by me, I would like to thank you and hope that I will be able to earn such kindness in the future.

A post shared by Daryl Aiden Yow (@darylaiden) on

Safely buried in all of this now is the most interesting comment… before getting his crisis management hat properly secured, Yow said in an interview that his clients knew that he was using stock imagery, and the Straits Times reports that Sony is declining to comment on whether it did. It’s one thing for Yow to misrepresent himself and his account to his audience, but that’s ultimately a matter for him and his followers. It feels like a lie of omission, more than anything else. But have these brands really been going to a local photographer, we assume understanding the value of an authentic voice… and then not actually getting an authentic output? Why? Did the budget not stretch to those flights to Mykonos? Possibly not.

Trying to find a way to productise word of mouth is obviously not new, and neither are influencers. If you were being skeptical you might say this is just celebrity endorsements for people who can’t afford celebrity endorsements. But the value there is obvious… not only do you lean on that voice of authority and sincerity, but you could set up a partnership with somebody at the start of their careers and achievements. When done right, influencer endorsements are something else, check out this video from a YouTube gaming review channel… not only does it begin with a clear ad made by the YouTuber, half way through Jeff Goldblum… actual Jeff Goldblum takes over in his lego form to plug the latest Jurassic Park video game. And yes, they announce they’re plugging it. It’s amazing, I am buying this game once it goes on sale. (I am on the fence about Peanut Butter Chocolate Blasted Shreds).

Hopefully Sony didn’t push for cheaper than flying our influencer around and got down to stock images. Maybe they were suggested and they didn’t think through the difference in straight advertising and getting a photographer to endorse their products. The global grumbling is a warning that we are close to the point of no return on influencers, and adds to the “why we can’t have good things” effect. If you are trying to fool your audience, that karma is coming back for you.

Tom Jones-Barlow is head of media, Southeast Asia at APD.

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