Although in the marketing context the word influencer (literally a person having a strong influence on its recipients) is still undeniably new – the fastest increase in its popularity took place in 2012-2017 – the history of this term is much longer than we think. Studies of the creators of the Oxford dictionary indicate that one of the first, more broad and general application belonged to the British philosopher Henry More, who in 1660 in his work “A Modest Inquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity” referred to the head and influencer of the whole Church.
More than three hundred years later, a definitely different context of the use of this word can be noticed, as well as more and more frequent merger of the influencer concept with the area of commercialization of one’s own person and image, based on advertising contracts. A desire to use their online potential and social status for a more ambitious purpose is less likely to follow the construction of a large group of people watching a given “personality”. On the other hand, companies entering the field of influencers often have a problem to position them appropriately in their initiatives to give joint actions a positive, deeper overtone. The recent premiere of “Like and Subscribe” will serve as an example. Its creators created in Los Angeles a mural (relatively very weak), where photographed can be only those who have a social network of at least 20,000 followers or a blue sign at the profile, which confirms that the user’s account has been verified (most people receive it with greater online recognition).The entrance to the mural was protected by security. After dozens of unfavorable articles on the web, it was decided to move away from the restrictive and – in my opinion – discriminatory selection of visitors.
The fact that the influencer’s institution is going in the wrong direction strengthens two relatively new phenomena: the production of influencers on a mass scale, as well as their virtualization. In China, the breeding of influencers for the purpose of their quick commercialization is a standard. This takes place in incubators, euphemistically known as academies such as Ruhan. The company employs several hundred people, creating the image of new, mostly female celebrities, primarily for brands from the fashion and beauty industry. As many as 1/3 of the employees employed there are assigned to work for the commercial success of Zhang Dayi, the leading influencer of this incubator. The rest of the team develops about 50 not much smaller “stars” of the Chinese Internet. In January this year The New York Times published a comprehensive report entitled “The Follower Factory“, which presents the dark side of the “influencers” business, which can be summed up by the sentence – “Everyone wants to be popular on the web. Some even pay for it. “
The situation gets even more interesting when the influencer, and in a very short time, becomes a 100% imaginary character, being a creation of a hyper-realistic CGI. Lil Miquela, because this is the name of the digital character of the Brud’s company, gained bigger popularity in the network than greater part of real, seemingly influential people. In recent weeks, also for political reasons it was loud about Lil Miquela. Her Instagram’s account was hacked by Bermuda (precisely by the company behind her) – another virtual celebrity, Donald Trump’s supporter (sic!), who threatened that she would not give the account to the owner if she did not tell the whole truth which was an admission that Lil Miquela is solely a product of digital technology. This situation is unprecedented and surprises even people who are closely following the development of the new tech sector, including myself. Lil Miquel’s political fight with another virtual influencer does not, however, prevent real income for its owners, including through cooperation with brands such as Prada and Diesel, whose clothes can be seen in the photos on her Instagram (over 1.2 million followers).Lil Miquela, of course, has her personal PR person, and the queue of companies to cooperate with her is systematically growing.
There are more and more similar virtual influencers : the previously mentioned Bermuda, Blawko – the male equivalent of Lil Miquela (also created by the Dirt group), or Shudu, often called the world’s first digital model. The trend of hyper-realistic digital influencers should be observed now and taken seriously – its implications can be strong for both brands and real celebrities. In the near future, brands will start to create their own digital representatives, because it will be much easier to control the messages they publish, which means that companies will significantly reduce the risk of a branded crisis. I do not exclude a situation in which public figures will create their own digitized alter ego for commercial purposes. One of the images will then remain fully private, the virtual one (such as Lil Miquela or Blawko) will create a platform for bold marketing collaboration, without having to set their limits – digital beings will be able to act commercially in isolation from their real owners.
In order not to fall too much into dystopia, it is worth looking at the second pole of the influencers’ sphere. It turns out that you can find there personalities who use their personal capital and status to promote important ideas. Leonardo Di Caprio has long used his personal profile on Instagram (over 24 million followers) to publish information on global changes and threats occurring in the natural environment. The actor, also acting as the Ambassador of Peace at the United Nations, together with National Geographic created the famous movie “Before the flood” in which they present the consequences of global warming caused by people. This document is a must-see! Pharrell Williams also spoke on the environmental crisis. Together with the Louis XIII brand, he created the musical project “100 Years” – a unique work that will be published in 100 years (exactly in 2117), provided that by that time the negative consequences of the development of our civilization will not destroy it. The only copy of the song was recorded on a unique, earthen vinyl and enclosed in a moisture-sensitive package. If the water level in the oceans does not stop rising, the recording of “100 Years” by Pharrell, placed in a place known only to a few people, will be irretrievably lost.
For a long time it has been said about the inequalities in the level of wages in the film industry (and not only, of course), but hardly any real steps are taken. Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor, announced in May that he does not intend to consider new projects and film scripts if they do not assume an equal pay for women employed in leading roles. What’s more, Cumberbatch also admitted that he intends to use his popularity to support the development of women’s careers. In the wake of these words went the actions – SunnyMarch, the actor’s film studio, announced the creation of a film on the subject of motherhood seen from the perspective of women. Twice Oscar-nominated Jessica Chastain also refuses even big roles if her pay is a fraction of a male actor’s salary. Chastain in Hollywood has quickly become the leader and symbol of the fight against the unequal pay of women in the film industry. It was loud about her, for example, when she interceded for her friend from the movie set, Octavia Spencer, that she would be paid at a similar level as other actors in the movie “The Help”. Last year together with Juliette Binoche, Chastain founded the We Do Together film studio, which aim is to work for the creation of significant female roles in the film industry
On the other hand, the #SEXEDPL idea by Anja Rubik sent shock waves throughout Poland. The model invited to it a number of people recognized in our country, among them Magdalena Cielecka, Monika Brodka, Maffashion, Radzimir Dębski, Maciej Stuhr and Robert Biedron. The campaign drew attention to conscious education in the field of our sexuality, which – unfortunately, is not run by any competent governmental organizations that have adequate means to do so. What I liked the most was the fact that its participants consistently used their own channels in social media, thanks to which the action gained wide coverage among younger audiences, much larger than the official campaign channel on Youtube – I assume that was the initial assumption. It is worth noting that everybody involved in the project took part in it in 100% pro bono. From initiatives more personal and spontaneous, it is worth remembering Jacek Braciak, the actor, who in March this year for the distribution of the Polish Film Awards Eagles 2018 came dressed in a black dress. It was an expression of support for women fighting for our rights in our country.
Personally, the term influencer has always been associated with exerting influence. The real one. One that is not related to contracts, collaborations with brands and money that follow them. Being an influential person is for me, above all, educating, shaping attitudes, but also taking the floor in difficult and important matters. It is also a sense of responsibility and support, also through reacting, of weaker individuals or social groups that do not have the right force to express their reasons. Observing the changes taking place, as well as remaining very close to the advertising business, and quick contracts with people who quickly gain an apparent popularity in the network, sometimes I think that I am wrongly developing the influencer definition, which I devoted to today’s text? But even if it is so, I prefer to be in the wrong and with my version of the meaning of this concept. However, I hope that in the future more people, perceived as influential, will turn to more ambitious themes or social problems and will not give this role to digital influencers. Because even the previously discussed celebrity Lil Miquela supports the Black Lives Matter movement, actions leading to the deregulation of free access to weapons in the US and the fight for the rights of transgender people.