The Value of Influencers and True Cost of Integrity

I’ve had one of those months that makes you wonder why you do what you do.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one possessing such thoughts. Following an eye-opening chat with the Editor of one of Australia’s most established men’s lifestyle sources about the current state of the industry, and another week trying to avoid a barrage of photos from ‘menswear influencers’ at Pitti Uomo I find myself wondering where it’s all going.

I’ve been in this game for five years now, just D’Marge and me online in Australia in 2012 (that I knew of). I don’t want to say we created a monster, but I think we did. In the past five years the whole industry, that of marketing to a millennial audience, has been turned on its head, not just for traditional mediums, but for online publishers battling influencers as well. When I entered the landscape, the magazines and newspapers were fuming. I’d spend dinners at car launches defending what I did to a table of staunch motoring journalists who couldn’t comprehend why I was there, despite my first foray into the web being a car blog over eight years ago. What I do is write about cars from a more jovial perspective, often with the purpose to entertain rather than merely inform. What I do is write.

I’ve spent the last five years trying to convince premium brands that TVG is a platform to tell great stories about their products. Offering tangible pieces of content that TVG followers can read and that they can share, to help customers make educational or emotional decisions about purchasing. Which makes it even harder when a brand comes along who genuinely wants to work with you, with a reasonable budget to produce quality content, and I have to say no because it’s not on brand for TVG. If I scrolled through our enquiries email and pulled out a list of people I’ve said no to, and the amount of money that went with it, I think I’d be ill. But if I had said yes, I’d feel sick regardless, knowing I’d lost the only thing that matters, integrity.

This whole space has turned into a vacuous black hole of shameless promotion, both of products and self. Credibility isn’t even a thing anymore, and influencers out there admit it. And this concept of being an ‘Influencer’, which now describes anyone with an Instagram account – what does it mean? And more importantly, what does it value?

In short, the answer is nothing.

How can a bloke attend the world’s preeminent menswear tradeshow, dressed in a $599 suit, wearing a watch he has been paid to put on, touting an FMCG brand that has funded him to attend, for a photo he’ll eventually delete, be an authority on men’s style? And how can people believe it? Just because said person has amassed a six-figure following doesn’t mean they know anything about drape, canvassing or fit. It baffles me daily.

How can a person refer to themselves as an influencer of any sort, when their style is nothing but a mirrored version of another equally as uninspiring Instagram feed, featuring the same brands, same faces and same ‘Killer look dude’ comments. Or even more shameful, create an Instagram account, fill it with other people’s content and charge thousands for brands to post on it? Don’t even get me started on the female influencers space. What makes one Canggu based size six rig with C cup tits different from the next? Haven’t the brands realised the only people following them are blokes anyway?

Furthermore, how can a brand that makes $15,000 watches align themselves with someone who spent last month promoting $150 watches? Years ago I asked a watch brand how a competing publisher was more ‘on brand’ than TVG when said publisher was running content for Target. Haute horology and Target, there’s a leading brand association if I’ve ever seen one. The irony is, these partnerships discredit the brands to the real fans, all in the name of a handful of likes. If the brand’s don’t think it is being discussed among the core enthusiasts, they’re as ignorant as the influencers they’ve paid to promote their products.

Here I am trying to tell stories, with real honest opinions, drawing on my credibility as a quality content platform, like so many publishers are struggling to do. But it’s a single photo from a style influencer/entrepreneur who has appeared on the feed of forty other brands in the country, better suited for marketing purposes. They say a picture says 1000 words. So how much do 1000 words and many pictures say?

I was sitting at dinner at the launch of the Lexus LC 500 Coupe next to Dimitri at EVH Public Relations, who I’d also sat next to at a Hennessey lunch the week previous. At one point of the night, he said, “you actually know about a lot of stuff.” I’m not trying to toot my own horn; I’m trying to make a point that there’s genuine interest in the things that I write about. There were eight people at the Craigellachie launch last month, and barely one offered an opinion or asked a question about drinking the recently crowned world’s best whisky. It was fascinating stuff.

So what makes these people the right people to promote products?

Likes and pageviews, nothing more.

TVG has an incredible audience (thank you!), one I’ve spent five years fastidiously preparing content for, and building rapport with. It might not be the biggest audience but it’s engaged, and from what I’m led to believe, actually, values what graces the website. Quality over quantity is very much at the forefront of my editorial direction. Unfortunately, the quality of the TVG audience is undervalued, because on the surface it’s not the largest, or we don’t have enough Instagram followers to support it. The irony of the situation as it stands is, TVG can provide ten times the exposure with a tenth of the budget influencers are getting paid and deliver it with credibility.

It’s interesting to look at the social accounts of the fellows I referenced in my article ‘The Most Stylish Australian Men on Instagram.’ None of them has six-figure audiences, but all of them are different. They’re all run by someone who is genuinely interested in their category. These are people who do what they do because they love it, not because a brand has told them to.

What we’re exposed to these days is a fabricated Instagram style fueled by cheap brands gifting products to wannabes, and brands with marketing budgets seeking spurious exposure. Unfortunately, this image, for both men and woman, has permeated the consumer’s perception of what is important, and circled back to the brands, forming a perpetual loop of meaningless trash that is void of our minds faster than we can scroll past it.

Photo: Imaxtree


James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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