In William Gibson's 2003 sci-fi novel Pattern Recognition, shadowy advertising organizations would pay party-goers to discreetly name-drop products at social gatherings as a new form of viral marketing. As these socialites sold products, they began losing their own identity, realizing instead that they were basically just living commercials.
As social media proliferated in the coming years, Gibson's prediction turned out to be rather prescient in the form of "Influencers" -- but what he couldn't have guessed was that the "Influencer economy" would ultimately implode on itself.
It turns out advertising experts are realizing that paying teens and celebutantes massive amounts of money to not-so-subtly endorse their cool beverages or upcoming fashion lines actually doesn't do much by way of sales. From one expert, via Digiday:
"We threw too much money at them and did it too quickly. So in 2014, they were making $500 to show up and take some photos. Then it became $1,500. Now it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. They no longer value their art. I remember I once did a speaking thing to a school of young social media people, and they asked, 'How do I become an influencer?' So I asked them what they were good at. And they said, 'Nothing.' We’ve gotten to the point that if we have a meeting with them, and we ask what they do, and they say 'influencer,' we don’t hire them. If they say photographer, we do."
So, wait, not only are "Influencers" overpaid and not particularly productive, they're also not hirable? Cool gig!
The same expert also suggested that advertising and marketing agencies will be moving away from this dystopian mode of product promotion in the future:
"Influencers are going to start disappearing. Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean sh*t. Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing. You can’t rely on content creators all day long. For the influencers, their entire business is about relationships and friendships. Someone was at Vice, so uses their friend to do photography. Someone knows someone else at Instagram, so gets featured on the trending page. We live and die by these platforms today."
What a strange, horrible, futuristic nightmare we live in.
[Top Photo: Makeup influencer ILuvSarahii, Getty Images]