New York Times article on Internet Celebrities

For as long as advertising has existed, celebrities have been used to sell products. While a celebrity’s clout can still sell things (I admit that I was briefly tempted to buy $7 luxury toilet paper because I heard Beyonce swears by it), companies are now turning to the non-traditionally famous for advertising via social networks.

The New York Times Magazine this weekend published a story about the business of “microcelebrities” – normal people, many of them teenagers, who have huge followings on YouTube, Vine and Instagram and are tapped to promote brands on their networks. The article focuses on theAudience, a company whose stable of “influencers” includes young people with social media followers in the hundreds of thousands. TheAudience, whose initial investors included Napster inventor Sean Parker, began by working with traditional celebrities, but soon realized that these “influencers” were cheaper to hire, better at engaging with their fanbases, and willing to try and promote just about any product.

One of the most well-known of theAudience’s clients is the band Chainsmokers, whose dance hit “#Selfie” was accompanied by a music video including selfies by some of theAudience’s top influencers. From the article:


More than 30 Influencers appeared in the video, plus many of the D.J.s’ friends and fans … yielding more than 100 selfies stitched into the video … Owing to the shameless logic of social media, coupled with the glory of proximity to fame, anyone who had a selfie in the video Instagrammed it, tweeted it, Facebooked it, the works. It was a song making fun of selfies and self-promotional oversharing that included and relied on selfies and self-promotional oversharing for its success.


Many people are familiar with the Chainsmokers and their hit song, but there’s also people like 16-year-old Acacia Brinley who may not be mainstream famous but certainly have a lot of fans: at press time of the NYT Magazine article, Brinley had 460,928 YouTube followers, 370,056 on Vine and 2,017,149 on Instagram. She’s paid by theAudience to promote movies, clothing companies and major brands like McDonald’s – and there are many other “infleuncers” like her.

When asked about the line between entertainment and advertising, or lack thereof, theAudience CEO Oliver Luckett claims that this has always been the way things have been done.


“That’s what TV is: an art form that’s paid for by Amex and by Dr Pepper and by all these people. We just lost sight of it because it’s media dollars, and they don’t see the direct connection. But that’s how TV began. TV began with product integration in order to pay for it. Then the 30-second spot emerged as the art form to make the ad.”


Is it disturbing that the “microcelebrities” people follow for fun are serving as sneaky brand ambassadors, or is this classic advertising updated for the Instagram age? Many of these influencers are models, actors and singers who share their content through Instagram, Vine and YouTube. Could these kinds of partnerships help fund their art, or is that “selling out”?

All I know is that I’ve had “#Selfie” stuck in my head for weeks.