James Reacts: RHONY S14 Reunion & the Changing Landscape of Influencer Marketing - Ep. 79
Last updated on
November 16, 2023
In this episode of Negronis with Nord, James reacts to Sai De Silva on RHONY S14 Reunion and discusses the complexities of the influencer marketing industry. He addresses misconceptions, the evolving branding landscape, and the influential role of influencers in shaping the narrative.
Below is a portion of the episode transcript for your reading pleasure. Make sure to subscribe to the Fohr YouTube channel to get notified of new episodes, and watch the full episode below.
James Reacts to the RHONY Reunion
Andy Cohen: Do you think influencers get a bad rap?
Sai de Silva: I do. I think we do get a really bad rap. I don't think people really understand that this very much so is a business. People assume that we're running around taking selfies and then charging people for it. There's so many moving parts. We have teams, we have briefs, we have deliverables. We pitch concepts just like an advertising agency.
Common Misconceptions about Influencers
James: Influencers are generally misunderstood. I do think that it is a hard job. If I'm being totally honest, as someone who's in this space and cares deeply about influencers, I think that a lot of influencers haven't done themselves a lot of favors by constantly whining about how hard they work.
Some influencer's very reasonable pushback against people not thinking that these jobs are hard—that they're just taking a photo of themselves and making money and anyone could do it—has created a second wave of backlash. Because some of it sounds tone-deaf, the response is like, ‘This is the hardest job.’
I think they are very right to be like, I am running a business, and anyone who’s running a business knows it’s incredibly difficult. Not just like, ‘I'm the hardest working person in the world.’ Because a lot of what you're doing is also fun. Yeah, I can sometimes be like, Oh my gosh, I worked an 18-hour day yesterday. What were six of them? Six hours of that was like a client dinner at some really nice place. And then we went to get drinks after, and it's like, yeah, that is work, going to parties and events and flying around the world.
And I think that's where people sometimes get eye-rolly. You telling me that being flown to the Caribbean and put up in a hotel for free and having to cover that is like, Oh, this is work. And again, it is work, but it is not like the work that most people in the world do.
The barrier to entry for influencers as a profession
I want to say something in defense of it because I came from a world where I saw this whole group of people come up.
What happens is you don't get hired as an influencer. You can call yourself one. A myriad of people are out there calling themselves influencers—and they are not.
So, I think it muddies the waters. People who are actually professional and do this for a living are clearly successful and have a real business. They get lumped in with somebody who is not an influencer.
You know, there are a lot of people who call themselves influencers and aren't influencers. We talk all the time about audience versus influence, right? And even having a following doesn't necessarily make you an influencer. That means you have to influence people, which means you have to be persuasive, knowledgeable, entertaining, or something that makes people listen to you.
I don't think anyone should ever say yes to reality television. You don't exist to impress people with your talents. It is not a venue for you to share your gifts with the world. It exists to make other people feel good about themselves by making you look like a f*ing monster or an idiot or an asshole or, you know, vapid or anything other than an inspiring, exciting, good person. On social media, you control how you are perceived, what you share, what you don't share, and what you want people to think about you. Go on reality TV, and you lose that, right?
I mean, get outside of social, and increasingly, you lose that. Just in your interactions with, you know, your co-workers, your family, your friends, even your partner, right? That they may not perceive you exactly how you wish to be perceived. So social, you know, gives you a level of control because you control what people see and what they don't see.
A perception shift for brands
It's not dissimilar from the shift that is happening with brands and that they are losing control of the narrative. They can no longer say, I, the only thing I want people to say about Coca-Cola is that it's about joy, Santa Claus, and family. When you think about Coke, you think about the best moments in your life, and that's what we will associate Coca-Cola with.
Well, now, Coca-Cola is full of sugar. It's bad for you. They're enormous plastic polluters. Whatever the story is about Coca-Cola, it's not f*ing Santa Claus anymore. You know, they've lost that ability to control the narrative, which is, you know, why it's so important for brands to work with influencers because they can use those influential voices to help shape the narrative, to seed the stories in social that they want to be told.
You know, increasingly, I think what is really scary for brands is that advertising as a form of mass propaganda is quickly disappearing, right? That you can no longer blatantly lie. You can't just hand a cheeseburger to Michael Jordan and be like, well, everyone loves Michael Jordan, and so everybody will love McDonald's.
I think that's going to make it really difficult for many big household brands to survive the next two decades, you know, to be a brand that people feel proud to be a customer of, who has, you know, a product that is clearly superior, you know, I've been really inspired by beauty. Obviously, no industry leans on influencers as much as beauty.
It's super important to work with the right influencers and to, you know, marketing is incredibly important, but ultimately. It is about great products. You know, the brands that are killing it at Sephora are doing so because they have products that beauty fanatics really are like, these are the best products.
I think that that's really inspiring. We had an event here recently, and the founder of Tower 28 was in the office, and that brand's on fire. She is not the typical founder that you see right now. You know, she's not a 24-year-old wonder kid. She's not an internationally famous pop star. She came from a beauty space and had struggled with eczema. She wanted to create a line of beauty products deemed safe for people suffering from eczema. Through that created, these very clean, safe, and gentle products that people love. If beauty is the industry that most embraces influencers, and that is what it's done to the beauty industry. And that moves through other industries.
Marketing can't save a shitty product
I think we will see the same things happening. Big marketing budgets will not be enough to ensure your brand is successful—ultimately, you have to make a good product. For decades, that was not the case, especially in America, especially with more consumer packaged goods, stuff you would buy in a grocery store or a drugstore.
Great marketing cannot save a shitty product. In the past, without the internet, and without all this, distribution was so important. People are driven a lot by convenience, so having your product in Walmart, in Target, was so important. Because people trusted Macy's, and then they went to the beauty counter at Macy's, and they just... bought something, right? They didn't have any way to get unbiased opinions about what beauty products they should use. They could open Vogue, which suggested the beauty products that bought ads with Vogue.
When they opened Vogue, it would just be talking about white women's skin. In other industries, if you look at music 30 years ago, radio controlled what got popular. The record labels could. Call on the people who owned the radio stations and say I want you to make this person happen It's like, okay, we can make this person famous.
They don't have to have talent. Where else would you find music? there was no discovery engine for that because it was all controlled by a small number of centralized corporations. In the early 2000s, the internet came along, and suddenly, there were these music blogs, and you're finding music that's like you've never f*ing heard it.
That would never play on the radio, right? And now the radio stations don't have power. The record labels don't really have a lot of power anymore. They're actually just looking and saying, like, We're gonna find out what people are connecting with and try and grab it and scoop people up that we think are connecting with this community in an interesting way.
That’s what makes influencers, as a whole so important is that no brand can spend enough money anymore to make themselves to ensure success. If the product isn't good, the TikTok generation will sniff that out, and they're just not gonna put up with it. But again, it continues to place influencers at the center because people will still want to know what is good.