The cat’s meow

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page -

In­flu­encer mar­ket­ing— as mil­len­nial buzz­words go, it may be as hot as the phrase “mil­len­nial buzz­words.” The mar­ket­ing game has changed. Once upon a time, Chicago Black­hawks superstar Bobby Hull told you to buy a cer­tain brand of mo­tor oil and you did, be­cause Hull could score goals like no­body’s busi­ness. And while it is still true that Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers player Con­nor Mcdavid could con­fi­dently pro­claim that a par­tic­u­lar brand of di­ges­tive bis­cuit tastes best and many would be­lieve him, the new breed of in­flu­encers have typ­i­cally nei­ther scored a sin­gle NHL goal nor won a sin­gle MTV award. They are YouTube chan­nel per­form­ers, Twit­ter moguls, re­al­ity TV stars. So how did these in­flu­encers be­come the new ar­biters of which dog food you sim­ply must pur­chase? Some­times it’s be­cause the en­dorse­ment comes from a dog.

An­i­mals are big stars on so­cial me­dia. And while be­ing beau­ti­ful and/or grace­ful is a big plus for a hu­man star, in the an­i­mal cat­e­gory what you re­ally want is bad teeth. An­i­mal in­flu­encers of­ten gain their fol­low­ers by look­ing like real-life car­toon char­ac­ters. There’s Grumpy Cat with her perma-frown; Tuna, a lit­tle dog with a big goofy grin; and Toast, a spaniel with a tongue that hangs out like a dan­gling seat belt.

All of these pop­u­lar and in­flu­en­tial quadrupeds have mas­sive on­line fol­low­ings, and all owe their dis­tinc­tive looks to some

sort of den­tal is­sue. Grumpy’s gloomy puss is partly the re­sult of an un­der­bite; an over­bite gives Tuna her funky smile; and a com­plete lack of teeth al­lows Toast’s tongue to range freely out­side her cute lit­tle snout. Then there’s Lil Bub, a tabby cat that com­bines a lack of teeth with a short lower jaw and a pro­trud­ing tongue—the whole pack­age. No won­der Lil Bub has a singing ca­reer, her own web se­ries and co-starred with Grumpy Cat and oth­ers in the film Lil Bub & Friendz, a movie that has been called the Cit­i­zen Kane of orally ir­reg­u­lar fe­line doc­u­men­taries.

If this trend spreads to the world of bipeds, the prac­tice of den­tistry could be trans­formed. The most sought-af­ter den­tists will be those who can give you the kind of odd chom­pers that will trans­form you into an In­sta­gram sen­sa­tion. (There’s also a pop­u­lar rac­coon named Pump­kin that thinks it’s a dog. The mar­ket­ing prin­ci­ple seems to be that rac­coons who think they are dogs can find suc­cess even with nor­mal teeth.)

As the cig­a­rette ped­dlers used to say, we’ve come a long way, baby. Pitch­ing prod­ucts is not what it was. Fifties-era Mad Men would be per­plexed by the idea of sell­ing Fords with balloon-headed pas­sen­gers blow­ing chew­ing gum bub­bles (as in a re­cent Ar­gen­tine TV ad), or ad­ver­tis­ing jeans by show­ing an ac­ci­dent vic­tim and a sur­gi­cal team break­ing into a cho­rus of “Tainted Love” in the op­er­at­ing room (in a Spike Jonze– di­rected spot dur­ing which Levi’s are never clearly shown). But that’s how it goes—the re­lent­less pur­suit of nov­elty leads ad­ver­tis­ers to some very strange places. Now it’s di­vert­ing them away from straight ad­ver­tis­ing al­to­gether.

It’s not just cross-eyed pets with wonky chom­pers; there are plenty of hu­man in­flu­encers around, too. They’re just reg­u­lar folks on Youtube, slip­ping you the in­side dope on what makes them so per­son­ally fab­u­lous, be­cause they care. And be­cause of, you know, some other stuff. Forbes mag­a­zine re­cently com­piled a list of top in­flu­encers, in­clud­ing Zoe Sugg and Michelle Phan, who can re­port­edly earn about US$150,000 for a sin­gle In­sta­gram post and even more for a Face­book com­ment plug­ging a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct. And that doesn’t even in­clude the free mas­cara.

Re­ports of this brave new mar­ket­ing world are a bit de­cep­tive, in the sense that the in­crease in in­flu­encers hasn’t re­ally di­min­ished the sup­ply of more tra­di­tional celebrity en­dorse­ments. It’s the me­dia that have changed, as much as the mes­sen­gers. Youtube, In­sta­gram, Face­book and so on have just ex­panded the play­ing field for prod­uct pluggers.

What will be the next evo­lu­tion of in­flu­ence? We have al­ready seen a re­al­ity TV star be­come the 45th president of the United States. Will 2020 see the elec­tion of President Adorable Kit­ten Stuff­ing It­self Into a Tiny Box? At this point, some would say bring it on.

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