A coffee company in Austin, Texas, got lucky when it created a fake influencer to comment on influencer culture.
The account was a response to how common influencer tropes weren’t a fit for Austin’s Cuvee Coffee and its blue-collar branding. Owner Mike McKim wanted to find a different kind of online presence, and the result struck a chord for many on the internet—with a little help from a mysterious user.
“The whole idea was what we always thought as an influencer, and what we used as an influencer in the past, they don’t always fit our brand,” he said. “We need a different type of influencer: a hard-worker, blue-collar guy.”
So, McKim worked with an advertising agency called Bandolier Media to create the “Omar” persona. He wouldn’t tell BuzzFeed News Omar’s last name but said he is an actual construction worker in the area.
The account really took off after a user named @barbzlovescarbs shared a fake story saying the account was her dad’s attempt to prove he could easily become an influencer.
However, Buzzfeed was unable to speak with whoever was behind the fabrication.
@barbzlovescarbs did not respond to inquiries from BuzzFeed News. McKim told BuzzFeed News he has no idea who tweeted the fake story, and Bandolier Media didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
The account then went viral—but users quickly realized that @justaconstructionguy wasn’t a normal account.
The false tweet and narrative about Omar and his Instagram account was then shared across multiple platforms and websites over the past few days, which accounted for much of the account’s huge growth.
Popular meme-aggregator account @middleclassfancy (1.3 million followers) shared the tweet, and tagged @justaconstructionguy. Their post has gone viral with over 146,000 likes, and commenters are flooding the post saying they’ve “instantly followed” Omar’s account.
The same tweet was also shared to Reddit’s r/wholesomememes community. The user who shared it, Zazazing7, told BuzzFeed News they discovered it from another popular Instagram aggregator account and felt compelled to share it because it put “a huge smile on [his] face” and he thought Omar was “a cool guy.”
The Reddit user then noted that he’s tried to contact “Omar” about being a fan and has not gotten a response.
Now the cat is out of the bag. The account is a marketing stunt, even though Omar is a real person who works in construction in Austin. The marketing pros behind the account wouldn’t reveal Omar’s last name.
The stunt is revelatory about an influencer marketing industry that is still discovering what works, what offends and what drives viral success. It also raises the question about just how authentic an influencer campaign must be to avoid backlash and preserve the façade of social media for consumers.
Here are four lessons for marketers and PR pros looking to execute a similar campaign:
1. There’s a big market for wholesome content online.
Plenty of influencer campaigns look as though they were shot on the set of a rap video. Champagne overflows. Models are barely clothed. Creators try to present themselves as hedonistic billionaires living an exclusive, extraordinary life.
However, @justaconstructionguy proves that audiences thirst for more than Dom Perignon.
2. There’s value in being different.
By staying true to his brand, owner Mike McKim found his niche and reached new audiences online.
Marketers looking to tap into social media and influencer techniques should look for people that match the audience they want to attract. For McKim, that meant creating an account that reflected both his customers and his company’s brand.
“When we go into the coffee bar in the morning, there’s a line of guys in hard hats and vests,” said McKim, who described his store as being “surrounded by construction.”
“What’s cool about it is we are a premium coffee shop, and they are very comfortable coming in and ordering coffees and ordering lattes,” he added.
His clientele led McKim to have the idea to make an influencer page that will also shill his coffee shop brand and products.
“We started talking about construction guys, and so [Bandolier Media] reached out to Omar and said, ‘Do you want to have some fun?’ And he said ‘What’s social media? Instagram? Huh?’ He said, ‘I don’t know how to do it,’ so we said, ‘All right, we’ll help you; let’s just have some fun with it.'”
3. Don’t create a person.
Though Cuvee Coffee and Bandolier Media did create the account to shill caffeinated brews, they did not create a fake person, such as Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Omar is a real guy who works in construction, and though the company helped him create the high-quality images and other content for the account, they didn’t hire an actor and manufacture a persona.
Audiences already feel a little duped by the fake story from @barbzlovescarbs, claiming Omar is her father and is trying to prove he can become an influencer. They might have turned on the marketing stunt if every piece of the campaign had been fabricated.
Marketers should take care to preserve trust and transparency when executing influencer campaigns. Always make sure you tag sponsored posts with the appropriate labels and take pains not to violate one of the cardinal rules of marketing: Don’t lie to your customers.
4. Be prepared for viral success.
You can’t count on going viral, of course, but be prepared for your audience to dramatically change overnight. In a blog post, McKim revealed how pleasantly surprised they were when the account took off and his ability to talk clearly and openly about the campaign was essential in responding to unexpected success—and the scrutiny that comes with it.
As much as I would like to say that the goal was to get Omar hundreds of thousands of followers, the reality is that we thought if we got him to 1,000 it would be a home run. None of us ever imagined that he could go from 75 followers one day to 325k (and counting). No money was spent to promote or share his account, this honestly caught us all off guard. The night that it started to blow up, Omar actually sent a text asking, “is 100,000 followers good?” That’s just who this guy really is. He’s a humble, hardworking, family man and we are lucky to be able to help him share some of the things that he truly enjoys. In his own words, “I’m blown away by the response that the page has gotten. There have been so many kind messages and an outpouring of love. It’s great to see it make so many people happy.”
We asked Omar to be our influencer and he jumped at the idea. It was never about the number of followers. He was our influencer at 25 and he still is at 365k followers. For Cuvée, it was always about breaking the mold and giving people something different, which is what we try to do every day. We are honored that Omar chose to work with us and we are all humbled at the positive response to him as your average Joe influencer. As long as Omar wants to keep working together, we’ll keep his caffeine tank on full.
What do you think of the campaign, PR Daily readers?
Tags: influencer marketing