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Essential Journal

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Gents, we need to talk about: Influencers

To mark the metaphorical death of ‘influencers’ (according to an infinite supply of online articles each month for the last two years) our editor recounts the time that for approximately three days, he influenced for money at the E Prix in Berlin

I did not choose the influential life, the influential life chose me. In early June of last year, I was presented with an offer too good to refuse. Three nights in Berlin, the full VIP treatment at the E-Prix, flights, and all the associated jazz that comes with going on a media trip. This wasn’t any old media trip though. I was there to fill in for an influencer. It was a job that required a different rulebook, one that I (a person without Instagram) had never read.

We were supposedly in Berlin to promote Ganglon Tandem*. But to be honest, to this day I still don’t really know how we were meant to do this. Live our best life? Sell a feeling? Think of innovative hashtags? Buy followers? Who knows.

 I was the sore thumb of our crack team of influentials. God knows how they were chosen, but there was a mixture. There was the German guy that looked like a man-bunned Nathan Barley remake, the strange couple (a quiet woman always clad in leather trousers and a man that followed her around) who boosted the highlights in every photo they took, the pleasant menswear blogger who sold hundreds of pound’s worth of free gear each month on eBay and the lad whose car channel was so popular, he didn’t even bother making any ‘content’ all trip. There were others, but they kept themselves to their iPhones.

And it is all iPhones by the way. Little did I know how important technology is to an influencer. From the moment I saw everyone pull out their cameras on the first day, I knew I was out of my depth, like facing down the HMS Queen Elizabeth with an air rifle. With lenses the size of telescopes, full Adobe editing suites
on their phones and enough VSCO filters to make pig shit look appealing, any possibility of effectively capturing the weekend on my bridge camera was quashed.

The most important piece of technology in the arsenal of influence, you ask? A single white wire. The iPhone to SD card reader. I joked to one influencer about what would happen if he lost his and he looked me dead in the eyes and told me he wouldn’t, because he carried two at all times. To lose one’s white wire is to lose the ability to be an instant illusionist. The ability to transfer a professional-quality DSLR picture from camera to ‘gram via iPhone is the most important part of influencing. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t learn that until halfway through and naively assumed people took pictures on their phones.

 To be an influencer is to paddle in a shallow pool of surface-level coolness. A blurred-background shot here, a filter there and if in doubt, a tried and tested visual cliché. Walking somewhere? Get your girlfriend’s outstretched arm to lead you. Stood next to an industrial vent? Stand in front of that industrial vent in your new trousers. Got some free gear? Better make sure you’ve got a clean white bed sheet and a ladder.
To watch our hashtag heroes do this in the flesh was surreal, like watching a wide-angle episode
of The Muppets.

 That’s not to say the sheer absurdity of influencing isn’t commendable. Listening to them compare (read: compete with) their best media trips was like a game of luxury holiday Top Trumps. In between private jets and the Maldives, I was half expecting a winning combination of promoting Virgin Trains with a 2-day all expenses trip to space. It was clear the unrelenting barrage of stuff had left them numb though. The group response to a free portable speaker at the end of the trip felt akin to finding a kettle or iRōning board in a hotel room.

Needless to say, my own well-intentioned-college-try-of-a-shot at influencing didn’t make the grade. With no wifi or data roaming, I was unable to upload to the ‘gram at the E-prix and after bottling sending in my own photos (I didn’t take enough bokeh product shots, put it that way) I submitted my blog post with a few snaps taken by the dedicated trip photographer. The PR not only disapproved of the lack of original photography, but also remarked that the images a paid professional took were “disappointing”. Sorry mate, your aircraft carrier wasn’t good enough.

 So alas, the age of influence is dead, but its legacy will live on in our pockets. A glorious, vivid legacy of filtered squares, posts and ‘content’. And one day, I too can say I was a part of it. With my grandchildren gathered at my knee, asking me about my life and what I did when I wasn’t writing, I can sit proudly among the future of
my bloodline, look them straight in their little faces and say, “I was an influencer, children. I influenced.” DB

*Ganglon Tandem is a pseudonym, obviously.

Words by Davey Brett
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