Selling The New Cool: Inside The World Of 'Influencers'


Coltrane Curtis, in the short film "The Pursuit of (Cool)."

“I believe, really, all cool things come from the hood,” says Coltrane Curtis, CEO at Team Epiphany. “So if you’re able to have that education, and see the trends before they happen, then you got an advantage.”
Curtis isn’t saying these words over the phone, or in a cafe somewhere while sitting across the table from me. Instead, his image moves back and forth within the frame of a YouTube video, where he stands on a stage at Miami Ad School speaking to a room filled with America’s advertising and marketing hopefuls, young men and women who have enrolled at an institution that boasts the tagline: The School of Pop Culture Engineering.
The skills being learned here, and that will later be put to use when pitching holistic media campaigns to the corporate heads of coveted Fortune 500 brands, are considered vital to survival in a market that’s continually being reshaped — and redefined — by the mechanisms of technology and, most importantly, social media.
Curtis is just one of the many players who populates the ever-growing world of “influencers,” a new breed of marketer that shuns the traditional strategy of selling directly to a target demographic and focuses instead on appealing to key individuals (i.e., celebrities, influential bloggers, social media wunderkinds, etc.) who hold sway over a large base of potential customers.
For example, instead of attempting to capture the attention of 18- to 34-year-old consumers solely through print or online advertising, a so-called influencer might turn to Tumblr and its cult of product obsessives — those who blog and reblog images from fashion label lookbooks or commercials masquerading as short films — to initiate consumer interest on a more casual level. An influencer might also put his or her client’s product in the hands of a cultural luminary — Kanye West, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, etc. — with hopes of initiating a trickle-down effect. As in, Kanye wore those sneakers, I need a pair. Or, Lady Gaga carries that handbag, who’s the designer?
As Curtis explained to me, influencers help “engineer the consumer-facing persona of most celebrities.” It’s emulation, commodified. Or more aptly, idol worship leveraged for a profit. It reminds me of a well-rehearsed magic act that involves transforming the concept of cool into a bankable currency, time and again.

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