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“The Fat Jew” and Instagram – All That’s Wrong with Influence Marketing

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Josh Ostrovsky, otherwise known as “The Fat Jew” is quite a big deal these days (pun intended).

Ostrovsky has amassed a large social media audience, predominately on Instagram (5.5 million followers) and Twitter (251,000 followers), through which he shares his humorous take on life. Often, these viewpoints are profanity-laced, lewd, and/or off-color comments and images, which have not  stunted his popularity; in fact, it may be the very reason for it.

It’s that popularity and following that has attracted the attention of brand marketers desperately seeking a social media magic bullet. As is common with many influence marketing campaigns over the last few years, brand marketers seek out people with large followings on one or more social media networks and pay (or otherwise incentive) them to promote a product to that audience.

For those who work tirelessly to build large social followings, sponsored posts can be lucrative, and in some cases, a full-time career. Case in point: “The Fat Jew’s” online popularity is now, according to Ostrovsky, earning him hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

As reported by Business Insider, brands are offering Ostrovsky $6,000 for each product or slogan mention in one of his Instagram posts.   Here’s an example of a paid mention for Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever Campaign.”  Instead of simply posting a picture of himself drinking the beer, he tasked his grandmother to tattoo a friend’s back and posted the picture in this Tweet.

Fat Jew

“The Fat Jew’s” brand of humor is not everyone’s cup of tea. He has been criticized by many; at worst some claim he has plagiarized posts (from Imgur), at best he’s simply being inappropriate. However, I don’t see the content of his posts to be a concern for brands practicing influence marketing. If a brand marketer believes that his sense of humor is aligned with their brand persona, then paying him to align that humor with their brand is fine.

The problem lies in the fact that brands are paying for access to Ostrovsky’s following, an audience whose demographics cannot be quantified in the same manner that Facebook targets audiences via personal profiles, preferences, and past behaviors. Marketers would scoff at the notion of paying for magazine advertising without first having reams of data on the demographics of the audience being reached and how closely they’re aligned their existing or prospective customer base. Yet, somehow, brand marketers throw money at those Instagram-celebrities without holding them to the same requirements.

When You Assume….

Brands paying for social media celebrities to tweet their product names or post photos alongside the brand’s product are assuming that enough of the celebrity’s followers are potential customers and that those followers are in the right target demo AND in market for the brand’s product.

Therein lies the problem; assuming that the “The Fat Jew’s” followers are similar to him is a mistake, as is assuming that they would all be potential customers in the buying cycle. There’s little correlation between one’s sense of humor and purchase decisions.

Context and relationships are important considerations when executing influence marketing campaigns that deliver a shift in purchase decisions, and that’s something that cannot be done when hiring self-made Instagram celebrities. Identifying common characteristics among cohorts is certainly a manner in which to gauge a target audience; however, who they follow is not an accurate guidepost for their purchasing behavior.

Not all Followers Are Created Equal

I need look no further than my own social circles for a case study. Within this group there are many who share my sarcastic sense of humor, for example, but who live completely different lives including geography, marital status, and social-economic class, among other differences. It’s those factors, not our common sense of humor and shared social media posts, that dictate our individual purchase behavior.

A more recent example is the discovery that many of the people I’ve become close friends with – people whom I’ve followed for years and shared many personal experiences with through online conversations – are diametrically opposed to me when it comes to political and religious affiliations.  These are people who belong to my social circle as well as various online communities that would be attractive to brands, yet as potential buyers, we’re not all equal.

You can’t, as they say, judge a book by its cover. A group of followers congregate on social media networks for a variety of reasons, many of which don’t align with product preferences or purchasing behavior.

Maybe Marketers Aren’t That Smart?

Now I may be giving brand marketers too much credit here. Maybe they’re not assuming anything about the audience? Maybe they’re simply looking at “The Fat Jew’s” total number of followers and thinking:  “That’s a big group and so it’s a worthwhile gamble to assume that getting my product’s name/image in front of them will naturally result in product sales. We hope.”

You know what they say about ASSUMING, right? “When you assume, you make an ASS of U and ME.”

The reality is that there’s little data known about “The Fat Jew’s” Twitter and Instagram following. The demographics of Twitter followers, for example, cannot be quantified in the same manner that Facebook or other digital properties target audiences through their advertising. Well, at least not by simply basing decisions on total follower count.

Is “The Fat Jew” a Worthwhile Influence Marketing Investment?

So, today’s debate is: Is “The Fat Jew” a worthwhile influence marketing investment for brands?  I’d argue no, not if the goal is to find the most effective sales channel for a return on investment. That said, by changing tactics he could be of tremendous value to brands.

Ostrovsky has demonstrated a keen ability to earn a lot of attention for his witty writing and creative ideas. As a result, brands would see a greater return (at least a more measurable one) by hiring him as a writer, creative director or maybe a paid actor for videos/television commercials.

Having a roster of such creative people actively developing social media content would generate far greater reach, to a larger and more targeted audience, than their individual social media followings.

Instead of paying popular Instagrammers for their followers, why not reset your filter to find the most creative – instead of just the most popular – and  acquire their talent?

“The Fat Jew” and Instagram – All That’s Wrong With Influence Marketing

The future of influence marketing is not in paid placements through socially popular individuals as Danny Brown and I detailed in our book Influence Marketing, How To Create, Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing.  Swaying purchase decisions – the ultimate goal and measurement of influence marketing – is based on identifying and accessing the power of micro-influencers.  Micro-influencers are people whose personal or professional relationship with the potential customer makes them a trusted authority capable of affecting how their peers spend money – or not.

Businesses are beginning to adopt this strategy with greater frequency thanks to evolving technologies, yet too many are still throwing away money on mass “spray and pray” influence marketing campaigns.

Sensei Debates

Is paying popular Instagrammers for product mentions an effective influence marketing exercise for brands managers?    Join the discussion in the comments below.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego



Join the Conversation

HowieZisser 5pts

Good article @samfiorella thanks for sharing. Question though...

What makes you think someone with a following like Fat Jewish would want to go work for a company like Bud Light? As you said, he's making multiple six figures and controls who, where, and when he works. Why give that up and go work with one brand?

AmyVernon 5pts

I think this is the key point you made:
"If a brand marketer believes that his sense of humor is aligned with their brand persona, then paying him to align that humor with their brand is fine."

The issue is that far too often, brands are paying for the access, not for the alignment. As @40deuce points out, the Bud Light example may be the case where it IS aligned. So long as his followers weren't bought (and I think that folks like him tend to have more "organic" or "authentic" followings because they had no reason to buy their followings - they became big because of their persona on the platforms.), if your brand aligns with his humor, why not go for it?

Whether his followers are the right target market is largely irrelevant - they may well be the market that Bud Light WANTS to attract, people who like The Fat Jew's humor. And that's fine, too.

As I said, however, the issue is that people are too often looking just at the numbers, and not at who the "influencer" is, and on that point I wholly agree with you.

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@AmyVernon  Thanks for joining in, Amy.

Another point we have to admit: Social media marketing is still in its infancy (despite those of us  who have been playing in from the beginning) so experimentation is to be expected, especially by those with generous budgets.  I've done this myself. 

Yet, increasingly, I'm being challenged by our client's CIOs/CEOs to measure the bottom-line effect of each campaign. I've been preaching the importance of this for so long that I believe I may have created my own monster...or maybe it's just the market maturing.  Either way, even "good bet" assumptions like Bud Light targeting Ostovsky's Instagram following does not go over well with small and medium sized businesses who are more acutely focused on dollars-in/out reporting.  

I think that such characters can be better utilized as paid talent to these brands where audience demographics are not available.  

AmyVernon 5pts

@samfiorella Absolutely. And I think that larger brands have a lot more leeway to do stuff like this than smaller companies with smaller budgets. It's also possible that some of these influencers do have analytics around them, showing click-through from links in their bios, that sort of thing. There are analytics platforms that pull the data out, it's just harder for the smaller companies to access that data, again, because of budgets.

40deuce 5pts

Hey Sam,

I agree with what you're saying here about truly knowing the audience you're after and using highly targeted influencers to reach them. HOWEVER, in some cases you may not need this. 

For example, the only example you have above is of the Fat Jewish working with Bud Light. While we may not know the exact demographics of his following on Instagram, it's pretty safe to assume (which I know you don't like and I don't usually either, but sometimes it's all we have) that a large majority of his followers are younger people who enjoy his dirty kind of humour. This is 100% a target audience for Bud Light, who has a very large audience of all different kinds and demographics that they'd like to reach and have drinking their beer. For Bud Light to "assume" that the Fat Jew's audience is ONE OF Bud Light's audience is a pretty safe assumption. 

Now, of course, this won't always be the case and usually it's not. But I think in some cases where data isn't available the best thing we have to work with is our assumptions and then test and re-work when we see what happens. In this one specific example's case, I think Bud Light made the right assumption. Not every brand will have that luxury though, but when data isn't available, assumptions are the best place to start working from.



samfiorella moderator 5pts

@40deuce You make a good point, Sheldon.  I did use the one example where chances are the demo could very well be close to the required target audience...if we had to guess.  And if the brand (such as a beer company) has marketing money to burn, then why not. If nothing else, chalk it up to "branding" and awareness.  On the other hand, brands with this much money to burn have the capability of doing more. This is a perfect example of my point about acquiring their talent, which, when combined with their ad research/targeting, could drive greater results.   But that's the debate I guess. 

The point is really that this is not great practice (guessing) and it's steering marketers and small-to-mid sized businesses down the wrong path. The promise created by companies such as Klout that started the whole influence marketing through social media craze has not been fulfilled. CIOs and CEOs of those small to mid sized businesses (in my experience, anyway) demand more accountability from marketing expenditures. 

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