April 19, 2023 | In the News
Creators Pretend to Be at Coachella – What it Means for Brands’ Influencer Event Strategies
Coachella has become the place to be for influencers, who this year, judging the TikTok posts alone, seem to be attending in droves. But increasingly, it seems some creators are only pretending to be at Coachella, devising elaborate setups to create the illusion that they’re attending the music and arts festival.
It’s a troubling trend for brands, which often turn to these influencers to help build credibility and authenticity with Gen Z. For brands, Coachella is an opportunity to discover creators with loyal followings, who are deeply engaged in content coming out of the festival.
“Coachella’s like the influencer Olympics, right, it’s the place to be. But most influencers, or a lot of influencers, don’t even go to Coachella. … they’ll go out to the desert … get their outfits, get their hair, get their makeup … and they don’t go to the festival, they don’t have wristbands,” @lorengray, a singer and social personality with 54.4 million TikTok followers, said in a recent video on the platform that, at the time of this writing, has 4.4 million views.
Influencers will, in the case of Coachella, drive out to the desert to post photos or videos that make it look like they went to the festival—without actually attending.
Brand deals are common at the festival, making the facade particularly troubling. This year alone, creators such as @emmaleger (610,000 Instagram followers), @alix_earle (2.5 million Instagram followers) and @erikamtitus have posted from Coachella about partnering with brands such as DSW, Guess, and EyeBuyDirect, respectively.
“Our impression is that the brands are in on this as well,” Danielle Wiley, founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Sway Group, said via email. “Both brands and creators are taking advantage of the buzz and traffic generated by the Coachella name without necessarily participating in the festival itself,” she continued.
Wiley also noted that, for the most part, many Gen Zers are aware that influencers are lying. Branded “sub-festival” events for creators she said, “provide all of the fashion and engagement of the festival itself without any of the complicated logistics of actually attending the festival.” Revolve, for one, hosts its annual “Revolve Fest” at Coachella, which is essentially an opportunity for influencers to take part in photo ops for their social platforms.
“Faking” influencer content isn’t new—there was even a 2021 HBO documentary made on the phenomenon. But it’s still a tough pill to swallow for marketers who are striking deals with influencers to help build more authentic relationships with Gen Z.
Fake it ’til you make it?
“There is an argument to be made that traditional advertising has been stretching the boundaries of ‘real’ for decades (does that cheeseburger really look that fresh or is that lipgloss really the only thing plumping her lips?). But I believe what traditionally sets influencer content apart from brand-created content is the presumption of authenticity,” Nycole Kelly, VP, client strategy at influencer marketing agency Outloud Group, said over email.
She added that this is something her agency has been talking about a lot recently. In a 2022 Wakefield Research survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, 87% said it’s “likely” that influencers don’t actually use the products they advertise. What’s more, just 11% said they believe that a social media influencer “with millions of followers” is a trustworthy source of information.
Dmitri Cherner, head of influencer at skincare brand OneSkin, said influencers lying to their audiences about what they’re doing or where they’re going is “detrimental.”
“It negatively promotes the stereotype that influencers are all just attention-seeking content creators without value,” Cherner said, adding that his goal on the brand side is “to avoid those people at all costs.”
Another manifestation of this trend is influencers “pretending” a post is sponsored when it’s not, James Nord, founder of influencer marketing company Fohr, said in an email.
“I am understanding of the intense amount of FOMO and pressure influencers feel, and the feeling that these big moment events (Coachella, Fashion Week, Art undefinedl) are a right of passage that can be career defining,” Nord said. “But I would say there is absolutely reputational risk to lying about being at an event to both your followers and potential brand partners.”
While Nord said he tells influencers that these kinds of career “hacks” can help in the short term, he added that “you can’t hack your way into a career,” and suggested influencers focus on “building and strengthening their communities” instead.
“I don’t think that anyone is being scammed or tricked in this scenario, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Coachella eventually tried to trademark their name, much like the Super Bowl does,” Wiley said. “Perhaps in a year or two, we’ll see creators talking about the ‘Big Festival’ unless they are officially part of the event itself.”
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