thoughts on luka sabbat’s failure to influence
Or the existential crisis of the branded content lifestyle.
On Tuesday, influencer Luka Sabbat was sued for failing to influence. According to a Variety article -- which could barely conceal its gleeful schadenfreude -- Luka was paid $60k ($45k up front) to post three Instagram stories and one full Instagram post to promote Snap Spectacles, which are sunglasses that allow you to post photos and videos to your Snapchat.
There’s an article from 2017 explaining “Why Snapchat Spectacles failed” and, to summarise, they failed because people didn’t like wearing or using them. People have camera phones that allow them to upload photos and videos to their Snapchats, and this doesn’t require you wearing some ugly sunglasses. In an effort to get people to like and use Snap Spectacles, some advertising boffin had a fucking top notch idea and called up Luka Sabbat and offered him a load of money to post some Instagram stories and posts promoting them.
And so “Pshhh,” Luka wrote on Instagram on 5 September in his one singular promotional post for the brand. “I’m definitely not a spy and my glasses definitely DONT have cameras in them... heh, who would do that...😎👀 #spectacles #lookwithme #ad”
Branded content is generally known for being phoned in, but in the telecommunications CBA scale, this was a one word text. Left on read. Ghosted. It is up there with the time Naomi Campbell copy and pasted that whole email from adidas into an Insta post: "Could you put something like: Thanks to my friend @gary.aspden and all at adidas - loving these adidas 350 SPZL from adidas Spezial range. @adidasoriginals." I mean there is a certain beautiful naivety in this laissez-faire attitude to selling out. Fuck it. Take the money. Wear the shoes. Copy and paste the keyword optimised advertising bile from the 40 email, 30 person chain. The branded crapola and the associated cheques write themselves.
Yet we trade on sincerity now, authenticity and reality and being approachable and down-to-earth. You speak to your followers like real people, with loves and hates and passions just yours. Followers are there to be nurtured, not to be shilled too and shaken down for cash.
But beyond the obvious hand-wringing and soul searching of this Luka Sabbat Snap Spectacles contretemps -- imagine getting paid $60k for that! -- comes only more hand-wringing and soul searching (imagine being paid $60k for that and not even bothering to finish the job). And now Snap Spectacles’s are suing Luka. They want their $45k back, thank you very much, and they would also like an additional $45k in damages, please. So ultimately, Luka may end up having to actually pay £45k just for the pleasure of not writing that second Snap Spectacles #advertisement. What a time to be alive.
But beyond the the warm joyous glow we all find in others financial misery, there’s some deep existential crisis here, I think. An influencer sued for failure to influence. This is not to stick it into Luka Sabbat specifically -- but more the world in general. The absurd quandaries the world throws at you. The strange circumstances the economy of online life produces. And most specifically, the existential terror of the influencer being sued for failing to influence.
What else are they for, these influencers, if not specifically to influence. This is Luka Sabbat reconfigured as Antoine Roquentin in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, adrift and lost and contemplating his own meaninglessness, his own lack of definition. The horror of finding yourself unmoored from your purpose, unable even to remember what your purpose was, what were you doing with your life? There’s a soul-crushing darkness in this, this inability to do the thing you are meant to do. Luka Sabbat as the last samurai, wondering the bleak plains of despair, out of time and out of place. This is Luka Sabbat as Estragon in Waiting For Godot, morosely pondering to Vladimir: “We always find something to give us the impression we exist?” Which seems to be the influencer culture-economy in a nutshell -- an impression of existence.
The influencer is meant to be the pinnacle of modern life, a Grecian statue of pure, unblemished marble. Godlike, they stride confidently through our Instagram stories in their gifted clothes with their perfect hair.
The influencers are in part the new aristocrats, glamorous bright young things, and they are also in part trained circus animals, lion’s jumping hoops for the pleasure of whoever’s got the cash. They are in part robber barons surveying empires of click through rates and engagement metrics: rentier capitalism rendered as the human centipede, the influencer is both exploited and exploiter. Raw material and its brutal method of extraction.
The influencers live pampered lives full of wine and roses, a multi-city package holiday press trip bop through duty free lounges and four star hotels. You are living your best life, flitting from detached fashion week outpost to forced sentimental “mental health awareness week” blogpost -- vacillating between approachable-humanity and out of touch seraphic being. Everything becomes a simulacrum of real life if your life is lived at the behest of multinational conglomerates willing to chuck $60k at you to gram about some sunglasses.
Maybe then we are clutching at the wrong existential literary metaphors. Luka is not Estragon or Vladimir, he is not Sartre’s Antoine Roquentin, he is Meursault in Camus’ The Stranger. Emotionally detached. Unable to experience the subtle beauties of life. Rebelling mindlessly against a mindless world. Fuck the $60k. Fuck the branded content. Fuck the advertorials. Influencers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your paid for followers.