Auckland restaurateurs are calling out influencer culture amid the Covid-19 pandemic for taking advantage of local businesses that have been severely impacted by the virus.
Influencing in itself is now a job around the world, a career even. Through advertising and business collaborations, influencers have the ability to make a living by promoting products and services on their online platforms, like Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, to their many followers.
In a Covid-19 world, they also have the power to use their platforms for good if they choose to, or are able to do so. Influencers around the country have been promoting their favourite local businesses and services that are suffering, companies that can’t afford to advertise how they usually would, or may not even be able to safely open just yet.
But in restaurant owner Brian Campbell’s experience, some are doing the opposite.
When the Government announced New Zealand would be moving to Alert Level 3, Mr Campbell’s Auckland dessert restaurant Miann was bombarded with requests for “collabs” from influencers offering to promote Miann’s Insta-worthy dessert creations online - in exchange for free or discounted products.
Before Level 4 lockdown and the full impact of Covid-19 had hit, Miann was seeing thousands of dollars coming in a day. Now only open for takeaway at Level 3, Mr Campbell says his stores are lucky to do $300 a day, in an industry with large overheads and tight margins.
Late one night after the collab requests had come in, Mr Campbell took his frustrations online.
He shared a post on one of his business accounts reminding influencers of the hardships restaurants and food producers were experiencing, encouraging them to support local. The sentiment appears to have struck a chord, and has been shared internationally.
“Before you send that email asking us to ‘collab’ with you in return for free products to post on your social pages PLEASE STOP FOR A SECOND, AND THINK,” the post read.
“Think about the restauranters and food producers that have had ZERO income for a month, the possibility of a 50% drop in revenue for the next few months. Think about the PEOPLE whom you are asking for free from to boost your profile.”
The post blew up and Mr Campbell said he and his wife were overwhelmed with support from people who agreed with what he had to say.
“I put it up and it was something silly in the morning at like 2am, I was up trying to work out how to get the businesses under control and my filter came off for sure,” says Mr Campbell.
“People are nervous to speak up about it. Even my wife was like, 'Oh, I don’t know if you should have posted that,' but it is our truth at the moment.
“It’s started to get shared around Australia and America too. I think it’s definitely touched a nerve on something about people getting stuff for free at this time.”
He says he understands influencers also have to make a living, but they can’t expect free product right now.
“I won’t judge influencers when the economy is amazing - do what you do. But there has to be some kind of emotional intelligence attached to it, care about the people around you.
“Community is the country now. It’s not just the places around you - everybody’s in this together, it’s so unprecedented.”
Ima Cuisine owner Yael Shochat was also approached by an influencer for free product as the country went into Level 3.
While her Auckland CBD restaurant didn’t get nearly as many requests as Miann, she says influencers shouldn’t be asking businesses for free stuff, ever.
“They’re bloody annoying these people. People who come and say, ‘We are travelling, we’ve got 34,000 people following us,’ and most of their followers are not even in New Zealand,” says Ms Shochat.
“I never liked them calling me, even not at this time. Maybe it works for fashion but we are such a tight margin industry it’s just you know, it doesn’t work.
“It’s just wrong to come to us and demand freebies, especially when we’re hurting right now. It’s exploitative.”
Albert Cho runs Eat Lit Food, a platform with almost 50,000 followers on Instagram alone, dedicated entirely to food. He openly shares his restaurant and eatery experiences from venues in Auckland and around the world and says he will never, and has never, asked a restaurant for free food.
"The whole idea of an influencer reaching out first, not just in Covid-19 times but in general is not OK. No one should be asking for something for free for a post. For a lot of influencers in Auckland, it's not their main source of income so they can take a step back. It's not a life or death situation.
"It’s a funny thing when Instagram is your main source of income and there are people who are finding it quite tough right now. Some people think it is a good idea but in my opinion it's incredibly selfish."
He says for sure, as an influencer, he has been given things for free. But he's never reached out to a restaurant first.
"When you’re getting paid to do one post it's really short lived. And what makes me more angry is these influencers know it but they’re still willing to freeload.
"When I like a restaurant it will show up in my feed over and over again. When you’re authentic and really passionate about something, it transcends and therefore it's an influence."