‘If women could just learn to shut up and maybe they could find a man who’ll love them.’
Those are not the words of some cancelled 1950s cowboy movie consigned to history, they are the words of one of the most followed and influential figures for young men today — Andrew Tate.
As social media generates and promotes new characters on a daily basis, influencers are fighting to have their voice heard, and to maintain loyalty and support from their audiences. In a bid to cut through and build devotion we are seeing a dangerous shift from influencer culture to guru culture, with huge implications for society, audiences, and brands.
Tate (who preaches that failed male genitalia is god’s way of communicating) is a perfect example of this new wave of gurus. He is the pre-shitshow of what’s to come, a symbol of new over-reaching digital world leaders we are allowing to direct our moral compasses. In the podcast The New Gurus, Helen Lewis (BBC) explains that ‘we’re living through a golden age of gurus.’ In an uncertain world we turn to charismatic individuals to tell us how to live, replacing religious leaders of old.
Navigating this new landscape is a minefield for a brand. So here are three golden principles to help your brand avoid the pitfalls of guru-like behaviour.
Principle no. 1: offer expertise — but stick to what you know
Whilst authentic influencers share what they know, gurus have no limits to their areas of knowledge. Kim Kardashian has come a long way since her NSFW debut to the public. Building an empire of various beauty related products, she is now a permanent sight at fashions’ front row. In 2021, the reality star faced major backlash after promoting a new cryptocurrency coin. It’s probably a given but worth mentioning: don’t take financial investment advice from beauty influencers. I predict Kim K learnt her lesson, seeing that she had to pay $1.26M in fine after the incident, and I reckon in the future she’ll stick to her ’50 shades of beige’ shaping underwear instead of crypto advice.
A brand that gets this balance right is Oatly. Oatly have established themselves as the expert in dairy alternatives with bold campaigns, stretching into territories like political activism and sustainability, but always deeply linked to their non-dairy POV. Stick to what you know and find creative ways to dramatize the message. ‘Sticking to what you know’ isn’t a bad thing. It’s about mastering the landscape within your box, but to perfection.
Principle no.2: build trust — but don’t rush
Brand safe influencers often build their audiences over time, but gurus rapidly ascend to God-like statuses.
A guru who epitomised this rapid rise (and fall) was Tom Hanks’ son Chet, who tried to introduce the concept of ‘white boy summer.‘ Hanks did manage to go viral overnight but shortly thereafter he followed up with both merch and an official (music?) video which reached new levels of cringe, cultural appropriation and a whole lot of twerking while he sprays what I can only hope is SPF, on the women’s behinds. His attempt to supercharge a movement ultimately simply turned him into a massive meme.
A good example however of a brand that has baked their trust and built devotion low and slow is Dove. They understand that one of the strongest brand metrics is trust, which is also one of the hardest to move the needle on. Like any relationship, trust is to be earned so take your time. To ensure consistency, focus on long-term planning. Dove’s message of encouraging girls’ confidence doesn’t change: it rather evolves through time while tapping into what’s relevant for their audience at the moment and the world they live in.
Principle no. 3: be provocative — but not extreme
Bold influencers aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, but gurus jump to the extreme. Our final guru needs no introduction. Kanye West has always been the king of controversy, which resonated well with a strong-willed persona and creative eye in his early career, but has recently moved into a very dark, offensive, and extremist space. West shows how the trajectory of the modern guru can easily move from provocateur, to crossing a moral line where there is no stepping back from.
A brand that manages to perfectly not cross the line, however, is Liquid death. Its provocative tone works well for a brand that is challenging category codes on all fronts, and is clearly a part of its DNA. Conversely an example of a brand that got this wrong is Balenciaga, whose bondage teddy bears were a bitter lesson of what happens when your brand takes a big guru-like step over the border.
Gurus are fascinating creatures and there is no wonder why some audiences follow and worship them as they do, however bizarre their messages may be. Brands must be careful not to imitate the guru path and let their following go to their heads, lest they lose their head entirely.
I’ll finish with a final lesson from Andrew Tate who has clearly lost his: ‘the number one problem in the world is that not enough men walk around the house with swords.‘ When I read this I think ‘number one problem?’, surely that can’t be right?
But then again, I’m just a woman so what do I know.
Featured image: Meryl Katys / Pexels