Will We See An End to the Brand Ambassador?

Hash-tag capitalism, paid posts, and transparent (but not honest) sponsored captions - will this social media influencer trend ever end? 

A rap artist drinking a brand of alcohol on stage

Every so often—as in, a few times a day—my social media feeds are deluged with branded tags. Juice companies, clothing manufacturers, fitness equipment, brand new ancient superfoods, any number of products needing hype are being hyped. No longer are individuals individual. The goal of today is to become a brand.

Paid to play is nothing new, as the record industry long ago proved. Getting everyday folk to pimp your product seemingly out of love is a prime digital marketing strategy. The more paid it feels, however, the more icky the result. Subversion is key. Slipping an aside into the mix—look how much better my yoga pose looks in these @XXX tights!—is presented as a humble affirmation of loyalty: #blessed.

Brands pay that loyalty, when necessary. (Many hopefuls tag brands in hopes of attaining a deal, or at least free schwag.) This trend is apparently on the decline, as reported here:

The confluence of capitalism and cheap circuitboards has done so much to upend and devalue photography, journalism, illustration, and so forth—and we should defend a system that allows someone to make “$800 for 2 Instagram/Twitter posts”? The Influencer Economy isn’t an economy, it’s a market irrationality.

Just last week a video caught my eye. As a longtime yoga instructor I’ve seen many trends emerge over my two decades of practice; you grow immune to the assault of various seeds and nuts being touted as curing depression and tag after tag of clothing and mat companies that are guaranteed to “change your life.” But a video relating the discipline of yoga to an alcoholic loft binge goes overboard.

I can’t link to that particular video as the sake and yoga publication sponsors pulled it, most likely after hundreds of comments shamed the initiative. No fear, however, another influencer is always ready to be on camera. Let’s briefly investigate what’s being presented in this follow-up advertisement, as it is key in understanding the branded mindset.

Like the original video, this one begins with said teacher practicing in a living room talking about all the wonderful benefits yoga has afforded her. We then move to the market where she purchases fresh veggies, cooking dinner for friends, and, finally, the sake is revealed. She tells the camera that after a day in a hot yoga studio, rice wine is exactly what she needs.

Beyond reservations I have with hot yoga—an ongoing debate in the yoga community—even sweat advocates understand the necessity of hydration. Alcohol, by contrast, is a diuretic. While there is no implication that the crew is getting blasted, if your body is already potentially dehydrated from contorting in a 104-degree studio all day, the last thing you should be replenishing with is alcohol.

Alcohol is wonderful in certain settings. An association with yoga is the real stretch. As with any fitness routine, a ‘lifestyle’ component makes the perfect excuse to attach a logo and an idea to. That doesn’t make the association real, of course, but in the mind of the brand ambassador it doesn’t take much to invent a connection. A check and/or a boost in social media numbers inspires unthinkable feats of imagination.

Just yesterday a sponsored post came across my Instagram feed about a workshop teaching you how to make a full-time income from posting on Instagram. (Obviously you have to pay for the workshop.) Cultures change all the time; how we make a living today will likely be gone in two generations. Living in one where more people strive to invent a popular hash tag than write a great novel just feels cheap and lazy.

The Internet has exposed many great talents that previously had no infrastructure to support what they do. Yet a barrage of barnacles has attached to this wave of momentum. Barnacles are encrusters: they affix permanently to objects in erosive environments to suck the life out of whatever they can.

In a capitalistic culture comprised of millions striving toward individuality by any means necessary, the above is a cherished dream instead of the plague that it is. Humans generally prefer authenticity, truth in advertising, as it goes. Stretch too far and something eventually tears.


Image: Daniel 'Gravy' Thomas / Getty Images

Derek Beres is working on his new book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch @derekberes.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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