If not, he’s definitely the future of marketing on the internet. With 18 million YouTube subscribers, 20 million TikTok followers, and the world’s most interesting laugh, Dobrik has become the case study for innovative influencer marketing.
And the man who helped him get there is Ian Borthwick, aka Ian from SeatGeek. His real title is senior director of influencer marketing at SeatGeek—he made influencer marketing a hugely lucrative channel for the company by taking a risk on the sometimes very not-brand-safe Dobrik...and he’s the guest on this episode of Business Casual.
You know what influencer marketing looks like. But what does it really do that more traditional marketing channels don’t or can’t? That’s what Ian from SeatGeek expertly explains in this episode. And now’s the time to talk about it—if video-centric social commerce is the future of consumer tech, influencer marketing will be the quickest way to get to that future.
There’s a lot going on in this episode (in a fun way). Ian FaceTimes David Dobrik, we get to the bottom of the recent trend of giving away luxury cars as marketing, and we unpack the impacts COVID-19 has had on influencers and their $8+ billion/year industry.
Oh, and we talk a lot about TikTok.
Don’t miss it—listen now.
Business Casual - Ian Borthwick.mp3
Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:08] Hey, everybody, and welcome to Business Casual, the podcast from Morning Brew, answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant. And now, let's get into it.
Kinsey [00:00:19] When I was younger, maybe 13 or so, my parents used to let my friends and me go to the mall. We'd get dropped off, [indistinct] in hand, under the pretense of showing up early before a movie. But that's not really what we were there for. We were there for the people-watching at the mall before the movie began. That was where you could see cool, older teenagers and more importantly, what they were wearing and buying. Granted, it was mostly Abercrombie polos and denim miniskirts, but still, you get the picture and you also get that would never happen now.
Kinsey [00:00:50] Today, we find inspiration for what to buy and what to wear and what to want, online. Increasingly, that inspiration comes care of social media influencers who've made careers out of creating an original brand and convincing the masses to recreate that original brand for themselves. When we talked about social commerce in the last episode with Andreessen Horowitz's Connie Chan. This was a huge take away. The future of consumer tech and commerce lies predominantly in influencers and the brands that work with them. Social commerce is probably the future, and influencers are greasing the wheels for that future. It's a space that's growing at an impressive clip.
Kinsey [00:01:27] And for some context, and because we love the numbers here, the influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022, up from just $8 billion last year. Now, I'm not much for betting, but I would bet that influencers aren't going anywhere. So to better understand this new future, that's largely social commerce-based. I'm bringing in one of the OGs of influencer marketing to help explain the intersection of consumer tech and social commerce and influencers. Ian Borthwick, more affectionately known online as Ian from SeatGeek. Ian, welcome to Business Casual.
Ian Borthwick, Senior Director of Influencer Marketing at SeatGeek [00:02:03] What an intro. Excited to be here.
Kinsey [00:02:06] [laughs] We're excited to have you. Ian from SeatGeek is not your official title, right? What's your official title at the company?
Ian [00:02:13] I am the senior director of influencer marketing, which is a title that, even when I applied for the job at SeatGeek, didn't exist because influencer marketing wasn't this buzzword that it is now. So the fact that that title is even existing now kind of shows how far we've come just in four years.
Kinsey [00:02:34] Yeah, it's definitely a buzzword and definitely a word we're going to use a ton [chuckles] in conversation. So, we talked in a previous episode with another Ian about if we'd played a drinking game, listening to one of these episodes, what would be the word you'd have to drink? I'm going to say it's probably going to be influencer marketing [laughs] on this one. So if anybody out there is feeling excited, maybe it's a little wine-down podcast session. But Ian, your background is really interesting.
Kinsey [00:02:56] Like you said, this was something that was fairly new when you came onto the scene at SeatGeek. You were one of, you know—pioneer is a word that's often used—but you were kind of described as pioneering influencer marketing at the company. But you also rose to internet fame on your own right [chuckles] as part of David Dobrik's inner circle. Can you explain a little bit more what your relationship is with David? It's kind of hard to understand. I'm new to the David-like internet community. So explain to me how you became part of this posse and what your role is now.
Ian [00:03:34] [laughs] Trying to explain David is interesting. I think, like, I start with just—he is a YouTuber. So he films a four-minute-long video on YouTube that now gets anywhere from—four minutes and 20 seconds, of course—that anyway he gets [indistinct] from 10 million to 15 million views per video. So we're talking top three YouTube creators right now. And I got involved with his posse back in 2016, because David wanted to surprise his best friend with tickets to the 2016 World Series with the Cubs.
Ian [00:04:11] And we'd been trying to work with them for, like, three years. And he never, ever returned my calls, my texts, [indistinct] his agent. He just never—and then one day, I get this thing: David wants to work with you. I was like, oh, my God, this is my moment. This is my great white buffalo. And he wants to go to the World Series. I'm like, great. I send him over the talking points of what we wanted to do with him. And he said, no, I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to read those talking points. And this is a big moment for me, but also a scary moment. Sounds like you have to.
Kinsey [00:04:47] Did you panic? [laughs]
Ian [00:04:48] So I panicked. But I'm on the phone with David and his agent, so I'm like, act cool, you can't lose this deal. But also we're spending $10,000-plus on tickets. So this has to work or maybe I'm looking for a new job. And so David goes, I want to make the ad about, like, less about the product. So stop. I don't want to talk about how great your product is. I'm sure it's great. My audience really isn't going to care too much about that. What they're going to care about is me surprising my best friend with tickets. And you guys being the brand to help make that experience possible. And so that was a big turning point, I'd say, for SeatGeek's influencer efforts in that we were now really going to lean into the creator and lean less into our product.
Ian [00:05:37] I think this is a mistake a lot of brands make as they lean too far into their product. And so David leaned in, did the ad read, it ended up killing it, and we ended up doing—we've done about 30 videos together, probably 250 million views. And now we're at the point when he wants to do an integration with SeatGeek, he will call me sometimes for the vlog. So that's where my quote, unquote internet fame is. So he will call me —
Kinsey [00:06:06] Right. The slide comes up. [laughs] Now calling, Ian from SeatGeek.
Ian [00:06:11] Yes. And so the big moment was when he called us because he wanted to buy his dream car. And David is brilliant in that he understands that if he brings his audience into this, like negotiation with a brand, that is something you never see and it makes you kind of like a character and part of the family. So he calls me and pitches me live, not live, but I know I'm being recorded on the vlog. And so those kind of calls have turned me into this kind of like weird character, like in the vlog where I support what David does.
Kinsey [00:06:51] Yeah. They're really funny too. [laughs] But I think that part of what makes David so popular with, what, 7.5 billion views, over 17 million subscribers on YouTube, those are astounding numbers. I think part of what makes him so popular is that he is really transparent. He knows his audience well. This is basically just like a day in the life of someone who's got a lot of money and is having fun with his friends—which is awesome, and like that's the dream for so many of us.
Kinsey [00:07:18] You touched on some of the downfalls of how other, maybe more traditional, we'll call them, more traditional brands work with influencers. I want to start broad before we go into some of those specifics. Why is it, do you think, that influencer marketing works? Explain it to me like you pitched it to your boss when you first tried to get David to work with SeatGeek.
Ian [00:07:41] That pitch was not nearly as concise as I'm going to try to make this. I'd say, for a marketer, you have to go to where the consumers are. And right now, the consumers are consuming podcasts. They're consuming YouTube. They're consuming Instagram. So to actually get attention—and I'm talking about real attention where the listeners actually listening [indistinct] actually engaged. You have to go to these creator-first platforms, because if you look at TV advertising or Instagram or Google ads, people are just bombarded by ads every single day. I read some stat that people hear like, or see 6,000 and 10,000 ads a day. And so to break through the clutter—and that's an insane number.
Kinsey [00:08:24] Yeah. That's truly insane.
Ian [00:08:25] And the reason it's so [indistinct] is because you're, like, blind to them now. You don't see ads. You just gloss over them. And so to break through the clutter, you have to first go to where the attention is. And I think the attention right now is with these digital creators. But the second thing is, what's different about influencers than even celebrities before them is influencers are building their audience directly.
Ian [00:08:51] So before, you had to go through a TV studio or maybe a newspaper or some sort of publication. But now David Dobrik is building this niche community into a massive one. And he has this incredible direct connection with his audience. So why influencer marketing works is not just the attention, but you're tapping into this incredible authenticity between the audience and the creator. And that kind of supercharges your marketing.
Kinsey [00:09:21] So is David Dobrik the future of marketing? Is that a fair assumption to make?
Ian [00:09:27] I think it's a fair assumption to make that large digital creators have the ability to reach audiences unlike any other medium right now. And I think the brands who understand this have an incredible, unfair advantage over the brands who are still kind of viewing marketing from a Google ads, Facebook ads, TV. I think that it's a mistake.
Kinsey [00:09:54] I'm curious how you stay up to date on this stuff. I am 25. I don't understand some of the things that are going on TikTok, like the Charli-Lil Huddy drama that's been going on this week seems super-intense, but I need someone to translate it to me. So I'm curious how you stay up to date. How do you know what the big trends are right now?
Ian [00:10:16] I'm 30. So if you feel like you're struggling, I often struggle. I think how I do it is, well, first of all, for that drama, I had to go on Reddit and read an explainer.
Kinsey [00:10:31] As I Googled "explainer," [laughs] can someone please just tell me what's going on?
Ian [00:10:36] I think, for me, I'm waiting for a little bit of the dust on TikTok to settle. I think there is an explosion right now where there's a land grab of so much stuff going on TikTok. And I think you're going to see some really big creators come out of this and be mainstream celebrities. But I'm trying not to get too caught up with the noise of every single TikTok creator and trying to make sure, like, I'm on the next dance trend.
Ian [00:11:07] What I'm really trying to find is like—take Addison Ray. Addison Ray—I haven't worked with her, I'd love to work with her—but she's built a TikTok, but she's moved that TikTok audience to YouTube. And her audience followed her there. And that, to me is like, OK, this person has influence. This person can port their audience from one place to another. And that's a great indicator as a marketer. I need to pay attention to what she is doing.
Kinsey [00:11:33] Yeah. And I want to talk more about the platform and the importance that the platform itself plays in successful influencer marketing campaigns. But quickly, before we do that—so the Fat Jewish, who is an Instagram celebrity, came on Business Casual a couple of months ago, and he communicated that his thoughts on the future of influencer marketing is that the bubble is going to pop, were his words exactly. That we have so many people trying to become influencers and we are so used to seeing like, use my code hashtag spon, hashtag ad, that it just doesn't mean anything to us anymore. So I'm curious if you think that that is a possibility. Do you see a future in which this bubble does pop? And what does that mean for influencer marketing on the whole?
Ian [00:12:19] I would say I agree in the sense that influencer marketing, if you're viewing it just as—I think what he is describing is this commoditization of influencer marketing, where it's brands want the control of an Instagram ad they do, but with the authenticity of influencer marketing. And that just doesn't work. You're undercutting the whole point. Once you send influencers these scripts, these terrible captions that are obviously written by someone like me and just don't make sense in this awkward product placement. That's a banner ad. You're buying display advertising. That I totally agree is a bubble because it's not really being tracked properly.
Ian [00:13:02] But I do think, particularly long-form content, podcasts, YouTube, places where like deep community relationships are built, aren't going away. So sure, there are some TikTok influencers, there's some stuff on Instagram, there's even stuff on YouTube and podcasts. But the meaningful creators are going to be meaningful after this bubble pops.
Kinsey [00:13:24] Yeah, that's an interesting point. And I think it's worth reiterating that, at least in the case of David, SeatGeek, and Ian from SeatGeek, have become characters. It's not like he gets a list of points, like you're saying. I think thinking of them as banner ads is really, really interesting and something that we should think about a little more when we go through our Instagram, when we watch videos on YouTube. All right, Ian, we've laid a pretty great groundwork here for understanding how David came to be David, how influencer marketing is important, and how he ends up giving away cars like they're going out of style. [chuckles]
Kinsey [00:13:58] So after this break—we're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor—and then when we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about this idea of the platform and how the platform matters, like you brought up before. — And now back to the conversation with Ian from SeatGeek. So, Ian, a lot of this conversation that we've been having in terms of changing trends in consumer technology centers around platforms.
Kinsey [00:14:24] David is a YouTube vlogger, but he also has a ton of followers on TikTok. I think I read that that's the only other social media platform where he has more followers than he does on YouTube, which is pretty astounding that he can make that audience move. And you mentioned Addison Ray as well. She has migrated her audience away from just TikTok. Why does the platform matter, or does it at all?
Ian [00:14:47] I always focused more on the talent, how it's going to break [indistinct] or for like David, we sponsor his podcast, his YouTube channel, his Instagram. We did two experiential events with him last year. Like fan pop-ups and then with Fanjoy, and then we would have sponsored his TikTok if COVID didn't hit. So I think when you have a super-talented person like that, it's really important to use them across all different mediums, but your messaging is going to change, whereas I think if you're a brand spending on Instagram and TikTok, I think you're going to be less focused on conversions.
Ian [00:15:28] It's very hard to tell a brand story in a TikTok video or an Instagram ad. And you're gonna be looking for brand exposure, for impressions, for getting your brand out there in front of more people. If you're spending on YouTube and podcasting, you're more focused on tapping into that influencer's community and driving conversions. So, basically, top of the funnel: Instagram, TikTok. More middle of the funnel is YouTube and podcasts.
Kinsey [00:15:58] OK. I just have to wonder, though, would David be David without YouTube? Does it matter where these influencers choose to start out?
Ian [00:16:06] People may disagree with me, but I'm a big believer in long-form content has to be the linchpin of building a strong community. I think it's very hard to build a true community on Instagram and TikTok alone. To build that community, people have to want to hear what you have to say. They want to really experience your life and you don't get that on those two other channels. I think that's why you see Addison Ray and Charli and these big TikTok stars move to YouTube, because YouTube is a chance to build that incredibly strong community. And TikTok is more of a way to get new fans in the door.
Kinsey [00:16:45] Yeah, and I just have to think from a marketing perspective also, the more time they're spending on video, even if it's just four minutes instead of one minute, the more time they have to interact with your brand that's sponsoring that content.
Ian [00:16:58] Yeah, I mean, you're going to see TikTok prices are kind of all over the place. There's not really a set benchmark, but YouTube prices are typically higher than what you're paying for on TikTok.
Kinsey [00:17:07] OK. Speaking of TikTok, the conversation around TikTok getting banned has really heated up in the last couple of days before recording this. I read earlier that the most likely scenario, if TikTok were to get banned in the United States, is that these people would all move to YouTube. Do you think that that's a natural migration for all of these big TikTok stars? Obviously, it can work for Charli. It can work for Addison. Do you think it could work for everybody?
Ian [00:17:35] No. I think it's a very different—much like you see athletes or actors have trouble jumping into podcasts, we've seen a lot of them do it and not be able to really—it's a different skill set, and it's very hard to do. So I think you'd probably see them try to stay alive and focus on Instagram, and then eventually try to do YouTube, but I think very few of them—it's kind of like Vine. Very few creators out of Vine—Cody Ko, Logan Paul, some other big creators—left Vine and David were able to build that YouTube audience. But a lot of them just couldn't.
Kinsey [00:18:16] [indistinct] OK. So what about the whole Facebook ad boycott that's going on right now too? This has also been a huge story these last couple of weeks, that these brands don't feel comfortable being on Facebook if Facebook is not going to monitor speech in a way that they deem appropriate or safe for the users. If Facebook were to get, quote unquote, effectively canceled, what would that mean for Instagram influencers? Do you think that there would ever be a time where these influencers would say the same thing as, like, Patagonia and REI and all these other big brands that are boycotting Facebook right now? Or is it just too lucrative?
Ian [00:18:57] I think it's tougher because that's literally their platform, like Patagonia has multiple ways to reach their audience outside of Instagram. If you're an Instagram influencer, I think you are in a in a tougher spot, because if you leave, you're kind of leaving your livelihood. And that's just a tough place for a creator to be.
Kinsey [00:19:19] Yeah. It's so interesting for me to think about the fact that their life is their livelihood. I don't know if that make sense, but [laughs] that just being yourself on the internet can be so lucrative for so many people. It's hard to wrap your head around sometimes, like thinking about the scale that some of these people's influence has. Like David's scale is enormous. It's almost impossible to understand how many people are watching these four minute and 20 second videos at any given moment. All right. So we're going to take a short break to hear from our partner, and when we come back, we're going to talk a little bit more about the commerce side of all this—the actual selling of things. —
Kinsey [00:19:59] And now back to the conversation with Ian from SeatGeek. Ian, like I mentioned before this break, a big part of this conversation around consumer tech and consumer tech trends that we're talking about this week centers on the evolution of social platforms or creator-first platforms to become commerce platforms—to be a place where people can go to buy and sell things. To me, it sounds like there's nothing more native for a lot of these social platforms than influencer marketing in the world of social commerce.
Kinsey [00:20:30] It just makes a lot of sense that brands would try to actually sell things on these platforms where influencers are saying, watch me unbox this, watch me give this [chuckles] car to someone, and I mean, at least it feels that way. So what are your thoughts on social commerce in general and how influencers can play into that new arena of selling things?
Ian [00:20:51] I think you touched on it in the intro. If I'm Facebook and I see how much the influencer marketing industry is worth, the many billions of dollars, and a lot of it is happening on my platform, I think these platforms are starting to wake up and say, how do we get a piece of this puzzle? And I think what particularly Facebook is doing, where if you look at Facebook and ecommerce, they have the opportunity where they can be the discovery of new products. So Amazon is kind of like, I need new socks. Check. I need that electric teakettle. Check.
Ian [00:21:29] But where people get inspiration for what they want to buy is often on Instagram. So you're scrolling through your feed. Maybe you see a creator and influencer you follow and you say, oh, I really like that T-shirt. Soon you're gonna be able to double-click on that T-shirt and buy it without ever leaving the app. I think that's going to be an incredibly powerful position for Facebook to be in. It's going to give retailers, I think, a lot of new sales, but they're gonna lose control. And for brands, it's an opportunity to really natively integrate with that influencer content.
Kinsey [00:22:02] What do you mean by lose control?
Ian [00:22:04] So you might know this better than me, but I'm going to try to do my best.
Kinsey [00:22:09] OK.
Ian [00:22:09] The media landscape, or at least the way I've heard, is Facebook and Google at first were celebrated. They're driving so much traffic to these media publications, which was great. It was these funnels and suddenly everyone started optimizing their content for Google and Facebook because they want to get more eyeballs to sell more ads. The problem was, they ceded that control to Facebook and Google, and Facebook and Google ultimately ended up undercutting their ad sales. So now Facebook is selling ads. Google is selling ads. And these media publications couldn't sell ads to the degree they used to.
Ian [00:22:49] My fear for where this is going from a Facebook site is all these brands are giving up control. They're getting all these clicks. They're going to get a lot more conversions. But you're not driving people back to your website right now. Your new website is your Instagram shop. And I imagine a world where, one, they're going to take a percentage on the sales. But two, if my competitor brand—so let's say, all that data is going to go back to their ad manager—so they're going to say, hey, do you want to target this person who bought your competitor's, who likes to buy high-priced handbags?
Ian [00:23:26] And suddenly, if I'm, like, I don't know, I'm trying to think of a high-priced handbag right now, like Burberry, [laughs] which is a terrible example, [Kinsey laughs] but if I'm Burberry, suddenly my data is being given to my competitors essentially, so they can do better ad sales. It's a slippery slope once you get in bed, I think, with Facebook, where you're going to get a lot of clicks and conversions, but you're ceding a ton of control.
Kinsey [00:23:53] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I also imagine that Facebook and other big tech platforms as well would market this to brands as owning the experience of purchasing something from that brand, you know, going from advertising, whether it's an influencer or not, to actually making the purchase. You get to have a little control over all of that, but that just doesn't seem realistic. Who's actually in control? As to your point, the platform, it's going to be Facebook, which [laughs] we all know might be a bit of a problem. [laughs]
Ian [00:24:24] Yeah.
Kinsey [00:24:25] So, we've had some fun, talked a lot about David and also influencer marketing in general, and consumer tech. But now I want to put you on the spot a little bit more. So we're going to do the Business Casual wheel.
Kinsey [00:24:38] But I'm gonna switch it up a little bit this time around, because I think you have some unique perspectives that I would like to draw on here. So we have two options. You're gonna do both of them. Hopefully, you'll agree. But there are some rapid-fire questions and a challenge. You can choose which one you want to do first, though.
Ian [00:24:55] Rapid-fire questions.
Kinsey [00:24:57] All right. What platform would you want to have 1 million followers on?
Ian [00:25:02] YouTube.
Kinsey [00:25:02] OK. Easiest and hardest influencers to work with?
Ian [00:25:07] David and David.
Kinsey [00:25:10] [laughs] OK, that's a fair one. When you open Instagram, what is the first ad that you see?
Ian [00:25:16] Weighted blankets.
Kinsey [00:25:17] Weighted blankets? You've been searching them?
Ian [00:25:20] No, they can just sense my anxiety by my place. [Kinsey laughs]
Kinsey [00:25:24] Your FBI agent is just feeding them information, yeah. Why do podcasts ads suck so much of the time?
Ian [00:25:30] Because people send terrible scripts, and posts have become used to reading these terrible scripts and continued to do it. And the best brands don't do that.
Kinsey [00:25:41] OK. And finally, if David calls you right now, would you pick up the phone?
Ian [00:25:46] Always.
Kinsey [00:25:47] Would you call David right now?
Ian [00:25:48] We could try.
Kinsey [00:25:50] Can we?
Ian [00:25:50] Yeah. I don't know if he'll pick up.
Kinsey [00:25:52] Let's do it.
Ian [00:25:53] All right. How do I [Kinsey laughs]—let's see. He's definitely not away.
Kinsey [00:25:58] What time is it on the West Coast?
Ian [00:26:00] I don't think he's gonna pick up. Let's try. He's not gonna like this.
Kisney [00:26:06] OK. — A Business Casual first, calling the most famous YouTuber on there.
Ian [00:26:13] I'm betting you he isn't even—he's still like three hours away from waking up. Yeah, we're going to strike out. We struck out.
Kinsey [00:26:22] All right. Well, it was worth it. Worth a shot. If he asks you why you called, you have to say that I made you.
Ian [00:26:30] OK.
Kinsey [00:26:30] And then tell him to listen to Business Casual. OK. So we got through the rapid-fire safely. Now to the challenge. So I know that there was something of a debacle with a now-removed David vlog in which you created your own SeatGeek ad. [Ian laughs] So we're going to give you a redemption chance here.
Ian [00:26:49] OK.
Kinsey [00:26:49] If you had to do SeatGeek ad, an ad read right now.
Ian [00:26:53] I always mess this up. OK. [Kinsey laughs].
Kinsey [00:26:56] He's stretching, getting ready.
Ian [00:26:57] All right. What's up, guys? Ian from SeatGeek here. SeatGeek reached out to me, and they want to sponsor this part, the Business Casual podcast. If you haven't heard of SeatGeek, they're this amazing, amazing app that's worked with over 1,000 creators, and have garnered more than 2.5 billion views. And now they're supporting Business Casual.
Ian [00:27:25] In order to use SeatGeek, use my code, bosswick, b o s s w i c k, for $20 off your first order. That's $20 off your first order with code bosswick. Come on, be smart. Use SeatGeek.
Kinsey [00:27:40] That was pretty damn good.
Ian [00:27:43] That was the best I've ever done.
Kinsey [00:27:44] Well, something must have been in the water. That was fantastic. I'm about to go use your code. Maybe I'll buy some more Harry Styles tickets or something. [laughs]
Ian [00:27:52] Harry Styles tickets. Hopefully the NFL tickets are good or coming back. I mean —
Kinsey [00:27:57] Yeah.
Ian [00:27:57] We'll see.
Kinsey [00:27:58] Big hopefully. All right. Well, Ian, thank you so much for coming on Business Casual, for playing along with these games, and for all this great insight. I really enjoyed this conversation.
Ian [00:28:07] It was fun. Thanks for having me.
Kinsey [00:28:16] Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Business Casual. In that conversation with Ian from SeatGeek, we talked at length about what's working and what's not working in marketing. If you want more great marketing insights, subscribe to Morning Brew's Marketing Newsletter, Marketing Brew at MorningBrew.com slash/marketing for all of the marketing news you need every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I'll see you next time. [sound of a ding]