Costco influencers: How lack of faces and 'fakes' led to marketing success story
On June 7, an Instagram account shared a mundane-looking post — a shopping cart full of boxes of golf club sets. It was captioned: “This @callawaygolf edge golf club set is definitely our favorite purchase of the year so far! This 10-pc set has sold out super quickly, so if you see a set buy it right away! $499 and comes with an Odyssey White Hot putter, which is $150 itself.” Before that, the accounted post about a “Hello Kitty Squishmallow” — whatever that is. And before that, there were more than 300 similar posts.
CostcoInsider has a website as well that claims, “We share with you all the deals and coupons available in Costco stores across the US. We also give you insider information about upcoming changes, product reviews, and other tips to be an expert Costco shopper. We have zero affiliation with Costco at this time.” And it has been featured in a CNBC documentary called ‘The Costco Craze’, Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest and more.
But CostcoInsider is not the only one in this game — in this new social media subculture of Costco influencers. Costco, as you know, is an American multinational corporation that operates a chain of membership-only big-box retail stores. It is a staple of American culture, popular culture and just generally ubiquitous. Naturally, social influencers have decided it’s worth creating an identity around.
“With the rise of the attention economy, we see a new form of exchange where brands seek and attain customer attention by producing appealing, entertaining content. This is where digital marketing’s true genius is revealed: when consumers are willing, active participants within the marketing scheme,” wrote Christoph Kastenholz, CEO & Co-Founder of Pulse Advertising, a leading influencer marketing agency, for Forbes earlier this year. Why should Costco remain immune to this?
While it is essentially following the same trend, the Costco influencer game is subverting some rules. As is common in influencer marketing, the product (the person selling and the thing being sold) is made to look as pretty as possible. Costco influencers do neither. In fact, faces — a key part of influencer marketing — seem conspicuously absent from the photos.
In a May Jezebel feature, author Molly Osberg noted: “The photographs taken by the Costco influencers are just devastatingly banal,” adding, “Spread over a dozen accounts, some with as many as half a million followers, they are starkly lit, dizzyingly expansive in their offerings, and share no common ground save their pursuit of a great deal.” There are quite a number of such influencers.
Costco Hot Finds on Instagram is one such example. Run by Laura, a Dallas-based mother, this account has more than 200,000 followers. There’s Costco Contessa, whose Instagram account has now been renamed Organic #Costco Life! — they “are treasure hunting food, home, family, travel, and all things #reallife,” and blogging all their “new finds, reviews, recipes, tips, and adventures,” from the retail giant.
There’s The Costco Connoisseur, an account with more than 55,000 followers. There are also Costco Beauty Bargains and Costco Kitchen. With the exception of the last one, perhaps (it is full of food photos and cooking videos) most of the accounts share the same aesthetics. As Osberg puts it, “a literal depiction of shopping at Costco’s warehouse store with its mountains of product and fluorescent lights.”
Yet, despite visuals no different from the one you would get at an actual Costco store — that’s dime a dozen — these accounts seem to be enjoying success, and of course, influence. Even with no overly stylized photographs, content based on selling relatability, and known faces, these accounts have become increasingly popular. And the retail brand might have a part to play.
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported in a piece about influencer marketing that Costco (along with Dyson, American Eagle, Lilly Pulitzer, and Sephora) is using Fohr’s Ambassador Management Platform to scout talent. As per Fohr’s website, AMP is a “turn-key tool for recruiting, vetting, briefing, managing, and measuring Ambassadors (née Influencers).”
Ambassadors supposedly are “influencers who don’t fake it. From customers to celebrities, and everything in between, the through-line is real love. They are The True Believers. The Unrepentant Evangelists. The Last of the Great Romantics.”
So, like all influencer marketing, this — though starkly different in looks and feels — is perhaps a symbiotic relationship as well. And in the midst of the pandemic, this might just be the way to go. Instead of browsing through giant warehouses full of pyramids of products, you might as well go through these Instagram accounts and look at golf clubs, organic avocado oil, or Jumbo 36” Plush Care Bears. And figure out if it's worth the offer and the risk to go out and get them.