REDWOOD CITY, CA: Impossible Burger parent Impossible Foods is not only blazing a trail in the red-hot plant-based meat category, it’s also bucking the trend in influencer relations. The company has a hard policy to never pay influencers any sponsorship or promotional fee.
Other brands are throwing money – a lot of it – at both celebrities and microinfluencers. On Instagram, influencers make $1,000 per 100,000 followers; on Snapchat, the price starts at $500 per campaign for 24 hours; and on YouTube, they make $2,000 per 100,000 followers, according to recent reports.
Getting to the meat of it, Impossible Foods simply doesn’t have to pay influencers. People are "genuinely excited and passionate about the product and what the company is doing and want to help," said its global head of influence, Jake Crumbine.
"We rely overwhelmingly on high-credibility earned media, whether through PR or influence, instead of expensive conventional advertising and marketing," said the company’s global chief communications officer, Rachel Konrad. "We take the money that other companies would spend on making and placing ads, and we invest that money into R&D."
Impossible Foods’ influence program launched one year ago, led by Crumbine. It doesn’t have a traditional influencer marketing approach, he explained.
"We see everyone as influential, from Beyoncé to my mother in Vermont who has 10 Instagram followers but walks around and talks to people at the grocery store," he said.
The program’s goal is to identify people who want to help with Impossible’s mission to "drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely replacing the use of animals as a food-production technology," according to a Medium post by its CEO and founder, Pat Brown. Impossible Foods intends to accomplish this within two decades by creating nutritious, affordable and sustainable meat, fish and dairy foods directly from plants.
"We recognized there were people out there who were really passionate about climate change, animal welfare, healthy eating – whatever way they found us, they wanted to help advocate and evangelize for us," said Crumbine. "Finding ways to empower them to do that is the mission of the influence program."
One method: sending influencers meat to cook at home if they haven’t tried it yet or inviting them to events.
"It is far more interesting to have other people who are genuinely excited about what we are doing telling other people and their friends and their followers, rather than it coming from a brand," said Crumbine.
Giving people money to "empower them" to tell Impossible Foods’ story is the "easy" solution, he said. Instead, the company is taking the "more difficult or high-touch" route by not paying influencers.
"It is almost like a nonprofit or political campaign or something that is trying to move culture and a global food system, and trying to find ways to tell that story for us is the guiding principle," said Crumbine.
Impossible has no problem getting people onboard. In fact, the company has to sometimes turn people away due to lack of bandwidth. People reach out daily wanting to invest or work with Impossible Foods, said Crumbine.
"People think it is advantageous to align themselves with us and our brand and who also want to help use their platform and their voice to make the world a better place," he said.
In May, Impossible Foods announced a $300 million Series E funding round. Part of Crumbine’s job was finding strategic investors.
"Strategic investors are folks who come in for smaller amounts and bring strategic value, people who are defining culture, moving culture forward, are influential in food, entertainment, sports and getting them to be part of the family," he said. "The idea that they are part of the family [is why] they are incentivized even more to help grow the company."
Investors include celebrities such as Katy Perry, Serena Williams and Trevor Noah.
"[Perry] on her own wore that burger costume to the Met Gala and was quoted as saying, ‘It’s an Impossible Burger,’" said Crumbine. "Those kinds of fun, stunty things are very organic that we didn’t pay for."
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Another investor, Questlove, recently launched Questlove Cheesesteak made with Impossible 2.0 Meat at 40 Live Nation concert venues across the country and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
"That was a mutually beneficial relationship, where he is getting revenue from the sandwich sales in these stadiums, and we are selling pounds of meat," said Crumbine. "Most brands would pay a name to associate themselves with the brand, where as he was able to make money off of it."
Other celebrities that have organically endorsed the Impossible Burger include Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Natalie Portman, Mark Wahlberg and Chrissy Teigen, who shared her love of the product on Ellen last year.
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"High-profile people are actually investing in Impossible Foods because our missions are aligned," said Konrad.
How are its influencers moving the needle on sales? Measuring that data is a real challenge, said Crumbine, who was unable to share how the program is tied to revenue.
Although Impossible Foods doesn’t pay influencers, Crumbine noted that he doesn’t think it is negative for a brand to use sponsored posts.
"Paid promotions are a drawback if a brand is just paying a person with a lot of followers to just put up some product and there is no authenticity behind it," he said. "Paying someone does not inherently mean it is not authentic, but to pay someone without authenticity is where it’s a problem."