What Happened When Libbey Inc Tried to Exploit an Instagram Chef

Zulie Rane

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The best thing about Twitter is sometimes you get to see a beautiful train wreck in rightful revenge and learn something, too. That’s exactly what happened when Libbey, a well-known glassware company, tried to get Angela Davis, AKA @TheKitchenista on Instagram, to promote their products and do free photography for them. For a budget of…. wine and some glassware.

For context, Davis has an extremely popular website, Instagram account, and Twitter account to name just a few audiences. That’s what was so galling about the request: had Libbey really not done their research into who they were contacting? Or did they really think they could pull a fast one on her despite her success and savvy?

Especially as a burgeoning freelancer myself, I was fascinated to learn from her thread what happens when a corporation who really should know better reached out to an established influencer who isn’t afraid to call them out for their shady practices. The short answer: they get the reach they wanted, but not in the way they had bargained on.

Davis followed best practices for influencers and still got pushback.

Upon first receiving the request that didn’t have any mention of payment, Davis reached back out to ask first for a budget, and when that reply contained no information about money, contacted them again explicitly asking about compensation. In other words, she followed the standard procedure for freelancers and influencers when asked for work: ask for budget.

Apparently surprised that Davis dared to ask what she’d be paid in return for the work and promotion she’d provide, they literally emailed her to say, “If dollars are a true necessity, please provide your rates.”

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Let that sink in: during a pandemic, a corporation that has recently paid over $3 million in bonuses to corporate executives (despite filing for Chapter 11 the month after) and definitely should have a budget for marketers, didn’t think Davis’s work was worth paying for.

The thread Davis posted attracted plenty of commentary from freelancers who had been in similar positions. @thekoreanvegan tallied up exactly how much free work Libbey Glass was asking for to really drive the point home:

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This doesn’t even count the normal amount of money a company would normally pay for licensing rights to a photo, which according to the contract Libbey sent Angela, they expected her to provide absolutely free of charge.

In 2020, brands should at least offer compensation.

I’ve written before about Instagram “dm to collab” scams, which was despicable, but this is something different: a very large, established brand reached out to collaborate with an influencer specifically for her audience and reach. Libbey Glass expected Davis to provide work upfront, and to be able to have rights to her photography for up to a year onwards. And all they offered her was some wine in exchange.

In no other industry would it be acceptable to come into a partnership and offer them products in exchange for time, work, and audience. Can you imagine reaching out to your accountant and saying, “Hi, I’d love for you to do my taxes. I’ll be paying you in product: you can keep the pen I’ll send you to do the taxes.”

It’s laughable.

And, as @devstanfield writes in her excellent thread on Davis’s experience, even the way Libbey reached out to Davis was inauthentic. They didn’t explain why they thought she was a good fit for the brand, allow her any creativity in the campaign, or use her for anything other than reach on her considerable audience.

Influencers will only get smarter. Brands should too.

The one thing about social media is that information is more widely available than ever before. I can see what typical rates are for freelance writers and how much companies pay others for Instagram posts — but I also hear about places like Libbey that are trying to exploit influencers.

Brands appear to be operating under the delusion that high quality, established, talented freelancers and influencers will be honored to work for exposure. What they may be starting to realize is that they themselves will be the ones getting exposure, and definitely not the good kind.

Perhaps in previous years, as the role of influencer was murky and individuals didn’t know better, brands could get away with this. But thanks to creators like Davis who publically and rightfully call out shady business as they see it, influencers will learn that the work they do is valuable, in high demand, and work payment, not product.

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Content creator, problem solver, psychology enthusiast.

Atlanta, GA
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