This article originally appeared on VICE US.
"One Austin man has gone viral on social media after making an Instagram page as a 'lifestyle influencer'–even though he's 'just a construction guy,'" Austin's KVUE News reported on Wednesday. Omar Madani, a construction worker better known as @justaconstructionguy, decided to become an influencer after learning about them from his daughter, said KVUE's initial report. Similar writeups came from other sites.
As it turns out, that wasn't the full story: Soon after the account went viral, BuzzFeed News reported that it was actually a marketing campaign for Austin's Cuvée Coffee, created by Cuvée owner Mike McKim in collaboration with Bandolier Media in order to find a "different type of influencer: a hard-worker, blue-collar guy." (KVUE was told the same and its report has been updated to reflect the new information, but the original version can be seen on the Internet Archive.)
According to BuzzFeed News, a tweet from the user @barbzlovescarbs shot the account to virality after it was picked up by the meme Instagram @middleclassfancy. Although the @barbzlovescarbs account has been set to private, a screenshot posted to Imgur shows that the tweet read in part, "My dad asked me what an influencer was, and after I explained he said 'Pssh, I could do that.' Well… he did." The Instagram account made the rounds on Reddit and other meme pages, and it has now picked up over 516,000 followers.
McKim told BuzzFeed News that after he and the Bandolier team decided on a "construction guy" influencer, they reached out to Omar, who reportedly said, "What's social media? Instagram? Huh?" and added that he "[didn't] know how to do it." As McKim told BuzzFeed News, Omar was paid for the photo shoots and nothing else, and said that he isn't involved with running the account since all posting, marketing, and idea generation was put together by Bandolier.
As a representative for Cuvée shared with MUNCHIES, McKim also explained the situation in a blog post on Cuvée's website, writing that the brand wanted to better represent its customers. "Omar is a real person and yes, that is his real name. Yes, he is a general contractor who has worked in many areas of construction," the post reads. "Those are his tools, his van, his yellow hard hat (that doesn’t fit right because the leather head straps are worn out) and he really does like cigars, whisky and coffee."
Although McKim wouldn't tell BuzzFeed News Omar's last name, it was included in KVUE's original article, which was published a day before. A Facebook account for an Omar Madani in Austin, Texas seems to corroborate the brand's story. The account is fairly active and seems to be run by a real person, with public posts dating back to 2011, including a photo in construction gear from a month ago with a comment that mentions the Cuvée photoshoot. An account seemingly run by Madani's wife has also been active since at least 2010, and recently made public posts about the news coverage of Omar's Instagram.
But despite McKim's openness with BuzzFeed News, questions about the marketing campaign remain. Madani's amount of public activity on Facebook, for example, suggests a decent familiarity with social media. And while McKim reportedly also told BuzzFeed News that he and the Bandolier team "intended to have 'fun' creating 'Omar,'" that statement is odd given that Omar is apparently a real person. MUNCHIES has also reached out to Madani and Bandolier for clarification, but we have not yet received a response.
Looking at it now, the account should have always seemed kind of suspect: Older folks might like coffee, but they're not so great at latte art.