If you’ve used Instagram in the last couple months, you’ve definitely encountered dudewithsign. This man has gone viral due to his funny relatability with his cardboard-sign protests in New York City.
The post that made him viral featured the sign, “Seinfeld is way better than Friends,” in front of a "Friends" billboard in the city. His account gained 4 million followers in only four months, and he currently has more than 5 million followers.
His following amassed from “protesting” relatable nuisances, like being angry about Christmas products being sold before Halloween and Thanksgiving and Netflix asking if you’re still watching.
Seth Phillips, the dude with the sign, initially made his protests for his personal Instagram, but he quickly made a brand out of it when he began going viral. He has since grown into a living meme and has real fans as well as virtual ones.
Followers wait for him to “protest” at popular spots in the city, and he’s often stopped and asked for pictures by them.
Now that he’s commercialized himself, Phillips has established his sign as a personal brand. He has partnered with companies, like Old Spice, to promote its products. These sponsored posts are still in his signature cardboard style, but his captions disclose the paid sponsorship.
He has even appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show". Most recently, he’s posted with Justin Bieber, promoting Bieber’s newest album which was released on Feb. 14. Before that, he was working with Sprint while attending the Super Bowl in Miami.
What does this do to his authenticity? How is his sponsored content different from his original content? Dudewithsign’s whole brand and popularity was based upon authenticity and relatability, and has that disappeared due to his paid sponsorships?
In our social media-obsessed society, clout is fleeting and everybody is trying to capitalize on it, whether it’s by going viral on TikTok or having sponsored Instagram posts. It’s the age of the influencer, and it’s nearly impossible to see someone with a large following on social media that isn’t working with companies or producing branded content.
Due to the rise in #ad content across social media platforms, it has recently been required for the “influencers” to distinguish these particular posts as such. This rule was created to help solidify the line between true authenticity and commercialized content.
If influencers don’t clearly acknowledge when their posts are sponsored, their relationship and trust with their followers could suffer.
Before these advertising standards were set in 2018, influencers and bloggers were not required to disclose if they were paid promoters of a brand or product. Followers never were able to distinguish an influencer’s honest opinion from those they were paid to say.
It’s not uncommon for people to promote products they don’t actually support just because they are being paid to do so. The Kardashians have gotten extreme backlash for promoting “Flat Tummy Tea,” a detox drink often promoted by attractive women that don’t actually drink it.
It was only a matter of time before Phillips became commercialized as well. His sponsored posts are only slightly different than his regular content, which he still posts. You can spot a sponsored post by the #ad or #sponsored hashtags. These posts also have captions, whereas his regular posts do not. They also may include someone else with a sign of their own, like Justin Bieber.
Everything is commercialized in today’s society and especially on social media. As long as influencers and bloggers maintain a balance between their regular, original content and their sponsored content, it’s not a big deal if their social medias have become commercialized. Dudewithsign is impressive because he’s still funny and relatable regardless of whether his posts are sponsored.