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Can you imagine being the junior PR person vetting requests for big hotel chains and travel companies? People amass themselves a few thousand followers — likely 14-year-olds across southeast Asia — and start calling around looking to peddle their influence in exchange for first-class seats on Etihad, comped rooms at the Mandarin, and so on.
Sans any photographic talent. Or any new ideas.
In addition to the nebulous return on investment (ROI) for ad spend on these types of programs — I’ve been calling a lot of these audiences the mortgage-backed securities of marketing — the prevailing aesthetic seems impossibly stale, and has quickly become cliche. Everyone is doing it, and what’s worse, it now seems tone deaf to the whirrs and clickings of the world at the moment.
Travel photography can be cliché central to start, but when we layer on the flood of the hyper-minimal aesthetic popularized by the likes of Kinfolk or selected travel influencers, it adds insult to injury and appears suddenly tasteless, over-branded and crass. Berries painstakingly arranged in the morning bircher muesli at the Hon Circle lounge in Munich, replete with passport and partially concealed boarding pass? En route to Park City for the Film Festival in a private jet? Ugh. Conspicuous consumption delivered through the ever efficient capillaries of social media, with dopamine as the payoff.
In the current travel environment, to continue to follow the Kinfolk aesthetic blindly in a travel ban world seems suddenly trite, detached, and non-interesting.
Kyle Chayka, who wrote the article “Airspace” bemoaning the architectural sameness — industrial furniture, stripped floors and Edison bulbs — in global capitals — agrees that the aesthetic flood has gone too far.
“I think that particular lifestyle aesthetic came from a world in which liberalism was seen as a foregone conclusion — it comes out of this globalist, non-nationalist perspective, says Chayka. “Hence the values of seamlessness, boundaryless-ness, consuming only the best stuff from each place. And then you have this enormous challenge to it in the form of Trump and new nationalism. Suddenly, in the face of that challenge, the bland aesthetics don’t only look bad, they look irrelevant and useless to what we need.”
Does this mean that everything has to be dystopian, gritty realism? Certainly not. This is marketing, after all. But brands commissioning visual content need to be aware of tectonic plates shifting beneath them.
That ghastly word “authentic” isn’t always perfectly positioned berries on a plate, it’s admitting that the world is sometimes more complicated than you want it to be. And we need a new, fresh way to talk about — and document — travel in today’s world.