TV & Streaming

Brands aren’t keen on ‘Bachelor in Paradise’s’ Brendan and Pieper after reality drama

The latest season of ABC’s reality dating show provides a case study for what can happen to an influencer’s deals when they get embroiled in on-air controversy—and lose a significant amount of followers.
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· 6 min read

Cancel culture: Whether you’re for it or against it, getting “canceled” online happens to the best (or the worst?) of us. And while 2016’s #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty clearly didn’t stop Swift from dominating the charts, not everyone who gets canceled is so lucky.

For instance, when influencers—whose entire careers arguably depend on their social media following—bleed followers en masse post-cancellation, they risk losing the brand sponsorships that keep the $$ + free products coming in.

The latest season of ABC’s reality dating show Bachelor in Paradise provides a case study for what can happen to an influencer’s brand deals when they lose a significant amount of followers.

Don’t watch? Here’s what went down:

  • After contestants Brendan Morais and Pieper James were accused of coming on the show to gain larger Instagram followings, their fellow castmates basically pushed them off the island and into a cab back to the airport from whence they came.
  • It didn’t help that other contestants (and fans of the show) were quick to criticize Morais for stringing fellow contestant Natasha Parker along, lying to her in order to stay on the beach and gain more screen time.
  • As a result, when the episode with the drama in question aired in early September, Morais lost roughly 100,000 followers from his original 350k, while James lost around 10,000 from her original 88k.
  • Like all contestants on Bachelor in Paradise, Morais and Pieper had appeared on The Bachelorette and The Bachelor, respectively, hence their already large-ish followings.

You do the math: That’s a significant loss for each of them.

But do the brands that have thrown money and gifts at them in exchange for promotion care? Turns out, it depends—but marketers definitely take notice. While each brand that Marketing Brew spoke with responded to the drama differently, none of them were concerned about follower counts specifically.

Bye bye bye

Women’s clothing boutique BitterSweet isn’t interested in working with James after the fiasco.

BitterSweet owner Paula Pekic told Marketing Brew James had reached out to the store before this season of Bachelor in Paradise, after noticing other members of the franchise working with the boutique. BitterSweet gifted James some of its products, but didn’t pay her to post. In fact, Pekic said there was no mention of promotional posting during the exchange.

She told us that it wasn’t so much the follower drop-off itself that concerned her, but its impetus. “The larger significance is the reasoning behind the follower drop…Pieper’s actions are definitely not something we support, so at this time, she is not an influencer that we would work with in the future,” Pekic explained.

Plus, Pekic called her agreement with James a “one time gifted situation,” adding that the store works with Parker regularly and “wouldn't want to show anything but support for her.”

Home fitness brand NordicTrack responded similarly, dropping its sponsorship with Morais after the drama aired on TV, per Page Six. “NordicTrack is no longer doing business with Brendan and any further business plans have been terminated. His behavior does not align with the brand’s values,” a NordicTrack spokesperson told Page Six. NordicTrack didn’t respond to our requests for comment.

Gray area

Other brands took a more nuanced approach. Jewelry brand Saint Liz’s founder Elizabeth Acosta told us her brand was starting to get negative comments and DMs on Instagram, as James had tagged Saint Liz in a post before the controversy.

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“I don’t promote cancel culture because I think it’s very unfair. But what I will do is, at the time, not work with that person,” Acosta said, adding that she did untag her brand from James’s photos, but only to decrease the amount of negative messages she was getting about the situation.

But Acosta said her decisions had nothing to do with the follower-count decrease. “I’ve gifted a micro [influencer] who had 800 followers. I knew she would deliver content, and I knew that she had a valuable following,” she explained.

Similarly to Pekic, Acosta says she gifted James products, but didn’t pay her, as Saint Liz’s influencer strategy revolves entirely around gifting rather than monetary compensation.

What decrease?

American lifestyle and clothing brand Recreational Habits cofounder Jackie Skye Muller told us she’s “not at all” worried about the fact that James lost about 10,000 followers.

According to Muller, it would take something more extreme for the brand to stop working with a creator. “If an influencer does something really traumatic, or something that doesn’t align with our brand values, of course that’s something that we’d need to look at,” Skye told us, adding that Recreational Habits often works with different creators every season, so longer-term relationships are not as much of an issue for the brand.

She compared the situation with James to another influencer from the Bachelor franchise that Recreational Habits has worked with in the past. “We also seeded Kit Keenan, and from my understanding … she wasn’t portrayed well on the show, but we knew her and that she was a fan of our brand, so we were happy to send her the product,” Skye told us. Recreational Habits did not pay James for her posts, opting for a gifting strategy as well.

Do followers matter?

None of the brands Marketing Brew spoke with said follower count played a role in their decisions—and influencer agency FamePick’s VP of talent Kristina Milova thinks that’s the right move. Despite their different opinions on what to do about their relationships with James and Morais, Milova believes brands shouldn’t let follower count alone dictate if they work with an influencer.

“Follower count is the first thing that everyone pays attention to, but it actually doesn’t even matter,” she said. “It’s a vanity metric. Talent shouldn’t be posting to build a following. I think their primary purpose should be to tell their stories and make real connections with the audience,” Milova continued.

But, Milova said brands working with influencers suffering major follower losses should look into why those creators lost the followers to begin with. “If they lost 100k, you know they did something wrong,” she said, adding that she would recommend a brand working with that creator pause any immediate campaigns with them, be cautious, and monitor the situation before reengaging with them.

“See how their next posts are performing, see about their engagements on their stories,” she advised. Additionally, Milova told us that the brands working with James we spoke with probably didn’t have much to lose in the situation, if they didn’t pay her for her posts.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.