Things are getting weird here at Tweets is Watching.
Yesterday the Twitterverse was introduced to its newest sensation: #AlexFromTarget
As the story went, #AlexFromTarget was simply a good-looking teenage boy who worked at his local Target in Texas. It all began this past Sunday, when a photo of Alex was tweeted out:
While some reports have disputed which photo was the first to take Alex from a simple bagger to overnight sensation, most agree that we owe our digital gratitude to Twitter user @auscalum. After the tweet was posted, the world began to wonder, quite aggressively, “WHO IS THIS BEAUTIFUL BOY?!” in that way that only the Internet can.
But at this point, #AlexFromTarget was still anonymous from Target, only identifiable by his nametag and his place of work. The Internet needed to find out who exactly this boy was, so they could show him love and praise accordingly. And thus, the hashtag took hold and the hunt was on.
The teenage girls, known as the most powerful force the Internet has at its disposal, were quick to identify #AlexFromTarget as Twitter user @acl163.
At this moment, his account has over 564,000 followers.
Once #AlexFromTarget was outed, the Internet started doing its Internet thing. People saw that #AlexFromTarget was trending and reacted in their necessary patterns. Tumblr kids started making tumblr pages dedicated to Alex. I started writing a “Tweets is Watching” article. And news sites began writing up their standard “You’ll Never Understand the Internet” posts. All of the usual suspects were accounted for:
- Huffington Post – Alex From Target Is The First Cool Thing to Happen To Target In A Long Time
- BuzzFeed – Teenagers Just Turned This Guy Named Alex Who Works At Target Into A Huge Meme
- CNN – Today’s Internet Star: Alex From Target
- Washington Post – How “Alex From Target” became an unwitting Internet superstar
- Yahoo! – Who Is “Alex From Target” and Why Should I Even Begin to Care?
All of these stories followed the same basic pattern, very similar to the journey that this article has taken you on so far. They show the original tweet, show some tweets of people freaking out about how cute Alex is, include a few links to Alex-inspired parodies or fan art, and then the author basically gives a big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ while saying “Man, isn’t the Internet weird?! But viral stuff! Buzz words! We are hip to what is hip!”
Most articles included this tweet, which I’ll admit, is pretty satisfying.
Pretty weird right? Some kid just gets Internet famous to the tune of over half a million followers after a girl snapped an innocuous shot of him bagging goods at Target? Is that really how the Internet works? Well, yes…and no…
Because this is where things actually get weird.
The article was supposed to end here. #AlexFromTarget came onto my radar and I tried to write about it, but was having a hard time finding an angle that wasn’t already pummeled into submission by larger news outlets. Usually with Tweets is Watching, I am the only one following the Twitter beat. This time around, everyone was all over it.
There were a couple things to cover that I almost pursued, the most compelling of which is Twitter user @acl167 who is now claiming to be the real #AlexFromTarget. He is very committed to being the real #AlexFromTwitter and offering his followers attention. It comes off as more than a little desperate:
This Alex doth protest too much, methinks.
I don’t think anyone that was actually Alex From Target would be that committed to claiming who he is or going this hard on the whole #branding thing. This guy only has 45,500 followers and he is campaigning pretty hard. Conversely, the original #AlexFromTarget, @acl163, is much more humble and down to Earth.
So yeah, this was almost the story. The noble and handsome @acl163 and the possibly treacherous, social media monster @acl167 both claiming the title of #AlexFromTarget which for some reason has an impressive amount of value at this particular point in history. But there was more to the story.
Because, apparently, this was not the grassroots, feel-good result of standard Internet weirdness. As believable as it was that some girl in Texas had thought the boy bagging her groceries was extra-cute that day, snapped a picture of him, posted it online, and begat a new fangirl fantasy, that is not what happened.
How did I find out? Tweets was Watching.
So much thanks to you, @atotalmonet (aka Caitlin Kelly), for sending that tweet through my timeline before I published my original post. The link included there goes to a very interesting article by CNET on the #AlexFromTarget sensation. According to CNET, a company called Breakr was responsible for the hullaballoo that Alex caused us on the Twitterverse.
The article sites a post that Breakr CEO Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares published on his LinkedIn page earlier today. In that piece, Leonares takes credit for Alex’s newfound stardom.
Yesterday, we had fun on Twitter with the hashtag #AlexFromTarget which ended up to be one of the most amazing social media experiments ever. We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral internet sensation. Abbie (@auscalum), one of our fangirls from Kensington, UK posted this picture of Alex Lee (@acl163) on Twitter. After spreading the word amongst our fangirl followers to trend #AlexFromTarget, we started adding fuel to the fire by tweeting about it to our bigger YouTube influencers.
First, dope to confirm that @acl163 is in fact the real #AlexFromTarget, and that @acl167 is in fact a sham. Also, super interesting that the first girl to post the picture was living in the UK, meaning that this girl literally started Alex’s fame from across an ocean. If I wasn’t currently reeling from this Breakr news, I would pursue it further.
But back to Breakr. On their website, they display the tagline “Being a Fan is Better Together” and advertise that they are “currently in beta helping connect fans to their fandom.” This sounds like total Internet speak, but when you read a bit more of Leonares’ article, it becomes a little bit clearer what they are trying to do. From what I can gather, Breakr is in the business of making and marketing modern web celebrities. These are the kids that become Internet famous in a particular nook or cranny of the web and suddenly find themselves with a great deal of abstract “value” online. These are your Vine Celebrities, your YouTube Sensations, your Viral Heroes. It seems as though Breakr is hoping to manage and monetize this new type of fame.
In the case of #AlexFromTarget, they claim to have created a new Internet star by having people with solid cred on the web that they already have a relationship with, “bigger YouTube influencers,” help push the hashtag forward. Essentially, Breakr was able to get enough people to being talking about #AlexFromTarget, that casual users of the Internet began wondering “Why is everyone talking about #AlexFromTarget?” and thus the cycle continued and the hashtag spread further and further.
More from Leonares’:
By controlling both sides of the conversation, we got more and more people to talk about the situation which kept the hashtag trending #1 on Twitter worldwide. Alex’s Twitter account started with 2k+ followers around 2pm and is now at 340k+ followers.
Again, Alex is now upwards of half a million followers. Whatever Breakr is doing, it seems to be working.
After the dust settles, there is a lesson to be made here; from brands, talent agencies, music labels and influencer marketing companies: if you can earn the love and respect from a global community such as the ‘Fangirl’ demographic – you can rally them together to drive awareness for any cause even if its to take a random kid from unknown to stardom over night.
Super impressive. The Breakr business, as weird and nonessential as it may seem at first, most definitely has a place in the social media landscape of today’s world, where there is so much inherent value in people knowing your name, your twitter handle, and your ability to get a hashtag #trending.
Still, this whole situation is sort of hard to believe. Part of me almost thinks I have this backwards. That CNET story is the only one I have been able to find so far that reveals Breakr as the man behind the curtain. After all of the coverage Alex received yesterday, it is hard to believe that more people aren’t fascinated by the machine behind this beautiful man. Maybe #AlexFromTarget really did blow up in a natural progression of Internet culture, and maybe Breakr is actually a made up company hoping to capitalize on his fame. Are we supposed to just believe whatever one dude writes on a LinkedIn page?
This tweet from trusted watcher of the Internet PJ Vogt, further aroused suspicion.
But I think I buy what Breakr said. I think I believe them. I think that #AlexFromTarget was a well-orchestrated blitz on social media the likes of which we have not previously seen a third party take credit for. And, as terrified as that idea makes me, I have to give a ton of credit to Breakr for what they accomplished with Alex. In a world where people are actively trying to “go viral,” Breakr made it look pretty easy.
I still don’t know if Alex was in on the bit from the start. I still don’t know how Breakr plans to capitalize on their proven ability to make someone famous for being famous in less than 24 hours. I still don’t know if Breakr was actually responsible for this whole mess. Just know that next time, our eyes will be on you.
Tweets is Watching.
UPDATE: Just saw this screencap from the OG Alex’s timeline.
So it seems my skepticism earlier may have been correct, and Breakr may just be jumping on a bandwagon. Regardless of their honesty, Breakr got the result they were hoping for. They either a) made #AlexFromTarget a thing or b) made enough people think that it was them that made it a thing to get press. I don’t know. I’m confused. I don’t want to think about this anymore because I am worried that everyone on the Internet is lying to me.
Alex, congrats on your newfound fame. Breakr, congrats on whatever it is you accomplished today. And @acl167, maybe find some other ways to spend your time.
I really like the Internet most of the times, but there are moments when things get too weird.
I don’t know why people tweet the things they tweet.
I just like to watch.