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Alex Hirschi, aka Supercar Blondie, presents the Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo in June in Cologne, Germany. Hirschi has 2.3 million YouTube followers.
Alex Hirschi, aka Supercar Blondie, presents the Mercedes-Benz AMG Vision Gran Turismo in June in Cologne, Germany. Hirschi has 2.3 million YouTube followers. (Joshua Sammer/Getty Images)

Alan Enileev won the Need For Speed championship at the World Cyber Games in 2006. Now, at 31, he has transferred his love of all things virtual to the world of cars, waxing rhapsodic about the inner workings of Bugattis and G-Wagens to his 2.1 million Instagram fans.

Enileev is a leader in an increasingly crowded field of high-end automotive influencers. Tim Burton, a Brit who goes by the name of Shmee150, has 1.8 million followers on YouTube; Alex Hirschi, known as Supercar Blondie, has 2.3 million.

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In August, Hirschi helped unveil the Bugatti Centodieci, a $9 million, 1600-horsepower supercar at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California. In October, a single Instagram post from her about an unknown car brand called DS Automobiles earned 2.6 million views and a wave of inquiries about its cars.

“I feel like I’ve widened the interest in the automotive world,” says Hirschi, who prefers the term content creator, rather than influencer.

Hirschi, Burton and Enileev make enough money from their social media content to support comfortable lifestyles in Dubai, England and Russia, respectively and to cover extensive travels to the most glamorous cities and Instagram-worthy hotels in the world. Car companies such as McLaren, Porsche and Lamborghini vie to host them — all expenses paid, plus project rates and appearance fees — to win glowing posts featuring videos of their cars.

“We recognize that to have that contribution, we can really influence the opinion of thousands or millions of people,” says Katia Bassi, Lamborghini’s chief marketing officer.

A car influencer is someone who receives gifts, travel, accommodations or cash in exchange for exposure on their social media channels. That person systematically courts automakers as a business model while not being directly involved in the car business.

In general, car influencers can charge around $10,000 per post for every 1 million followers.

Seb Delanney has about 227,000 Instagram followers and 142,000 YouTube subscribers. He got his first influencing gig at 14 when he received a hat in exchange for wearing it in a video.

“That was what sparked me to think that, eventually, this may become a source of income,” he says.

These days, Delanney says he commands enough money to live well in London. Sometimes Delanney will approach a company with a specific idea about something they can do together, including a road trip, surprising fans or a track day.

“I genuinely think the most hidden fact about this business is the work behind it,” Delanney says. “It’s very competitive, with very long hours and constant thought process required. Social media is 24/7, so you need to work constantly and love what you do accordingly.”

In the never-ending cycle of the social media world, the all-day, every day qualifier is all too real. Comments come in from all over the globe, and engagement with fans requires round-the-clock vigilance.

“I work all the time and find it hard to switch off,” Hirschi says. “You are also at the mercy of the platforms you post on. They tend to favor content creators who post very regularly, meaning if you take a break, the algorithms will work against you.”

The human perspective that influencers provide forms their strongest allure, first for their audiences and, consequently, for the automakers.

“They humanize what we do,” Bentley Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Adrian Hallmark said in Monaco. We sat down for an interview about the company’s new $215,000 Flying Spur; nearby, a young man recorded social media videos about Bentley’s latest trademark fragrance.

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Most influencers are under 30 years old; many are under 25. They are natural allies for automotive brands that have long worked to reach younger buyers. Rolls-Royce, for instance, reports its average buyer is 45 years old, a commendable figure, considering the average age of luxury car buyers is above 50.

“Automakers are smart to be using (influencers) to get the word out about their product to anyone under the age of 60,” says Spike Feresten, who has a successful automotive podcast. “They need to, because while the over-60s are at home reading the newspaper, the rest of us are on social media.”

The numbers are undeniable: About 88% of consumers trust online recommendations as much as face-to-face recommendations, while 70% of teens think that YouTubers are more reliable than celebrities, according to Social Media Today.

Auto companies experience varying degrees of social media engagement for car buyers, ranging from 25% to 75% and higher, depending on the numbers you read. Luxury brands, in general, outpace others when it comes to interactions per post.

Influencers have drawn vociferous critics. Beyond the ambivalence some automakers have about merely speaking about them on the record (Ferrari and BMW, among others, declined to comment), there are significant ethical ramifications to the relationship. When car companies give money, products and travel packages to influencers, those who receive said gifts are expected to play nice.

“Influencers are easily confused with actual car critics, but they’re essentially doing advertisements,” says Jonny Lieberman, a longtime columnist and video presenter at Motor Trend.

Hirschi says she has never claimed to be an expert, just an enthusiast. She also says she rarely, if ever, has to approach brands for paid collaborations the way she used to. Now they reach out to her.

“There are some brands who completely ignore this movement, but I think it’s only going to hurt them in the end,” she says.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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