The World Record Egg, now the most-liked photo on Instagram, appears to have ties to a British ad agency that has been involved in other viral stunts in the past.
@World_Record_Egg launched on Instagram on Jan. 4 with the goal of beating Kylie Jenner to be the most-liked photo on the platform. The picture itself is just a stock image of a single brown egg.
It only took 10 days for the account to reach its goal. It has since blown Jenner out of the water with more than 51 million likes. The account also boasts 9.7 million followers. It's been covered by numerous media outlets and even got an official response from Jenner herself.
On Friday, it was revealed the egg had a partnership with Hulu.
"The wait is over 😅 All will be revealed this Sunday following the Super Bowl 👀 Watch it first, only on @hulu," said a message along with a new image of the egg edited to look like a football.
The account holder has remained anonymous. The "egg" would sometimes respond to messages from the media, once telling BuzzFeed News it was a chicken named Henrietta "from the British countryside." In other interviews, it said its name was Eugene.
It also told the Independent the account is run by "an individual living in London," so it's mostly been talked about as if it's the brainchild of a single, quirky individual.
And while that may be how it started, a BuzzFeed News review of early Twitter and Instagram discussion about the egg, as well as a message sent to BuzzFeed by someone claiming to know the account's creator, uncovered connections between the World Record Egg and employees of the London branch of The&Partnership, an ad agency with clients such as Lexus International and Kraft Heinz.
All roads seem to lead back to Chris Godfrey, a creative with The&Partnership, who broke a monthslong Twitter hiatus to retweet one of the earliest mentions on Twitter about the egg. He has since deleted his account.
The original tweet came from Matt Navarra, a social media consultant who tweeted several updates about the egg. When reached by BuzzFeed News, Navarra neither confirmed nor denied having a role in the egg and declined to comment further.
On Jan. 10, BuzzFeed News was contacted by Alex Micu, a digital director for a different agency in London who said he was reaching out "on behalf of my friend Chris who set up an Instagram page for an egg." Micu is friends with Godfrey on Facebook and has also been active on Twitter talking about the egg.
Micu even reached out to celebrities in an attempt to draw attention to the egg. He asked Chrissy Teigen to help "us" get the egg to its goal.
When reached by BuzzFeed News, Micu declined to comment on the egg owner's identity.
"All I can say is that it all started as something fun. Didn't think anyone imagined it would get so huge," he said.
In an article for Mashable, Nikolay Nikolov wrote that he knew the person behind the egg and that they once attracted viral attention from both BuzzFeed and late-night host Seth Meyers. In 2013, Godfrey created Christmas Tinner — a full Christmas dinner in a tin that was covered by BuzzFeed and discussed on air by Meyers on Saturday Night Live.
In that anonymous Independent interview, the egg said its owner's Instagram had just 400 followers — which is the roughly same number as Godfrey's personal account.
Godfrey himself has not responded to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Christian Hinchcliffe, chief marketing officer for The&Partnership, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Godfrey works in the agency's creative department, but "The&Partnership was not the originator of the idea."
It's unclear whether the agency's current involvement with the egg is, but several of the agency's employees have also been talking about the egg publicly since the egg's earliest days.
This is a tweet from Dylan Mouratsing, who does audience planning at the agency, celebrating the egg hitting over 2 million likes:
He also tweeted "#EggSoldiers for life."
Sarah Clark, a joint managing director with The&Partnership in London, retweeted one of the first mentions of the egg on Twitter.
Dan Beckett, an employee at the agency's North America branch, posted this to his Instagram story around the same time.
Since the egg hit its initial goal, it has posted three photos, each showing the egg cracking just a little bit more. The Atlantic's Taylor Lorenz reported that Jerry Media — the same guys tasked with social media for the failed Fyre Festival — was working with the egg in an "unofficial capacity." They pitched an anti-Trump message from Need to Impeach as the big reveal, but Need to Impeach passed.
In the same piece, experts speculated on the potentially enormous value of calling dibs on being the big reveal.
"Being the first brand to crack out of the egg is worth at least $10 million,” Nik Sharma, the head of the digital agency VaynerMedia’s direct-to-consumer business, told the Atlantic.
Jerry Media has not responded to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Initially, the egg had all the markings of a counterculture campaign. If a woman like Kylie Jenner who's famous for being famous can get millions of likes, why not this dumb stock image of an egg? Taking part in driving up the egg's numbers offered a sense of irony, a way to stick it to the Instagram celebrities of the world.
Perhaps that's why many fans of the egg didn't respond well to the reveal that the egg's final form would be sponsored by Hulu. "So this whole thing was a fucking add [sic]," said one person on Instagram. "What a fucking let down," said another.
It remains unclear whether the egg started as a fun exercise in viral social media that later turned into a marketing ploy, or if it was destined to be an ad from the start.
What is clear, however, is that ad industry employees at a specific agency had a vested interest from the beginning in promoting the egg, and that public descriptions of its owner line up with the bio of Chris Godfrey.
On Sunday evening we'll finally know the egg's grand purpose, which, like so many other things on Instagram, may have just been about profiting from influence all along.