A construction worker in Austin, Texas, who recently shot to social media fame for becoming an "anti-influencer influencer" on Instagram is actually an experimental marketing project for a local coffee shop, BuzzFeed News has learned.
Only created in May, @justaconstructionguy already has more than 366,000 followers. It featured a guy named "Omar," an average construction worker and dad who's ribbing on influencer culture for fun.
However, Omar is not actually running the account that is using his likeness, nor does he have much of a hand in it.
Instead, the account is the brainchild of Mike McKim, the owner of Austin's Cuvée Coffee. He told BuzzFeed News the idea for the account came from a "creative brainstorming session" about a month ago.
"The whole idea was what we always thought as an influencer, and what we used as an influencer in the past, they don’t always fit our brand," he said. "We need a different type of influencer: a hard-worker, blue-collar guy."
So, McKim worked with an advertising agency called Bandolier Media to create the "Omar" persona. He wouldn't tell BuzzFeed News Omar's last name but said he is an actual construction worker in the area.
Soon, the account went viral after a tweet from user @barbzlovescarbs.
In the tweet, @barbzlovescarbs told an entirely different and falsely heartwarming narrative. They claimed "Omar" was their father, and he created his own account to prove to his kid that he could become an influencer.
The tweet, which has since either been deleted or made private, claimed the user's dad "asked me what an influencer was."
"And after I explained, he said 'Pshh, I could do that.' Well...he did," the tweet said. The user then linked the Instagram account, along with several posts.
@barbzlovescarbs did not respond to inquiries from BuzzFeed News. McKim told BuzzFeed News he has no idea who tweeted the fake story, and Bandolier Media didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The false tweet and narrative about Omar and his Instagram account was then shared across multiple platforms and websites over the past few days, which accounted for much of the account's huge growth.
Popular meme-aggregator account @middleclassfancy (1.3 million followers) shared the tweet, and tagged @justaconstructionguy. Their post has gone viral with over 146,000 likes, and commenters are flooding the post saying they've "instantly followed" Omar's account.
The same tweet was also shared to Reddit's r/wholesomememes community. The user who shared it, Zazazing7, told BuzzFeed News they discovered it from another popular Instagram aggregator account and felt compelled to share it because it put "a huge smile on [his] face" and he thought Omar was "a cool guy."
The Reddit user then noted that he's tried to contact "Omar" about being a fan and has not gotten a response.
Despite the thousands of comments from fans gushing over the @justaconstructionguy account and applauding it for being a personal silly pet project from, well, just a construction worker, there are several indicators that the account is entirely advertorial, and branded to Cuvée Coffee.
For one, "Coffee Lover" is listed in the bio of the page, along with the — pun intended — constructed identities of "Father & Husband" and "In Construction."
While some of Omar's posts include #sponcon tags to mock influencer posts, @cuveecoffee is also specifically tagged in several posts on the page.
Also, for someone who works in construction, his professional-grade photos show vests and hard hats that seem to have little to no wear.
McKim told BuzzFeed News he and the team from Bandolier Media intended to have "fun" creating "Omar."
"When we go into the coffee bar in the morning, there's a line of guys in hard hats and vests," said McKim, who described his store as being "surrounded by construction."
"What’s cool about it is we are a premium coffee shop, and they are very comfortable coming in and ordering coffees and ordering lattes," he added.
His clientele led McKim to have the idea to make an influencer page that will also shill his coffee shop brand and products.
"We started talking about construction guys, and so [Bandolier Media] reached out to Omar and said, 'Do you want to have some fun?' And he said 'What’s social media? Instagram? Huh?' He said, 'I don't know how to do it,' so we said, 'All right, we’ll help you; let’s just have some fun with it.'"
According to McKim, Omar is compensated for the professional photo shoots. Every other aspect of conceiving, posting, and marketing the account was taken over by Bandolier.
"There is no monetization of the account at this point," McKim said. "The intention was let's get an influencer who fits our brand. There has been no payment, $0 exchanged for Omar other than [the photo shoot] payment."
McKim added their initial goal was to get the @justaconstructionguy account to just 1,000 followers.
"This has taken a life of its own," he said. "None of us expected this. I think it's super cool. We're all having fun with it."
McKim also suggested that Omar could have some access, autonomy, and/or ownership to the branded account in the future.
"We just need to sit down, and if he's able to monetize his account, that's perfectly fine," he added.
No matter where the narrative of the origin of the account came from, it has been a huge hit among fans. And that's all McKim, his coffee shop, the Austin-based ad agency, and even Omar are concerned with at the moment.
"The whole genesis started with the construction around us, which led to to construction workers being in our coffee shop," he said. "Let’s create the influencers — I shouldn’t say create...let’s find the influencer — that we couldn’t find. We pay them to make posts for us. That was the goal."
"Sometimes traditional influencers just don't feel genuine," he added.