A tweet by respected automotive journalist and TopGear host Chris Harris has recently set off what he has later described as a “kerfuffle,” prompting social media users to launch into their own minor whodunit, questioning which influencer had overstepped the mark.
The series of events started when Harris tweeted about an influencer offering Ian Litchfield, of Litchfield Motors, the chance to install the tuning company’s suspension components on a project car. The catch was that the independent parts maker would have to provide the suspension FOC, stump up a sum of £25,000 (around $34,500 at current exchange rates), plus pay a percentage of future sales. Harris stopped short of naming the individual or organization, simply saying “He knows who he is,” and that Harris may reveal the name “one day.”
An influencer just offered my pal @Litchfield_UK the chance for him to put suspension on his Yaris GR for free and pay him £25k for the privilege, plus a percentage of future sales. He knows who he is. Might tell you his name one day. Shameful.
— chris harris (@harrismonkey) February 8, 2021
The tweet sent social media into a guessing game. As the GR Yaris is the number one hot property in the influencer market, several social media stars seemed to fit the bill.
In one reply to the tweet, it was suggested the vlogger in question might have been Shmee150, to which his manager, Marc Rutten, leaped forward with an immediate denial, saying, “we would never ask such a thing.”
It is not @Shmee150. We would never ask such a thing. What James has done here, is a disgrace to our community. First he steals the idea of our successful Red RS project, then he sees our Yaris project & decides he can ask this kind of money at our friends at @Litchfield_UK
— Marc Rutten aka MR (@MarcRutten) February 8, 2021
Rutten proceeded to call out an individual named ‘James’ for not only stealing the idea of Shmee’s successful “Red RS project”, but for copying the same concept with regards to their ongoing GR Yaris. Although Rutten’s tweet didn’t tag any individual, the internet quickly pointed fingers on YouTuber, James William Walker, otherwise known as Mr. JWW.
Mr. JWW, co-founder of The Production Bunker, is described on his website as a writer for The Sunday Times and a presenter across various channels, ranging from Formula E to product launches and car adverts. His YouTube channel has over 600,000 subscribers, while his Instagram page has just under 350,000 followers.
Two days after the initial tweet, Harris released a podcast, hosting Ian Litchfield as a guest. Harris, along with co-presenter Edward Lovett, went over some of the incident’s finer points, while questioning his own stance on the matter, and whether Harris himself may have been out of touch with the modern age of influencer marketing. Litchfield, who claims to be a small independent parts maker with narrow margins, went on to clarify that the request for £25,000 plus commissions was made out of the blue, via a cold call.
A day later, Walker issued a statement via Instagram towards the “false claims being circulated.” In a lengthy message, he denies ever having direct contact with Litchfield Motors, and would not endorse the practices mentioned in the initial post. He does, however, go on to say that an agency he worked with did in fact contact Litchfield, but that conversations had been ongoing, refuting the “cold call” accusation.
Walker went on to reiterate that he does enter commercial agreements from time to time. “I only ever do so where the commercial agreement is beneficial both to the channel and to the client,” says the post on the Mr. JWW page. “I have invited the 3rd party involved to join me on a podcast; I’d like to address this situation in person. In the interests of total transparency on my part, I believe this is what the audience deserves!”
What do you think about the situation? Was Harris right to call out what he believed were unethical practices? Should Litchfield Motors have refrained from disclosing the communications, or are influencers justified in making sponsorship demands?