The traditional concept of fame has dramatically shifted in the 21st century. TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram have democratized fame, shifting the sphere of influence which has been traditionally held by public figures in the realms of sports, film, and music. With the rise of social media platforms, a new breed of celebrities has emerged—Influencers. These digital trendsetters, armed with massive online followings, are reshaping numerous sectors from fashion to marketing, and now, they’re impacting the world of autographed trading cards.
In the past, autograph cards were typically associated with revered figures from sports or the entertainment industry. Today, as younger generations who grew up watching MrBeast as much as Tom Holland cultivate their interests in an increasingly digital environment, they find influencers as intriguing and inspiring as conventional celebrities. It is this shift in perception that has paved the way for the intriguing trend of influencer autograph cards—a trend laden with both enthusiastic acceptance and intense controversy as old-school collectors heckle the trend.
The Birth of Influencer Autograph Cards: Tracing its Roots
The genesis of influencer autograph cards can be traced at least as far back as the advent of Benchwarmer cards. Benchwarmer International was a pioneer in introducing a unique spin to the traditional autograph card format by featuring autograph cards from models like former PlayBoy model Sara Underwood who has now established herself as a prominent influencer. Founded in 1992 by Brian Wallos, their cards marked a significant step away from the norm, while still capitalizing on the heavily male-dominated card-collecting hobby.
Though met with initial skepticism from traditional collectors, the Benchwarmer cards demonstrated a change in the perception of fame, and it wasn’t long before these signed cards started gaining traction. With these sets, Benchwarmer set a precedent that proved that it wasn’t just football players whose autographs were worth collecting, but the cheerleaders and models on the sidelines as well.
Influencer Branding and the Evolution of Autograph Cards
Fast forward to 2022, Leaf, another card-producing company, took a bold step and announced the introduction of an autograph card for someone specifically branded as an “influencer”—Livvy Dunne, who is a renowned gymnast. While this wasn’t their first influencer card, Livvy’s was and still is their most prominent release to date.
While not unprecedented, the influencer branding did touch on a cultural zeitgeist that marks a shift in the power balance between traditional celebrities and modern content creators.
Of course, no change is met without controversy. The trading card featuring Livvy Dunne clad in athletic wear made her the poster child for young female influencers who have found overwhelming success on platforms like TikTok. Given that the internet is, well, the internet, it’s perhaps unsurprising that her card was met with a surge of dissenting opinions that flooded social media.
Many viewed Livvy’s card as the cardboard equivalent of a thirst trap and derided would-be purchasers as simps. Despite the criticism, Leaf’s print-to-order set saw an edition size of 1,127, which according to Leaf CEO Brian Gray outsold virtually any autograph card that they’ve ever offered.
Selling at $89.99 each, the limited run generated an impressive $101,419 in revenue for the card company. This incredible show of support by consumers is in stark contrast to the naysayers who derided the trend online.
The Allure of Influencer Autograph Cards
Despite the surge of online criticism, the popularity of influencer autograph cards continues to rise, pointing towards a cultural shift that traditionalists might still be grappling with. But what exactly is the allure of these cards? To put it simply, these cards represent a tangible link to personalities who have already captured the imagination of millions. To many, these influencers, both men and women, are more relatable than traditional celebrities, their lives more accessible through the windows of Instagram or TikTok. An autograph card, therefore, serves as a direct connection to an influencer they admire or aspire to emulate.
Collecting these cards can be seen as an act of fandom, a way of owning a piece of the influencers’ digital existence. From models to singers to YouTube stars, the breadth of these influencers provides something for everyone. Whether it’s the 2023 Leaf Pop Century Influencer Grace Charis Golf Autograph Card for golf enthusiasts or the 2022 Leaf Billy McFarland Pop Century Influencer Fyre Festival CEO Autograph Card for those interested in the infamous event’s history, the variety is limitless. Influencers who have transitioned from different sectors, like Jake Paul, a YouTuber turned professional boxer, have found their cards, such as the 2022 Leaf Jake Paul Pop Century Influencer Autograph Card, being sought after by different kinds of fans.
This trend even extends to influencers from non-traditional sectors, such as Rachel Luba, a sports agent who broke gender barriers in Major League Baseball. Her 2023 Leaf Rachel Luba Influencer Autograph Card and similar ones, like the 2022 Topps Allen And Ginter Kendall Toole Mini Autograph Card, represent a new breed of influencers who are not just personalities, but also pioneers in their respective fields.
But above all, these cards serve as a testament to the influencers’ enduring popularity and their impact on contemporary culture. Despite the mixed reactions, there’s no denying that these autograph cards have become an integral part of pop culture collectibles.
Influencer Autographs and the Rise of Parasocial Relationships
Influencer autograph cards hold a unique allure, particularly when viewed through the lens of parasocial relationships – a term coined by sociologists to define one-sided, emotional connections often formed between fans and celebrities. Today, these relationships have become increasingly prevalent with the rise of social media influencers. Their digital platforms allow followers to indulge in the illusion of a personal, intimate connection, despite the relationship being largely nonreciprocal.
In some sense, autographs are a way to close the loop on the parasocial relationship. They serve as a way for celebrities and influencers to connect personally and physically with their fans. These cards serve as a tangible symbol of the connection fans feel they share with these online personalities. Collecting an influencer’s autograph card is not merely an act of fandom but also a manifestation of the investment in the parasocial relationship. The card, bearing the influencer’s signature, becomes a physical representation of the virtual bond, connecting the realms of the digital and physical world for the follower. For a fan deeply entrenched in this one-sided relationship, owning such a card feels akin to owning a personal memento from a close friend.
As the digital age continues to reshape how we perceive celebrities and fame, the intersection of influencer autograph cards and parasocial relationships becomes even more pronounced. The popularity of these cards highlights the evolving landscape of fandom and the significant role that parasocial relationships now play in our consumption of popular culture. This trend also poses a valuable question about the future of collectibles and how the concept of celebrity and fandom might continue to change.
The Future of Signed Influencer Trading Cards
The demand for influencer autograph cards is a clear indication of how the perception of celebrity has evolved in recent years. Despite the controversy and dissenting opinions, the success of these cards points towards an undeniable truth—influencers have become an integral part of our culture. As the digital realm continues to grow and redefine what it means to be a celebrity, it’s likely that the trend of influencer autograph cards will not only persist, but also evolve and grow, reflecting the changing dynamics of fame in the digital age.
From the sidelines of sporting events to the frontlines of social media influence, the rise of influencer autograph cards mirrors our changing society. As we move further into the digital era, one can only anticipate what new trends will emerge from the intersection of traditional hobbies and modern influences. The influencer autograph card, a blend of the old and the new, stands as a fascinating symbol of this crossroads.