Fashion

How Marta Mae Freedman’s Air Milkshake Became the Internet Age’s Gift Sequel

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The penthouse at 1 Hotel West Hollywood is covered in mushroom and marijuana-inspired flowers, candles burn, and the coffee table is draped in a tie-dye blanket covered in dozens of products you’ve probably seen all over your Instagram feed . That’s it for the fifth edition of a curated giveaway experience called Air Milkshake: for four days, artists, models, designers, and yes, people with hundreds of thousands of followers, will come to the suite to a private meeting where they will be presented to more than 30 brands. Deals run the gamut, from natural laundry detergent and emergency contraception to swimwear and a wearable blanket. Everything smells good, everything is cute and everything is free.

Air Milkshake is the brainchild of Marta Mae Freedman, a 32-year-old Los Angeles-based creative entrepreneur who has done everything from working in-house at Depop, co-creating the cannabis newsletter Nice Paper, and co-founding the cult label of Gods skin care. Freedman understands brands, and she uses that expertise to create the bespoke Air Milkshake giveaway experience for more than 100 influencers — or creators, as she’s taken to calling them — twice a year. (Air Milkshake started out as a silly nickname for Freedman’s favorite oat milk latte at La Colombe which she later used to name her LLC and is currently copyrighting). You could say the event is Freedman’s passion project, but giveaways are also a booming business, where brands, in addition to contributing products, pay money just to be involved (Freedman declined to disclose the exact amount).

Before launching the giveaway suite in the summer of 2021, Freedman had experience connecting his network of fabulous girlfriends with brands. “I’m such a great people person, I think being a connector is one of my gifts,” she says over coffee at Soho Warehouse. (While writing this article, she also insisted that I experience the sequel as a guest.) Her network is also full of women-owned brands. She hit home executing giveaway strategies for then-direct-to-consumer Parade underwear and her friends’ Starface pimple patches (both of which have since exploded and are now available at Target). If you see an indie brand suddenly becoming ubiquitous (think Fly from Jing Chili Crisp or Nap Dress from Hill House), they’re probably involved.

The Gift Suite isn’t necessarily a new concept; star-studded events usually have a corner filled with big-ticket bags for celebrities to take home. One at the Oscars is rumored to contain over $30,000 in loot. But Freedman’s highly personal approach to choosing both brands and influencers stands apart from the gift bags left under seats at red carpet events. From the outside, the offerings may seem random. Activewear sits alongside girly dresses, eyelash serum alongside green juice gummies. Some brands are tiny, some are international chains, some are under $20, some are over $200. The only requirement to include is Freedman’s co-sign. Everyone involved must trust him.

Logistically, she ensures there is no overlap of product types and considers both the brand’s packaging style and sustainability efforts. It aims to highlight feminine and minority brands, such as Ourside perfume and Ceremonia, haircare, alongside big names like Vans and Tillys. Not everyone makes the cut. The quality of the products is what entices its audience to be invited back and therefore incentivized to post and share.

Jessica Howe
Jessica Howe
Jessica Howe
Jessica Howe

On his podcast Unbalanced with Amrit, DJ and music consultant Amrit Tietz called Air Milkshake the “Oscars of gift suites”. An invite is a status symbol, and creators show loyalty and affiliation by tagging Air Milkshake as often as they tag brands. But instead of inviting mainstream celebrities or the cohesive group of influencers with the same mega following she’s seen at other influencer events, Freedman decided to select every attendee, focusing on ” creative entrepreneurs,” many of whom have businesses outside of content creation. Guests in this year’s Spring Suite include fashion designer Rachael “Steak” Finley, podcaster Noor Elkhaldi, manicurist Steph Stone and model Yaris Sanchez.

Unlike traditional influencer seeding, where a consultant or publicist provides a brand with a list of creators that match the desired demographic (Freedman also does this), Air Milkshake’s guest list is entirely at their discretion. . Brands have no say in who comes, and every guest gets every freebie — no sad rack for those with fewer followers. Some participants have followings as low as 5,000.

All around us, the free shit economy seems to be booming. Showing gifted products has gone from a taboo to a flex. Everyday people tag products they’ve purchased, hoping to be reposted and maybe one day gifted. Due to the abundance of free promotional posts, the value of low effort and inauthentic content from influencers has become almost meaningless. Audiences, especially Gen Z, are reluctant to be blatantly advertised. Any brand can manually send hundreds of direct messages a day collecting addresses to send free products with varying results. For many brands, the Air Milkshake fee is worth it for the guest selection alone. As brands struggle to achieve that ever-elusive goal of authenticity in an over-saturated market, having the right person to do what looks like an organic recommendation is invaluable advertising. Of the 31 brands in the spring suite, nine are returning.

Jessica Howe
Jessica Howe
Jessica Howe
Jessica Howe

The legislator hastened to follow this new form of product placement. In the United States, laws regarding the disclosure of endorsements are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and when it comes to acknowledging gifted products in unpaid, non-contractual posts, things can get murky. A savvy audience may be able to tell when a product is being offered, but it’s not unrealistic to anticipate that #gifted disclosure will be required in the future, much like the #ad hashtags that celebrities like the Kardashians were fined for not using. In a suite of giveaways like Air Milkshake, guests are expected but not required to post on their loot.

“Not everything is for everyone, we know that,” Freedman says. “If I give you a bag of 30 brands, you’re not going to like everything. You’re not going to make 30 posts, but there’s a chance you might like half of them and want to share over the next few months. I still see postings of the sequel every day in August 2022.”

Rather, what Freedman is looking for is a slow burn. Air Milkshake attendees receive no hashtags, discount codes, or links. For some brands, value can be intangible, measured in vibrations, not spreadsheets. It can be beneficial for a brand to align with unexpected creators whose social media posts aren’t obstructed by three ads a week. Freedman admits that there is always at least one guest who does not post at all. They are not invited back.

“Attendees can always expect thoughtful and surprising content from Air Milkshake guests, never your run-of-the-mill unboxing,” says Freedman’s friend Julie Schott, founder of Starface, Futurewise and More. Her latest brand, a morning-after pill called Julie, was featured in the spring sequel.

In the Air Milkshake suite at 1 Hotel, no detail is overlooked. There are pink milkshake centerpieces that complement the dinner-style laminate menus describing each brand. It’s easy to imagine Freedman taking the project to the next level. Its goal is to curate experiences for the rest of us, things like hotel mini-bars filled with the best new products. Currently, those lucky enough to be invited to Air Milkshake walk away with a 30-pound bag of goods that only a master Tetris player could pack. Items they have selected from sample racks will arrive in their sizes in the coming weeks. It would make a huge unboxing video, but the “angels” of Air Milkshake, as Freedman calls them, know better than to post something as obvious as this.



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