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Who is it, who is it, who is it underneath the stars? Image: Archi Banal
Who is it, who is it, who is it underneath the stars? Image: Archi Banal

Pop CultureMay 22, 2023

Who’s writing all those Google Reviews?

Who is it, who is it, who is it underneath the stars? Image: Archi Banal
Who is it, who is it, who is it underneath the stars? Image: Archi Banal

Alex Casey talks to one of New Zealand’s most prolific and passionate Google Reviewers about why they do it.

When planning a visit to a new place like Paeroa’s L&P Bottle or Huka Falls, you might naturally want to check out the Google Reviews first. How else can you steel yourself for a “big bottle that smells like wee” or the “dirty brown water” that awaits? When buying a yummy treat, how else will you prepare your palate for a cookie that tastes like “tux dog biscuits” and might even give you diarrhoea? Google Reviews now make up a whopping 73% of all online reviews, an essential daily resource for answering the eternal question: is this thing good or bad? 

While many peruse Google Reviews as curious consumers, others see it as a platform for colourful creativity and personal revelations. Embracing poetic language, lashings of nostalgia and sprinkles of intimacy, Google Reviews also provide a window into the inner workings of our fellow New Zealanders. “If I ever have someone special 😝 we will have our first date here 🤣”, one reviewer wrote of Rainbow’s End. “Plenty to do,” wrote another of New Zealand’s premier theme park. “Only problem was tomato sauce on a chicken burger.” Tell me more!

Occasionally, you might even stumble upon a reviewer whose name you recognise. And, more often than not, that name will belong to one Colin Mathura-Jeffree. The former New Zealand’s Next Top Model host and man about town has 626 contributions to his name, a thrilling mix of high society Auckland – Depot (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), The Northern Club (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), Smith and Caughey’s (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) – alongside the mundane likes of St Lukes Mall (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐), Z Energy Papakura (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) and KFC Point Chevalier (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐). 

“I do throw the five stars around a lot,” Mathura-Jeffree cackles over the phone. “It takes a lot for me to pull it down to a four star or less.” He doesn’t recall the subject of his first Google Review, but knows exactly how it came about. “My phone kept tracking me saying, ‘you’re here. You’re there’,” he explains. “It’s totally Big Brother, but I’ve got nothing to hide. And then one day my phone came up with this surprise question: ‘You were just at this cafe – do you want to review it?’ And I was like, ‘yes, sure, OK’.”

Colin Mathura-Jeffree loves to dish out five stars. Image: Getty

He also remembers how writing his first ever Google Review made him feel. “I liked the freedom of it. I felt really satisfied doing it.” Compared to being “bullied and pushed around by faux clients” who ask him to say certain things about brands on his social media channels, Mathura-Jeffree finds Google Reviews a much more honest and earnest space. There, he says, he can “control the narrative” on everything from Maungawhau (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – “Beautiful place to walk”), to Farmers LynnMall (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐– “Clean. Open. Great variety.”)

Data analysis of Mathura-Jeffree’s review repertoire also reveals not one, not two, but five different McDonald’s franchises reviewed. “That’s just me, I’m the real deal,” he laughs. “I love a dirty burger joint.” He admits to regularly going to McDonald’s restaurants before a supermarket shop (New World Alberton ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐– “Clean. Fresh. Nice Staff”). “I’m a maniac when I’m hungry. And you know those supermarkets are built so that your eyes wander towards all the things that you don’t need.”

Your eyes may also wander to the hundreds of photos that Mathura-Jeffree uploads alongside his reviews. Shots of Domino’s pizzas taken so close that they feel positively pornographic. Glasses of prosecco. Bowls of squid rings. “I’ll take a photo of food and I’ll catch that look from the person at the table next to me, giving an expression like they’re sniffing poo,” Mathura-Jeffree says. “I just tell them ‘Oh no, it’s not like that, it’s for my Google Review!’” There’s also selfies – lots of selfies. 

“I’ll take a bunch of photos of the beautiful meal I’m having and then flip it back on myself and go ‘OK, now me’.”

A selection of Colin’s Google Review selfies

Like many Google Reviews, Mathura-Jeffree’s oeuvre reveals a lot about the writer. Where other Google Reviewers denigrate St Lukes Mall with its “bird poo covered trolleys” and “filthy young people in their nike shoes”, Mathura-Jeffree’s review (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) is much more sentimental: “I went Christmas shopping there as a child in the 70s. I would hang around after school with my friends in the 80s. There was a restaurant we ate at as a family. Worked part time in there after school. So many changes. So many memories.” 

“I love weaving history into my reviews, because we all have history with places,” says Mathura-Jeffree. “The biggest treasure that we have in our lives are our memories. We can’t live in the past, but we can wear the memory like a jewel.”

Google Reviews, especially when written by Mathura-Jeffree, clearly have an emotional impact, but what impact do they actually have on businesses? Bodo Lang, professor in marketing at Massey University, says that online reviews are hugely influential in consumer decision-making. “They can sway consumers from one brand to another, shift market shares, penalise poor performing brands, and reward businesses that are exceeding customer expectations,” he says. “Such online reviews are particularly important when the purchase includes an element of risk.”

There’s value in “the wisdom of the crowd”, says Lang. “Consumers can get incredible insights about brands and products by listening to those who have genuinely used those brands,” he says. “So next time you buy and use a product or experience a service, consider leaving a review to help other consumers make the best possible decisions.” Conversely, if you have a bad experience, it can be useful to share to stop people making the same mistakes (Countdown St Lukes ⭐⭐ – “honestly how cheap are these bags that can’t hold 4 (average) items?”)

RIP to this bag. Image: Google Reviews

Lang says it is important that businesses respond to reviews, particularly if they raise specific questions. “Speed, empathy and being positive are highly important when crafting replies to online comments,” he says. “Businesses can easily do more damage by responding negatively or blaming customers publicly.” Sometimes that response can even move offline – Mathura-Jeffree recounts leaving a negative review of a supermarket after he was searched twice for shoplifting, and receiving a call from an unknown number asking him to remove it. 

Despite the ominous threats, Mathura-Jeffree has no plans to slow down his Google Reviewing. “It’s a reciprocal love language between AI and me. Artificial Intelligence Google and artificially intelligent Colin,” he laughs. His parting words were three pieces of wisdom for budding reviewers out there. 

“One: it’s fun to review things, so have fun. Two: try and have as optimistic an outlook as possible, because people need the love and candy right now.

“And three: if you don’t like it, you can always leave.”

Keep going!