The term ‘influencer’ is all the buzz and has taken the marketing world by storm. We often don’t think about how different advertising looked just a few decades ago and how quickly the introduction of technology changed the marketing we see today. In these times it’s nearly impossible to scroll through your social media feeds without encountering a sponsored post from your favourite Instagram influencer or watching a YouTube video that seamlessly incorporates a product recommendation. But how did we arrive at this point where influencers hold such sway over consumer choices? To understand the current state of influencer marketing, we must take a journey through its fascinating history.
I bet you didn’t think we’d go as far back as the Romans, but the reality is that people have always been heavily influenced by public figures and ‘celebrities’ of their time. They may not have been called influencers, but in Roman times the most successful gladiators were seen as public celebrities granting them endorsement power over the luxurious wines and oils of the era. Human behaviour has not changed much in this regard with stats reporting that roughly 49% of consumers depend on influencer product recommendations when making a purchasing decision.
Fast forward multiple centuries when advertising began to transition from simple text-based announcements to more visually appealing content. During this period, celebrities and notable personalities were among the first to endorse products, paving the way for what we now call influencer marketing. One of the earliest examples of influencer marketing involved actress Lilly Langtry, who promoted Pear’s soap in the late 1800s. Her endorsement helped establish the brand and set a precedent for future celebrity endorsements.
As we come around to the most notable time in history for economic growth and capitalism, Coca-Cola partnered with the most recognizable figure in North America, Santa Claus. In 1931 Coca-Cola used Santa to relay that even the busiest of people have time to take a break and take a sip of their refreshing beverage. This form of advertising is perhaps the closest form of advertising to the influencer marketing we see today. Santa Claus can be seen as a trusted public figure leading consumers to trust Coca-Cola over their competitors' more generic style ads.
Now this is where things really started to take off in the technological sphere. The 1970s- 1980s spearheaded the turning point for advertising to move from print media to more digital forms of advertising. The first digital camera was introduced in 1975 and by the 1990s the term digital marketing was coined. In 1993 we saw the first-ever clickable web ad banner and a few years later we had the birth of Google in 1998. These revolutionary technological advancements were the beginning of the end for print advertising.
The arrival of the internet and the proliferation of personal websites and blogs marked a significant shift in influencer marketing. Individuals who were passionate about specific topics began creating online content, sharing their expertise, and garnering loyal followers. These early internet influencers, often referred to as "webmasters" or "bloggers," unknowingly laid the foundation for the digital influencer boom.
The social media bomb started with Facebook in 2004, quickly followed by YouTube, and then soon after we saw the birth of Instagram. Although Facebook and YouTube proved effective at product marketing, the real shift began when Instagram took off. Instagram created a platform for millions of people to follow their favourite celebrities, and it didn’t take long for big brands to recognize the value of such a partnership. It’s reported that roughly 82% of consumers trust social media to persuade their purchasing decisions. In the beginning years of Instagram, the celebrities at the forefront of the social scene were those in reality TV. Think Jersey Shore and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Over time, however, celebrities were not the most trusted source for consumers when it came to product recommendations. It quickly became clear that those who held the most sway with their followers held their trust because of their values, their content, and the messaging they relayed. Women in particular are especially influenced by their favorite influencers with roughly 53% making purchases due to an influencer they trust promoting it. Statistics like the one previously mentioned show the sway influencers have on their followers and explains why so many companies are jumping on board and starting their own influencer marketing campaigns.
Social media influencers and this style of marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The influencer marketing industry is expected to hit 22.3 billion by 2024 with more and more brands seeing value in partnering with trusted and influential online personalities. Micro and nano influencers in particular will continue to gain notability into 2024 due to their ability to have a more centralized reach. Working with micro-influencers instead of macro influencers can make or break your influencer marketing success, so it’s important to understand which influencers are right for you.
For the brands still skeptical about taking the leap into influencer marketing, Embold’s got you covered. We offer a plethora of resources and tools to get you started including Embold’s new Free platform. Start influencing today!