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The History of Influencer Marketing


The History of Influencer Marketing

While the ROI on Influencer marketing is still debatable, the concept has become a popular medium for brands and advertisers to include in their marketing mix. But where did it all begin? Did it only start recently? Or was it around for longer?  Sit back and relax, as  Communicate takes you on a field trip through the influencer marketing timeline.

The 1760s

In advertising folklore, it is said that the Queen and the Pope used to endorse medicine for the benefit of the common people. So technically, they were the first influencers in the history of influencer marketing, promoting the use of medicine to people who weren’t believers yet. In the 1760’s, King George III endorsed the pottery of Josiah Wedgwood, giving it his royal stamp of approval. Mr. Wedgwood used his newfound “celebrity” endorsement to advertise and sell his products. The King’s endorsement boosted Wedgwood’s reputation against his competition in the market at the time.


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The Davis Milling Company created Aunt Jemima, a jovial woman with a big grin as the face of their pancake mix. The character appeared in all the brand’s packaging and advertisements, giving the product a personal touch. Davis also combined the Aunt Jemima look with a catchy tune from the Vaudeville circuit to make the Aunt Jemima brand. To further personify the brand, Nancy Green, a former slave was hired by the company in 1890 to be the spokesperson of their pancake mix.


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One of the earliest records of celebrity endorsements was the partnership between Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a silent film actor and Murad Cigarettes, a Turkish brand of cigarettes. Arbuckle was not a personal endorser of Murad. It is said that the brand wanted Arbuckle to actually smoke the cigarettes on stage as part of the endorsement. However, Arbuckle wasn’t willing to do so. He was worried that he’d develop a cough, or that the cigarettes would ruin his voice. He did, however, agree to promote the cigarettes in print.



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Coca-Cola’s influencer marketing history began in 1931 when the company introduced the image of Santa Claus in their advertisements.  Santa Claus had multiple iterations prior to this. Archie Lee, an executive at D’Arcy Advertising Agency, worked alongside Coca-Cola in 1931 for the campaign, which would highlight a new kind of Santa. He wanted Santa to be more realistic than just a man playing dress-up. Lee and Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint the initial advertising images. His version of Santa was an instant hit with audiences and for the brand, providing a nation whose spirits had been crippled by the Great Depression with hope and delight.


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With the success of Aunt Jemima and Santa Claus, many brands began creating their own characters to act as advocates and influencers for their products. One such example is Tony the Tiger from Kellogg’s cereal. In 1952, there was a contest to decide who would grace the front box of sugar-frosted flakes. A competition was held between four characters to see who would be most popular with the American public. Tony the Tiger won and has been the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes ever since. While these characters were owned by the businesses themselves, they gave a friendly face to big corporations, making them more approachable and trustworthy in the eyes of the consumer.


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Nearly a decade ago, Old Spice produced one of the biggest and most successful campaigns of all time. The 30-second ad featuring former NFL star turned actor, Isaiah Mustafa, was aired a few days before the Super Bowl and also the day after the game. Because of its humor, delivery and direction style, the ad went viral, and the brand along with it. As a result, the company’s sales doubled, their website traffic increased by 300%, the Old Spice YouTube channel became the number one most viewed sponsored YouTube Channel, and Old Spice became the number one body wash brand for men. Campaigns such as these helped pave the way for the world of influencer marketing as we know it today.

2010 – Present day

During this decade, social media grew into a cultural phenomenon with a variety of platforms entering the space. Around the same time, bloggers and online content creators began to gain a huge following for their humor and expertise on various subject matters. This gave birth to a new breed of influencers. Gone are the days when brands used to rely mainly on celebrity endorsements and advertisements. The new generation has disrupted trends in consumer behavior and changed the history of influencer marketing as we knew it. They need social proof before they decide to buy anything.  One of the other prime reasons why social media influencers became so popular was because of how achievable their lifestyles were as compared to that of celebrities, refreshing takes on topics, etc.

The landscape has changed dramatically and with the Influencer marketing industry projected to become a $15 billion business by the year 2022, brands have to adapt and adjust their strategies to be able to reach and engage with a wider audience

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