A Brief History Of Influencer Marketing

Influencer has been the buzzword for marketers during the last few years! However, the idea of influencers is not new. Let us take you on a brief journey through the history of influencer marketing.

The Early Stages Of Influencer Marketing

The first influencers in the history of influencer marketing can be traced back to the early 20th century. In the 1920s, there were only a few brands on the market shaping the product-centered marketing 1.0. Brands of this market created personas to trigger the purchase decisions of consumers emotionally.

Santa Claus is probably the most popular figure in the history of influencer marketing at least in western countries. The bearded, cuddly man we know today was made up by Coca-Cola and is far more than just a single-brand influencer by now. Another well-known character is Tony the Tiger, who graces Kellogg’s packaging.

Sieh dir diesen Beitrag auf Instagram an

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Coca-Cola Deutschland (@cocacola_de) am

No one back then used the term “influencers” to describe these characters but comparable to the influencers nowadays, they had a similar effect and interestingly, these influencers have lasted till today. These characters increased the likelihood that consumers would sympathize with the brand.

We all know that we are emotionally driven during our buying decision process, and Santa and Tony increased the likelihood that consumers would sympathize with either Coca-Cola or Kellogg’s by following the simple idea of conditioning.

Who would not like a guy who brings joy to the world during Christmas time or a Tiger who makes breakfast fun for kids? The frequent exposure to the neutral stimulus paired with potent stimulus results in a sense of pleasure for the brand that is elicited because of the sympathy for the influencer.

Back then, buying decisions were easy due to only a handful of brands on the market. Thus, as product choice expanded, influencer marketing also continued in a new direction.

The Second Stage – Celebrity Influencers On The Rise

More brands on the market meant that buyers had a larger choice of products, which made the buyers’ decision journey more complex. The seller’s market shifted to a buyer’s market due to a change in consumer behavior. Additionally, the development of broadcasting systems facilitated advertisement and commercials on radio and TV during consumer-centered marketing 2.0.

The created sympathy for made up characters was not sufficient any longer to convince a consumer during the decision making process. A greater stimulus was needed!

In marketing 2.0 the ‘customer is king’ but finding himself in an overload of ad exposure every day. Thus, the time of celebrities was on the rise functioning as influencers in the sense of a two-step flow approach in a mass-mediated world.

In contrast to Santa and Tony, celebrities already enjoyed the sympathy of the consumers due to other qualities. Therefore they were used as testimonials for a brand’s marketing strategy to convince a consumer of buying a product.

history of influencer marketing_two step flow

In this sense, a celebrity sold his name and publicity to a brand. Vice versa, the publicity of the celebrity attracted buyers and conditioned consumers on products positively. Do not get this the wrong way, testimonials, and influencer cannot be put on the same ladder.

View this post on Instagram

when your lyrics are on the bottle 😛 #ad

A post shared by Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) on

However, looking at the tale of influencers, celebrities played the same role in the marketing strategy like influencers do today. But meanwhile, we differentiate in between influencer, star influencer, and influential star but that is another story, yet to be put down on paper.

Influencer Marketing Today

Decades passed and we find ourselves in marketing 3.0. At this stage of the history of influencer marketing, several developments can be observed that are crucial for the use of influencer marketing, we are familiar with today. Social changes enable developing niche markets. Now the customer is more than just a run-of-the-mill consumer but a human being with his own values.

Furthermore, the rise of social media leads to far more than just a value-centered marketing 3.0, but to an era of participation – anyone can create content online.

On the other hand, technical and media developments led to information overload in the world wide web also accompanied by the invention of ad-blockers cause “the more the merrier” does not always apply. These developments increasingly forced marketers to operated passed the consumer-centered marketing to a value-centered marketing and change their strategy from push to pull.

Influencer As An All-Around Solution?

In the tangled mass of information, consumers listen to the recommendation of someone they trust – someone they think of as being a competent and reliable expert. Unlike celebrities, consumers sympathize with influencers due to the valuable content they create regarding a specific subject (travel, beauty, food etc.).

Thus, they are more than just testimonials! Influencers are content creators, opinion leaders and (more or less) experts in their field who sell their reach and content on social media platforms to brands. Operating as third parties in the supply chain, they assure the approach of the right target group on the marketer’s side and (ideally) trustworthy recommendations on the buyer’s side.

Meanwhile, the influencer marketing strategies developed quickly from on-demand strategies with product placements and branded content to always-on strategies with influencer relations. The history is still written as you read this!

The Takeaway

Influencers are a highly discussed topic in the marketing sphere right now – some marketers are skeptical and some are trying to jump on the bandwagon as quickly as possible as long as it lasts. However, the main idea of influencers is not new.

It can be considered as a further development in a fast-paced, changing world regarding society, media, technology, and markets which of course affect each other. So do not be too skeptical and afraid to get out of your marketing comfort zone! As any new development, people have to live a trial-and-error-method to refine and apply the new opportunities to their own history.