It shouldn’t come as a surprise that influencer marketing has been alive and thriving for over 250 years. After all, for as long as people have been selling, there have been ways to influence the buying decision. Yet, when we heard the story of Josiah Wedgwood shock was the station we arrived at on the journey is dumbfounded!
The tale got our grey matter churning. What is the history of influencer marketing? How far does it go and what path did it travel?
A Timeline Of Influencer Marketing – Beginning At The Big Bang
Back in the 1760s, a potter named Josiah gifted Queen Charlotte, the consort of King George III, a tea set (later named Queen’s ware). The queen was so charmed by the earthenware that she appointed Wedgwood as ‘Potter to Her Majesty.’
The rest, as they say, is history. That one endorsement by a Royal shot the brand to a meteoric rise – fame that is still flourishing. Let’s say this was the Big Bang equivalent of influencer marketing.
The First Company – The First Phase
We skip quite a few decades and land on late the 1800s and the first firm to introduced the practice of an influencer. The Davis Milling Company began using the character of a cheerful woman with an ear to ear grin on their pancake mix packaging. They called her Aunt Jemima.
For advertisements, they brought in Nancy Green, a Chicago resident, to play the part. Nancy remained the spokesperson for the mix till 1923 – the year she passed.
The impact of Aunt Jemina? After her death, the firm faced enough financial setbacks that they had to sell to Quaker Oats.
Following the footsteps…
This phase of using characters to encourage purchase decision worked really well for product-centred market. The persona around the character triggered an emotional response and because the consumer would sympathise with the product the probability of buying it increased!
By the time 1930 came around, even brands like Coca-Cola were adopting personas as influencers. The soda producing giant asked an artist to paint a rendering of Santa drinking Coke.
The cuddly, cute and white-bearded ‘influencer’ that Fred Mizen, the artist, painted not only impacted Coca-Cola but also reimagined the way everyone pictured Santa (literally)
The Rise Of Celebrities – The Second Phase
The next era in influencer marketing was born out of a need. What was till now a seller’s market transformed into a buyer’s. Over and above that, the birth of TV and radio reshaped commercials and adverts. In this consumer-centric marketing world, characters were not enough to convince people to shell out their hard-earned money. So, what did the purveyors do? They brought in the big guns, i.e., a greater stimulus.
From the late 1900s, until we welcomed the present century, celebs were the enchanted key to unlocking the wallets of shoppers.
A typical example of the influence of celebrities is Michael Jordan. It was back in 1984 when Nike discovered the basketball genius, and till date, every sneakerhead will have atleast one pair of Air Jordan in their closet. This was just one instance. The 20th Century is littered with examples of brands linking with celebrity influencers.
The Turn Of The Century…
With the new millennium in sight, the surge in celebrity influencers did not show any sign of dropping. Rather the marketing got either more outrageous or more collaborative.
Remember Pepsi’s We Will Rock You ad with Britney Spears, P!nk and Beyoncé sipping on cans? That’s what we call outrageous. The epitome of collaboration? The British company, Totes, teaming up with Rihanna to launch an umbrella line in 2007 right after her hit-single (you guessed it) Umbrella!
Around this period, ‘influence’ was almost synonymous with ‘celebrity.’ But threads of change began to weave into the way marketers thought.
Instead of just television or print ads, social media started to play a slight role.
Leap Of Social Media – The Third Phase
This part of influencer marketing history was fundamentally brought about by Facebook. With every user that logged on to the site, companies had access to:
• Demographics – age, gender, location
• Psychographics – Preferred music, hobbies, and favourite movies
The information brought a paradigm shift. From consumer-centric, marketing changed to value-centric. The customer had to be pulled to a product and what could be a better way than hearing famous people talk about it? Ergo, companies took influencer marketing to a level up.
Coke roped in Selena.
What Sonam Kapoor did Mariah Carey had done and dusted a year before– staying in Airbnb properties and posting about it on social media.
Celebrities, beauty moguls and to some limit YouTube stars ruled the world for a good 5 to 7 years. As long as you were creating attention-worthy content online, you could be an influencer. How do you think Kylie Jenner built a Billion Dollar empire?
Social media decided to take a sudden, giant leap. It exploded to popularity which radically adjusted the meaning of ‘influence.’ The underlying premise remained the same, and so did the mechanics but who was genuinely influential took a 360 turn.
Gen Z disrupted consumer behaviour. Before they bought even a hair tie, they wanted social proof of it. They needed to hear the experience of people who used it. It brought to daylight bloggers, vloggers, YouTubers and social media geniuses from the dark corners of the internet. When they spoke for or against a brand, some millennials listened and based their buying decision on it. Influencer marketing moved away from celebrities and towards these content creators.
In other words, they democratised influence.
The Upcoming Wavemakers – The Fourth Phase
Those in-the-know are already aware that another metamorphosis is taking place. Why? Because the feeds of present-influencers are full of #ad and #sponsored posts.
A wave of new influencers is rising. These are ‘everyday’ individuals. People who others relate to and persons who recommendations are implicitly trusted. These wavemakers are average peeps who have built tiny, strong communities around them.
The community listens because the takeaway is trustworthy. This absolute authenticity leads the followers to take action which is the money-maker brands are searching for – a group of people who buy a product because a person said so.
No matter how far we come along, humans will stay humans. The need to feel a connection will drive most of our decisions. It is why word-of-mouth advertising never goes out of vogue. First it was royals and now it is people who keep it real!