A Brief History of Influencer Marketing

A Brief History of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is one of the strategies that companies use widely to boost their brands, conversions, reach, etc. In fact, 93% of marketers practice influencer marketing, and in 2020, 69.8% of marketers plan to increase their influencer marketing budget. But how did influencer marketing get this point?

What is an Influencer and Influencer Marketing?

Before diving into our brief history of influencer marketing, let’s clarify what an influencer and influencer marketing is. In the frame of marketing, an influencer is someone who can affect the decisions of potential buyers. An influencer could be a celebrity, a sportsperson, a distinguished public figure, a fictional character, or a friend you trust.  

With the expansion of social media usage, the definition of an influencer has slightly changed. Anyone who has a considerable amount of social media followers, friends, etc. can claim to be an influencer.  

Influencer marketing is when brands benefit influencers to promote their brands, products, or services. 92% of consumers trust reviews and recommendations from friends, family, existing customers, and trusted advisers (like influencers) over corporate ads. Hence, no surprise that influencer marketing has grown bigger and bigger.

The Path to Modern Influencer Marketing

The 1760s

In the history of advertising, it is said that the Queen and the Pope used to advocate the use of medicine by common people. We can consider them the first known influencers. In the 1760s, King George III of the United Kingdom supported the pottery of Josiah Wedgwood by giving his royal stamp of approval. Mr. Wedgwood used the King’s approval to promote and sell his products and increase brand awareness.

1905: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Murad Cigarettes

A Brief History of Influencer Marketing
Image: Campaign

In 1905, Murad Cigarettes, a Turkish cigarette brand, had Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in their influencer marketing strategy. Mr. Arbuckle was a silent film actor. He is significant in the history of influencer marketing since his work has helped brands realize that celebrities are very effective in endorsing of their product or services.

1931: Santa and Coca-Cola

Image: Energia

Coca-Cola’s influencer marketing history began when they introduced the image of Santa Claus in advertisements in 1931. Santa, with his white beard, friendly, grandfather figure dressed in a red outfit, captured the attention of consumers and touched them emotionally.  

It is often claimed that Coca-Cola created Santa Claus. Coca-Cola explains that they did not invent Santa Claus, although Coca-Cola did play a big role in shaping the character as we know today.

In Coca-Cola Company’s words “…in 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for Christmas advertisements. Those paintings established Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, including rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes, and laughter lines.”

The 1950s: Marlboro Man

A Brief History of Influencer Marketing
Image: Pinterest

Marlboro Man was an icon played by various actors to make smoking look trendy and masculine. One word that we could tie to the Marlboro Man is macho. Although Marlboro Man has many issues from social and health perspectives, he was one of the biggest influencers back in the time and advocated the Marlboro brand until 1999. Marlboro Man is credited with driving cigarette sales from $5 million to $20 million.

The 1970s: Mikey Likes It

In the 1970s, Quaker Oats featured a fictional, hard-to-please boy named Mikey in their famous commercial for Life cereal. The ad won a Clio in 1974, continued to run on air for 13 years. It was named the #10 commercial of all time by TV Guide in 1999.

The 1990s: Cindy Crawford and Pepsi

Cindy Crawford is one of the world’s most famous faces, and Pepsi took advantage of her fame in one of their commercials that ran during the 1992 Super Bowl. It is one of the most memorable commercials. Cindy Crawford reprised her role in 2018 with a second Super Bowl commercial.

2010: Old Spice Man

A decade ago, Old Spice created one of their best advertising campaigns with Old Spice Man. Before “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” Old Spice was seen as a brand for senior men. The campaign’s objective was to make the brand fun and relevant for younger men, and it worked successfully. The 30-second ad featuring former NFL star, Isaiah Mustafa, was aired a few days before the Super Bowl and again the day after the game. It quickly went viral. Sales of Old Spice doubled, and the traffic to their website went up by 300%.

The 2010s: Social Media

Although it is not certain who was the first social media influencer, the rise of social media has undoubtedly changed influencer marketing. For example, today, 60% of users credit Instagram with product discovery. It is not just the celebrities who endorse the products, but also friends and other people play an essential role in influencer marketing. For example, in 2010, Amazon connected to Facebook to allow users to see what their friends are buying.

Another platform for modern influencer marketing is stories on social media. For example, in an Instagram study from 2018, 39% of respondents are more interested in a brand/product after watching an Instagram story that features it. In a world where “influence fatigue” exists, stories save the day by being short, authentic, and creating a gate to a two-way dialogue.

A Brief History of Influencer Marketing
Image: Meltwater

The story format is becoming more and more familiar to the end-users. Businesses undoubtedly benefit from stories. 1/3 of the most viewed Instagram stories are from businesses, and brand stories reached an 85% completion rate. So, you may want to save real estate in your mobile app for stories to boost your app’s performance. Discover the world of stories with Storyly.

Influencer marketing dates to the medieval ages, with fictional characters, celebrities on television ads, radios, reality shows, and social media, etc. It is both collecting praise and complaints. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many influencers were criticized because of their lack of self-awareness and ignoring their privileges. Although influencer marketing results in many debates over its effects on the public and with what it represents, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.


Berkem Peker

Berkem Peker is a growth strategist at Storyly. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the Middle East Technical University. He/him specializes in growth frameworks, growth strategy & tactics, user engagement, and user behavior. He enjoys learning new stuff about data analysis, growth hacking, user behavior.

Subscribe our blog

Get the latest post in your email.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.