The Evolution of Influencer Marketing


Influencer marketing has been around for a while. With brands always clamoring to get a piece of consumer’s mindshare, scoring big shot endorsements has been a sure-fire way for businesses to get their voice heard, until recently. Today, the meteoric influx of brands and increasing mistrust in corporate promotion is changing the landscape. Influencer marketing, as we have known it, is undergoing a titanic transformation.

Influencers have inspired generations of purchase decisions, shifted entire brand perceptions. While its form has evolved, its sway over the hive mind has always been phenomenal albeit the occasional fails. To better understand the depth of its impact, let’s have a look at how influencer marketing has changed over the years.

Back to the Start

Influencer marketing dates as far back as to the early 1700s. Josiah Edgewood & Sons, the British pottery company, were the first to tap into it by getting coveted royal endorsements which catapulted the brand into an elite club. Since then, there was no stopping this marketing tactic. With prints ads being all the rage in earlier days, cigarettes and popular household items began roping in well-known celebrities to become the face of their brand. This continued to work wonderfully as we can tell by their continued widespread usage.

However, being a somewhat untested strategy back then, there were naturally a few mishaps. Lucky Strikes, the American cigarette brand, was one of the early adopters of this influencer trend and used it prolifically. One of their print ads struck a wrong chord with readers when it used popular actor of the time, Edmund Lowe, to promote cigarettes as a glamorous yet healthy choice. Regardless of the entertainment bigwig attached to the ad, the brand faced immense public backlash.

The Golden Era Of Celebrity Endorsements

1980s through to the 2000s saw the celebrity endorsement fad reach dizzying heights. Any brand worth its salt was backed by a formidable personality. Actors, athletes, musicians- public figures became all the rage. With so many more options available besides print, advertisers began going all out. Some campaigns were so successful that they reached a cult status. Britney Spears’ Pepsi Generation commercial for the Super Bowl is a classic example of how a celebrity endorsement can become iconic.

With celebrity branding becoming a global rage, abuse of this hold was inevitable. Pointless endorsements started invading our TV screens and public trust in the cult of the celebrity took a deep hit.

Influencer Marketing Revamped

As the world began its digital transformation in the mid-2000s, consumers started becoming increasingly assertive about the kind of content they choose to consume. The pervasive presence of social media dictates almost every choice of our lives including our brand preferences. This has led to the rise of the social media influencer- a person with a huge and dedicated fan following on social media platforms. Broadcasting their lifestyle to a close-knit niche, it is redefining the norms of marketing. With 93% of people preferring social media influencer endorsements over any other.

Being a relatively new concept with insane levels of yield, some high profile brands have already treaded into dangerous territory. Pepsi’s 2017 commercial with supermodel and influencer Kendall Jenner was universally panned. The campaign struck many as being tone deaf and a poor attempt to resonate with today’s generation. Eventually the ad was pulled back and became an example of how not to do influencer marketing.

The old celebrity endorsement is now an antiquated model. This is not to say it is entirely ineffective. The traditional celebrity vote of confidence has an uncontested mass appeal, especially to the uninformed segment.  But with the digital fever spreading all over the world, brands will need to rethink their influencer marketing strategies.