Endorsing or promoting a brand or a business using celebrities or well-known public figures is a well-established practice for decades. Recently, brands have shifted and turned their focus to influencer marketing. The captive audience those influencers enjoy has not gone unnoticed by savvy businesses.
At a fundamental level, influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from individuals who have a dedicated following. These individuals are viewed as experts within their niche.
These influencers have a loyal fan base that believes in their suggestions for particular products and services. Brands can utilize this popularity to influence purchase decisions and increase conversion rates.
The Beginning of Influencer Marketing
Although in its present avatar, the influencer marketing industry is social media-oriented, fast-paced and globally inclusive, the industry itself goes back to the time of the Queen and the Pope in the 1800s. In fact, they were the very first influencers promoting the use of medicine to people who weren’t believers yet.
1890 – Nancy Green is the face of ‘Aunt Jemima’
Hired by R. T. Davis Milling Company, Nancy Green was to be the face of their pancake mix called ‘Aunt Jemima’. She was playing the popular character of Aunt Jemima from a local minstrel show. She is considered the first African-American model to have influenced an entire generation of buyers of the pancake mix.
1905 – Fatty Arbuckle and Murad Cigarettes
This renowned actor, director, comedian and screenwriter was roped in to endorse Murad, a Turkish brand of cigarettes.
1931 – Coca-Cola gets Santa Claus
The basis of influencer marketing as we know it today was established when Coca-Cola introduced the image of Santa Claus in their advertisements. People loved this white-bearded, friendly, plump grandfather-like figure dressed in a red outfit and hence, they liked the product too.
1950 – The Marlboro Man Era
The Marlboro man was one of the biggest influencers of that era, showcased as the masculine, macho man. This icon was portrayed by various actors to make smoking look trendy. This campaign ran till 1999.
The Modern Concept of Influencer Marketing
The influencer marketing industry as we know it today came into existence in the year 2005 with the advent of YouTube.
2005 – YouTube was Established
This was the year when social media was just beginning to take root and YouTube was formed. Initially launched as a video-sharing platform, it quickly grew to have more than 2 billion users each month. As its popularity soared, many hopeful artists and musicians began posting their creative works in videos in the hope of kickstarting a career. Prime examples of the success through YouTube videos are Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.
2009 – The Phenomenon of an Influencer
YouTube saw a huge influx of bloggers and vloggers in 2009. People like Alfie Deyes, Zoella, Tanya Burr and PewDiePie kickstarted the influencer phenomenon. It started as a hobby and quickly led to highflying careers making them industry leaders.
2010 – Instagram's Arrival
Instagram was the game changer for influencers, brands and customers. Influencers were able to move their social standing onto a newer platform, cross-promote their social media platforms and reach a wider audience.
Instagram, itself, also evolved from initially being used to post images of food and scenery to allowing brands to tap into influencers’ following. It allows brands to pay influencers and create sponsored posts and content. Instagram has allowed followers and consumers to gain insight into influencers’ lifestyles. It has also allowed followers to get product recommendations and inspirations – all at the click of a single button.
Instagram has grown as an influencer-led platform and evolved into an industry of its own. It has deepened its audience penetration and engagement by introducing features like Instagram stories, Instagram Live and Instagram Reels, which allow the consumption of content and shoppable ads in a variety of different forms.
2013 – The Growing Power of Influencers
Influencers had gained a massive and active fandom over social media. So strong was their presence that their posts had the power to substantially impact brand sales. When Kylie Jenner mentioned how little she used Snapchat, the company shares dropped by 6% on the same day – an estimated loss of nearly USD 1.6 billion. Known as the ‘Queen of Skin care’, any mention of a product by Caroline Hirons on her blog, YouTube Channel, or Instagram post can result in either a total sell-out of the product or a marked increase in the sale figures.
2014 - 2016 – The Rise in the Influencer Marketing Stats
Such was the power of influencers and social media marketing on consumers that 71% of the marketers believed that ongoing ambassadorships were the most effective form of influencer marketing. Approximately 70% of the influencers were convinced influencer marketing platforms were the most effective way to collaborate with brands. 74% of the people turned to and relied upon guidance and recommendations from influencers on purchase decisions. 40% of the people purchased items after seeing them being promoted by an influencer on various social media channels. And all this was during the time, the influencer marketing industry was just getting started.
It has since then become one of the most impactful forms of marketing.
The Spotlight on Influencers
There are several arguments ongoing with regard to influencers and their paid endorsements. Some feel that the role of influencers in promoting brands, products and services deserves closer attention due to their influence on young adults. Others feel that influencers should be required by law to disclose when they are being paid to promote by brands via #ads.
There is no doubt that social media, however fleeting, has a powerful influence on people. Influencer marketing already has millions of followers and sells a variety of products and services. There is, currently, no difference between an authentic voice and paid sponsorships.
There is an immediate need to bring regulation to this industry in terms of functionality, operational discipline, and financial transparency.
The Future of the Influencer Marketing Industry
Influencers are here to stay and not going anywhere, anytime soon. It is a rapidly growing industry, set to reach USD 16.4 billion by the end of this year. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is working towards standardising the functions by setting up guidelines and amending older ones. With more and more influencers emerging on social media platforms, businesses have realized their value and are queueing up to work with them in this futuristic form of marketing.
What began as a value addition to the world of advertising in terms of cost-effectiveness and support to mainstream marketing has taken over as one of the main forms of promotion. What does the future of influencers look like? Bright, successful and busy.
What is influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing is a type of social media marketing that uses endorsements and product mentions from individuals who have a dedicated following on social media platforms. These individuals are viewed as experts within their niche.
Is influencer marketing a growing industry?
The influencer market has already grown from USD 1.7 billion in 2016 to USD 9.7 billion in 2020 and USD 13.8 billion in 2021. It is a rapidly growing industry, set to reach USD 16.4 billion by the end of this year.
What is the role of influencer marketing?
Influencers have a loyal fan base that believes in their suggestions for particular products and services. Brands can utilize this popularity to influence the purchase decisions of customers and increase conversion rates.