Influencer Marketing Explained (Wow!)

What is Influencer Marketing?

Influencer marketing in the 21st century combines age-old concepts with a modern twist. This form of marketing explores the idea of celebrity endorsements in modern social media with content-driven marketing campaigns. The definition of who is a ‘celebrity’, or an ‘influencer’, is challenged with the exposure and scope for networking that the internet has brought to the table.

Unlike traditional celebrities, influencers are more easily accessible and can be found anywhere. An influencer could be anyone who has developed a reputation as a ‘go-to’ person in their respective field.

The advent of social media has made influencer marketing a dynamic field that could not have existed before. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and TikTok have contributed to providing a space for ordinary people to speak and be heard by thousands of viewers. The traditional celebrity influencer has been replaced with social media influencers who can not only boast expertise in their fields but also bring a personal touch with their relatively small but loyal following.

History of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing has been around since as early as the 18th century. Here’s a brief overview of what influencer marketing has looked like over the years.

18th century

Religious and royal figures have been known to endorse products as far back as the 1700s. A patented medicine endorsed by the Pope or furniture carrying the royal stamp of approval would immediately bestow credibility onto any product and its manufacturer.

One of the earliest instances of royal endorsement was seen in 1760 when a tea set produced by the English entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood received approval from the royal household. This immediately promoted the Wedgwood name to the status of a manufacturer of luxury goods.

19th century

The turn of the 19th century saw a change in the old methods of advertising. Brands began to use fictional characters based off real people to establish a bond of reliability with their customers, and thus gain credibility in the market.

The 1800s saw the introduction of ‘Aunt Jemima’, the face of the R.T. David Milling Company’s popular pancake mix. Aunt Jemima was based on Nancy Green, a former slave who later became a spokesperson for the company. It was this figure and the implications of her status of authority in the kitchen that helped build a loyal consumer base for the pancake mix.

The company later came under severe criticism for their exploitation of the offensive ‘black cook’ stereotype and the dark history of slavery her figure recalled.

20th century

The 20th century saw a boom in the production of a much vaster variety of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs). As the consumers’ choices increased, fiercer and more creative strategies to compete evolved rapidly.

One of the best-known influencer campaigns of the 20th century was Santa Clause as the face of CocaCola. This familiar and personable image boosted CocaCola’s brand awareness in the 1930s.

The late 20th century saw a rise in the use of celebrity influence to build a brand’s presence in the market. In 1993, actors Aamir Khan and Aishwariya Rai became the first celebrity spokespersons for Pepsi’s commercials in India.

In 1984, basketball player Michael Jordan collaborated with Nike to create one of the earliest celebrity product lines. His line of basketball shoes, the Air Jordans, made an incredible 70 million dollar profit. This was one of the first of the trend of influencer collaborations that would quickly pick up in popularity through the 21st century.

21st century

The definition of the term ‘influencer’ changed drastically in the 21st century as more brands chose relatively smaller influencers over hiring celebrities.

Anyone with expertise in a field and a loyal following can now become a spokesperson for a brand that their goals align with. Fast-growing social media platforms such as Youtube and Instagram now provide ordinary people with exposure and reach that make them assets to brands they choose to work with.

Mainstream brands such as household appliance manufacturer Dyson and the Hilton hotel line have collaborated with social media influencers on Instagram to promote their brand over the last decade.

Types of Marketing Campaigns

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a system where a brand partners with an influencer to promote their products or services. The influencer promotes the brand to their fans on social media platforms and receives a commission as per their contract with the brand.

Affiliate marketing benefits both the influencer and the brand. While the brand benefits in sales owing to the influencer’s social reach, the influencer receives a commission on the sales achieved through their content and influence.

Brand Ambassador Programs

A brand ambassador is hired to be the face of a brand and publicly endorse it in a positive light. They embody the brand that they endorse, as opposed to one-time paid promotions.

Brand ambassadors tend to bring a human touch to the brand, which helps to build trust and credibility among consumers.

Social Media Takeover

A social media takeover involves collaboration with an influencer where the influencer will literally ‘take over’ a brand’s social media for a fixed period. For example, Forbes holds Q&A sessions with the handle #AskForbes on Twitter, where businesspeople come on to answer original questions put forward by users.

A social media takeover helps in providing exposure to both the influencer and the brand. The influencer brings in traffic to the brand’s page while also benefiting from the exposure that comes with being associated with the brand.

What’s next in Influencer Marketing?

Rise of unconventional influencers

While macro and mega influencers ( having followings of 500k to 1M fans) continue to be the first choice in building brand exposure and credibility, a trend of choosing micro-influencers having smaller followings of up to 50k fans is seen to be upcoming in the future. The lower costs, higher engagement rates, and relatable content of micro-influencers make them an attractive new option many companies are exploring now.

Exploring new platforms

The fresh video-sharing app TikTok has seen a booming rise to popularity with 113 million downloads in February of 2020 alone. 41% OF TikTok users are between the ages of 14 and 26, making this platform ideal for reaching young audiences.

Pinterest also shows high engagement rates as a visually appealing platform, much like the highly successful Instagram.

Artificial Intelligence

One of the largest challenges in influencer marketing now is finding the right influencer.

The Toronto-based company Quoints has launched an AI Social Discovery Tool that aims to create a profile of the ideal influencer for a company, and helps locate micro-influencers that match these criteria. Artificial Intelligence can also efficiently analyze years’ worth of data to design ideal marketing campaigns to boost sales of a brand. AI in influencer marketing is a largely unexplored field that shows immense potential.

Influencer-run brands attaining the status of mainstream brands

The past decade has seen several influencer-driven brands grow to million-dollar enterprises.

YouTuber Huda Kattan launched her cosmetic brand Huda Beauty in 2013 and now holds a net worth of $610M as of 2019 (Forbes). Another YouTuber who rose out of obscurity is Jeffree Star whose makeup company now generates almost $100M a year. Star boasts a net worth of $200M as of 2020.


The recent Coronavirus epidemic that has shaken the world has brought with it economic recession that is bound to affect the influencer market in the same way all businesses are going to have to take a hit. Brands are expected to prioritize long-term collaborations over one-off partnerships.

The worldwide lockdown has, however, made influencers’ reach broader than ever as self-isolating followers now spend more time online on social media. Market analysts expect the influencer marketing industry to evolve even further and mature as it faces the many challenges that will come with the economic recession.

Influencer marketing when done right is bound to be highly effective owing to the simple, organic human interaction it involves. It establishes credibility and a sense of genuine knowledge in the minds of the audience, making it all the more engaging.

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