A brief history of influencer marketing and where it stands now


As we tentatively edge towards 2020 (an entire new decade, nonetheless!), it’s without doubt that the most lasting and perhaps most effective digital marketing trend of the last few years has been influencer marketing. With brands and businesses worldwide relentlessly looking for new ways to tap into its remarkable potential, we thought it was worth covering where it came from and where it is now (before seeing where it goes in the ’20s).

Its origins are blurred

Considering what an influencer is, there are plenty of different suggestions out there as to who was the genuine ‘first’ influencer, at least in a marketing capacity. Traditionally, people of power, such as kings, queens, popes and military leaders, held great influence over their people. In fact, Hitler was undoubtedly a marvellous influencer in his day, too, which just goes to show how power over people isn’t always used for good.

Anyway, the face of Hollywood publicist, Fatty Arbuckle, linked to Murad cigarettes in 1905, is certainly one of the earliest examples of celebrity influence being used to appeal to the general public in advertising.

10 years of influencing as we know it

Fast-forward a century, then, and skipping past Santa advertising Coca Cola, the Marlborough Man and dozens of difference faces of Calvin Klein, it was a light-hearted advertisement in 2010 that really kicked off influencer marketing as we know it. 

When Old Spice paired up with ex-NFL star Isaiah Mustafa to promote the traditionally, notoriously ‘old-man’ aftershave to a new audience, they’d unwittingly (or ingeniously) tapped into something incredible – pairing less notable celebrities with new products and transforming how people perceived a brand. With social media platforms adding new users by the millions every week, advertisers suddenly had a new way to engage with an ever-expanding audience around the globe.

Targeted advertising like never before

However, what Old Spice didn’t do, at least initially, was send Isaiah Mustafa directly to people who they already knew would be taken by who he was and what he offered. This was left up to analysts, who began pouring over data acquired by social media platforms, search engines, website visits and more in order to come up with a profile of individual likes, needs, desires and expectations. 

At this point, other entrepreneurs began to carve a new niche in the same digital world. Bloggers became vloggers, gamers became streamers and athletes became sought-after faces (and bodies) in the health and fitness industry. Essentially, anyone who had the talent, skill or simply drive to be seen could be. 

Influencers weren’t just celebrities anymore. Instead, they were normal people advertising to other normal people. Influencer marketing had been born and grown, and was slowly taking over the world.

In 2019, it officially became ‘a thing’

So, in May of 2019, Merriam-Webster (‘the’ dictionary, not ‘a’ person – although that would make a cool influencer name) invited the word ‘influencer’, as we understand it today, into the dictionary. 

However, as we already know, the word as we know it has been widely embraced worldwide for some time now. That’s not just by those who follow influencers and the entrepreneurial influencers themselves, but also by the like of influencer marketing agency Socially Powerful, who specialise in linking them, to you, to everyone. If you’re looking to find the right influencer for your brand, and your audience, get in touch with a specialist marketing agency like them.