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Think | The Evolution of Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing. It’s a term for the type of marketing that “focuses on using key leaders to drive a brand's message to the larger market” and it’s become a bit of a controversial expression du jour. Or has it? Evidence of influencer marketing can be dated back to the late 1800s, but not as we know it today. The face and the function of the influencer has evolved over 200 years and continues to evolve further.

But let’s go back to where it all started.

The Industrial Revolution paved way for the advertising industry, and it wasn’t long before royal and religious influencers such as Queen Victoria and Pope Leo XIII were endorsing products. The success of these influential endorsements led to advertisers creating influencers for their own brand; think Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and most notably, Father Christmas. Coca Cola rebranded the fictional character by turning the green suit red and white, and the rest is history.

Moving into this millennium.

Celebrities rule influencer marketing, with almost every celebrity affiliated to a brand. The strategy behind this is simple; their endorsement will elevate a product or service’s status and reach audiences that would be otherwise inaccessible. Just take another soft drink behemoth, Pepsi. They’ve partnered with the likes of Beyonce, David Beckham and Britney Spears - at a big price. But have they managed to outperform Coca Cola’s Father Christmas?

Pepsi’s use of influencer marketing has traditionally been big budget TV adverts and sponsorship deals, most notably the NFL Superbowl. However, with the explosion of social media and digital marketing, a few standalone pieces of advertising content per year isn’t enough to keep a brand relevant, particularly as more and more content is created and consumed everyday. Their president recently admitted that their biggest threat wasn’t Coca Cola - it’s “the entrepreneur in New Orleans" making cold brew coffee. She doesn’t need tens of millions of dollars in marketing money because she’s got a large social media following.”

With the technological boom, influencer marketing has changed.

Brands have turned to influencers who have built an online following through blogging and vlogging to reach new, huge, audiences. These influencers have direct access to millions of people through their social media, email inboxes and web browsers.

In its infancy, online influencer marketing was a bit like the wild wild west.

With no rules, regulations or best practices in place, anything went. However, as the trend grew, the authenticity of online influencer endorsements became questionable, leading us to ask; do we really trust the motives of these ‘influencers’? Why would we choose to follow them, like their content and engage with them if they aren’t much more than a mouthpiece for a brand?

Now, we are seeing influencers become more conscious about the content they create for their audiences and they’re demanding more creative freedom. They’re becoming brands in their own rights (just take a look at @cestmaria, @fredrikrisvik and @qmike) and are cautious about the brands they partner with - for fear of collaborations ruining their image.

From a brand perspective, it’s also becoming increasingly important to choose the collaborator - one that has the right aesthetics, tone, and values, who can introduce a product or service to an audience that genuinely cares. Today, it’s not all about celebrity and audience reach, it’s also about how much a brand can learn from a creator.

Differing to the influencers of the past, today’s influencers are consultants, consumers and creators.

And they’re changing the face of advertising as we know it. They’re no longer just influencers - they’re content creators, or as we like to call it; creators with influence.

Neil Waller

Neil Waller

CEO and Co-Founder, Whalar