Figurative influencers like Santa Claus and Marlboro Man have existed for centuries, yet social media has enabled everyday people to build up large followings by sharing their lives online. This trend provides brands with an avenue for engaging audiences more directly while at the same time reaching them more authentically and authentically.
Consumers have become more wary of campaigns that are transparently inauthentic.
The Birth of Influencers
Influencer marketing is not new, but its accessibility has increased drastically with the internet’s proliferation. Ordinary people can start blogs and build an audience quickly – particularly mommy blogs where mothers shared their parenting journey and amassed an audience that followed along for every post they published. Once established, these bloggers partnered with brands as influencers for product endorsement, propelling this form of promotion forward rapidly.
This period also saw the emergence of fictional influencers like Aunt Jemima and Santa Claus; Coca-Cola used Santa as an effective sales driver during the Great Depression by reinforcing his cheerful image to drive beverage sales, reinforcing their brand’s joyful qualities at an otherwise difficult time for business.
Celebrities have long used celebrity endorsement to endorsing products, but with social media’s advent came an unprecedented opportunity for ordinary people to become influencers themselves. People in certain niches with large followings on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and TikTok could become influencers who shared daily content related to beauty, fitness and lifestyle that had an immediate effect on their audiences and caught the attention of brands seeking an authentic way of reaching consumers.
The Early 2000s
As influencers gained more recognition, they developed their own image and narrative of life – gradually aestheticizing themselves to appeal to followers more easily. This aestheticization transforms everyday objects and experiences into symbols easily recognisable by them and consumable by them.
Influencers can promote products and services through various platforms, such as sponsored content, platform revenue sharing models, fan subscriptions, etc. When combined with social media channels like Instagram or Snapchat, influencers can engage audiences by producing authentic and relatable posts that resonate with audiences.
However, it’s essential to recognize that influencers don’t all share equal qualities. The Fyre Festival debacle provides an extreme example of influencer marketing gone awry; sold thousands of people on an expensive music festival which ended up as a disaster due to inadequate management. When selecting influencers for marketing purposes it is vital that they truly believe and use products or services being promoted, as opposed to just pushing them for fame, wealth or status gains.
The Next Era
Influencers are increasingly being asked to take responsibility for their actions, and are feeling pressure from a public backlash. This has manifested itself in “skinny tea scandals” and other instances where people uncover influencers’ fake followers or purchased engagement numbers.
This has resulted in more intense brand partnerships between companies and creators, where brands will collaborate closely on designing products or even launch exclusive collections with these influencers. This shows that companies recognize the potential beyond simply reaching a certain target audience with these influencers.
At times, these collaborations even go as far as to name products after their creator – something reminiscent of how traditional brands used spokespeople like Aunt Jemima for pancake mix company’s advertising campaigns in the past. Influencer marketing will likely become mainstream over time and influencer marketing could become standard practice.
Influencers have revolutionized how we use social media. Influencers provide outfit inspiration, recipe ideas, travel advice and more that we would usually search on Google for ourselves. While this can have positive and negative ramifications on society – for instance influencing can negatively impact body image with some girls feeling worse after reading women’s magazines – influencers can also have detrimental impacts such as negatively altering body confidence of some young girls who read up about influencers through magazines like Cosmo.
However, some influencers maintain an aura of authenticity and credibility among their audiences, creating trust with consumers who depend on them for product information or feedback – especially among teenagers, who tend to trust influencers more than celebrities (Digital Marketing Institute 2021). Unfortunately, Fyre Festival proved that there can also be detrimental influences; those responsible used their status to sell an experience that ultimately failed due to poor food, accommodations and logistics (alongside excessive promotion costs).