Influencers as brand ambassadors, why is it so wildly effective?

Influencers, either you love them, or you hate them. But there is almost no getting around them as a brand or consumer. It is no secret that influencer marketing is at the forefront of effective marketing techniques. Ogilvy Cannes, 2014 stated that 74% of people turn to their social networks when looking for guidance on purchase decisions. Another 2016 study by TapInfluence, shows that influencer marketing on average has an 11x higher return on investment than traditional forms of digital marketing. How has this phenomenon become so important to marketing, and where did it start? To find answers we’ll have to turn back the clock a few decades.

The dirty thirties (and Selling Santa)

The 1930’s, a decade remembered as the time of the great depression in the USA, both a post- and pre-war decade, and the time that radio became more easily accessible to the greater public. The 1930’s also housed one of the most important, but lesser remembered marketing experiments. “What experiment?” I hear you thinking. In 1931 Coca-Cola introduced Santa Claus as a brand ambassador in their new ad-campaigns, the proto-influencer if you will.

What this and other experiments found, was that if people loved the person promoting the product, they would, in turn, be more likely to buy the product themselves. This finding has laid one of the first foundations of modern influencer marketing.

What came next?

After the years of experimentation and world war II, it became time to tilt the marketing campaigns to the next level. The most famous example of this 2.0 version of influencer marketing was the Marlboro man. From 1950 all the way to 1999, the Marlboro man mostly used famous actors to market their brand of smokes. The biggest difference between the proto-influencer that was Santa and the Marlboro man, is that Santa was seen a friendly, loveable neighbourhood man. Marlboro man on the other hand was cast as someone that you want to be. Seeing the likes of masculine and tough men like Brad Johnson and William Thourlby smoking gave the impression that smoking Marlboro was a part of being “the dude”. This change in casting and use of persona signified the second building block for the modern-day rise in influencer marketing.

This use of predominantly leading men in advertisements was wildly successful on print and television, in some cases even to this day (think Max Verstappen and Jumbo). However, the formats that we have discussed so far are what you would call “traditional media”. So how and when were these building blocks first crossed over to social media, and subsequently monetised?

In tandem

To come to a definitive answer to the question asked above, we must first create a timeline of the unprecedented rise that social media has had, a playground if you will. The reason that we must draw this playground is simple, the monetisation of social media and their influencers were born from social media’s rapid expansion. What started as a rough sketch has quickly grown into a carefully crafted and maintained system of paying, trading, and sometimes even cancelling influencers.

If you were born around the 2000’s social media will feel like it has been around since before you can remember, of course, this is not the case. However, it does signify the immensely grand role the phenomenon has taken in our daily lives.

Platforms like MySpace, Hyves and MSN formed the early 2000’s for a lot of millennials but become less important when talking about influencer marketing. So where do we start? Facebook. The true big boom of social media started around 2010, when platforms truly started to take off. This was in part because of the mobile integration of these platforms. It was Amazon who first started to take note of Facebook’s potential when talking about marketing. Amazon thought about one of the building blocks mentioned earlier. Namely, If people love/know the person promoting the product, they will, in turn, be more likely to buy the product themselves. They wanted people to be able to recommend products they liked on Facebook. This was the true start.


That first idea by Amazon has grown into a billion-dollar industry, nowadays platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter host the second building block’s premier celebrities. Think Kylie Jenner, PewDiePie, Bella Poarch and others. These, and thousands of other people, get paid/incentivised by brands to promote their products to the masses. And not without good results. When done correctly brands can achieve legendary status through the use of influencers. On the other hand, companies have also found that they can strategically use the influencer concept to create hype from inside their own company (think Elon Musk’s outrageous persona).

I’ll leave you with this everlasting piece of peace

It can be very time consuming and fun to look at all the amazing examples of influencer marketing, but I’ll leave you with my personal favourite failed campaign: Kendall Jenner for Pepsi. Until my next article.

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