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5 of the First Influencers Who Started Influencer Marketing

Here is a list of some of the oldest influencers in history who laid the foundation for influencer marketing as we know it today.

Hiring influencers to sell your product is one of the most productive ways to get exposure in today’s social media-driven world. But influencer marketing existed even before Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok were invented.

Before the internet, companies would hire celebrities (which was not cheap or easy) or create their own influencers (characters) to engage customers. It was important for brands to hire celebrities or create characters to gain influence because research indicates customers trust people more than they trust brands.

It was an effective tool back then, and still is to this day, as people are more likely to associate with influencers over brands. Here are some of the earliest influencers who started it all!

  1. Aunt Jemima – Late 1800s

The 1800s were the start of influencer marketing. With companies hiring celebrities to promote their products and push their goods to consumers.  But the marketing was not just limited to celebrities as religious and royalty figures were also hired. Influencer characters were created and brands and products were built around them.

One such character is Aunt Jemima, who we all know from breakfast food products and pancake syrup. While Aunt Jemima originally appeared in an American minstrel song titled ‘Old Aunt Jemima’, in 1875, the character’s first appearance and association with pancake mix came in 1889.

The R. T. Davis Milling Company hired Nancy Green as a spokesperson for the Aunt

Jemima pancake mix in 1890. Nancy portrayed Jemima from 1890 to August 30, 1923, until her death.

In 1913, Davis Milling Company was renamed as Aunt Jemima Mills before it was bought in 1926 by the Quaker Oats Company.

  1. Coca-Cola Company’s Santa Claus – 1930s

Santa has always been looked at as a strict man whose one job was to deliver presents to kids on Christmas. He was a well known figure who everyone related with and waited for eagerly around Christmas.

Looking at how popular Santa Claus was, and realizing that people connect better with characters they could relate to, Coca-Cola decided to cash in on this. They invented their own persona of the him in 1930. He was made into a real person, someone people could look up to, was friendly and pleasant.

This task was handed to Haddon Hubbard “Sunny” Sundblom. He was in charge of painting Santa Claus advertisements for the Coca-Cola Company in 1931. Sundblom’s Santa was received so well that it established itself as a key figure in American Christmas. The images Sundblom created of Clause became so popular that he is often credited for creating the modern image of Santa.

  1. Marlboro Man – 1950s

Marlboro man has to be one of the biggest influencers out there. He is a figure who appeared on tobacco advertisements for Marlboro cigarettes, reigning from 1954 to 1999.

The Marlboro man was conceived by Leo Burnett and the figure was portrayed by a number of actors. The ads always included a rugged cowboy in the wild terrain. The idea was to make filtered cigarettes popular by showing customers that if they bought Marlboro they could become rugged and macho like the Marlboro man.

The Cowboys proved to be popular amongst people, leading to the ‘Marlboro Cowboy’ and ‘Marlboro Country’ campaigns.

Burnett’s inspiration for the masculine and macho ‘Marlboro Man’ came from Life magazine in 1949. Texas cowboy Clarence Hailey Long’s photo caught his attention. Within the span of one year, Marlboro’s share rose considerably, making it one of the best selling brands.

  1. Tony The Tiger – 1952

Tony the Tiger is the cartoon mascot of Kellogg’s cereals Frosted Flakes. Eugene Kolkey, Leo Burnett and Edward Kern sketched a Tiger during a contest in 1951, which later became the mascot for Kellogg’s new breakfast cereal debuted in 1952.

Tony was voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft for 5 decades before he passed away in 2005.

During the 1970s Tony began to humanize. The Frosted Flakes mascot was given an Italian-American nationality. He grew very popular in the Italian-American community, even winning ‘Tiger of the Year’ in 1974.

Tony often makes an appearance in American commercials as an animated figure in a live-action world, dressed as an extreme sports athlete. Besides appearing in the live-action world Tony is also able to interact through it.

  1. New Old Spice – 2000s

The New Old Spice campaign which went viral in 2010 is one of the most successful and creative influencer marketing tales in the recent past. The campaign which was titled ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ or ‘Smell Like A Man, Man’ was a 30-second commercial promoting Old Spice’s products.

Seeing how successful the initial campaign had been, the brand decided to release another campaign titled ‘The Response Campaign’. Over the course of two and a half days, Old Spice shot 186 videos featuring Isaiah Mustafa talking with fans and celebrities. The campaign garnered over 40 million views after the first week, leading Old Spice to secure the spot of No.1 all-time most-viewed brand channel on YouTube. This saw the brand’s sales go up by 27% in the following 6 months.

Today, influencer marketing has evolved into a very competitive space, but campaigns from the past continue to shape new marketing strategies. You can visit our influencer marketing case studies section for more recent studies and findings from the world of online marketing.

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Written by Armaghan

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