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Influencers aren’t new — how this marketing trend has been around for centuries

Influencing has become a huge marketing tactic and, for some, an occupation. However, while influencing may seem new, it’s really not

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Eliza Anderson, Deseret News

Digital influencing seems to have flooded the internet as a marketing tactic, drawing in buyers from account recommendations on social media platforms. While this may seem like a new kind of marketing, it’s actually nothing new.

What is influencing and who are influencers?

Influencing can be applied to any individual who has the ability to incite or influence behavior in his or her followers, according to Viewpoint. Influencers are often used to endorse products, which is referred to as influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing used in social media that utilizes influential accounts on social media to endorse products. Influencers are typically people with a social media following and reputation for expertise on a topic.

In our digital age, influencing is heavily associated with social media, but technology has advanced and changed influencer marketing.

How long has influencing been around?

Influencing has been around since before modern technology. According to Forbes, influencer marketing has existed since the 1930s, but could be traced back to ancient Rome, when gladiators would actually endorse products.

Influencing has been around for a long time — impacting what people buy and how they behave and helping to determine what is popular.

According to Medium, kings, queens and popes would promote the use of medicine. Forbes reported that in 1760, Wedgwood, a fine china company, made a tea set for King George III’s wife. After that, the company marketed its brand as “royal approved.”

Who was the first influencer?

Influencing might even be tracked to an earlier period. Pope Francis tweeted and credited the Virgin Mary as the first influencer, writing, “Without social networks, she became the first ‘influencer’: the ‘influencer’ of God.”

During the early 1900s, Murad cigarettes featured a film star known as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle in its advertisements, creating the first celebrity endorsement. The successful campaign influenced other companies to utilize athlete and celebrity influence to sell products.

Influencing continued through Coca-Cola’s use of Santa Claus in 1931 advertisements. Hollywood stars promoted new silhouettes, offering fresh fashion and style, in the 1940s. Nike’s Air Jordans became super popular after the debut and endorsement from Michael Jordan in 1984.

During the development of the internet, influencing extended to blogs and since then, the invention of social media has made it possible for really anyone to influence. “Social media has allowed anyone the opportunity to become an ‘influencer,’” Forbes reports.

Influencing has existed for a long time and has developed from influential royalty to celebrities to the every day social media user. However, now that becoming an influencer is more accessible, it poses the question of its impact.

Who coined the term influencer?

The term influencer has been used since 1662 according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but the word was just recently added to the dictionary in 2019.

Are we too easily influenced?

Psychology Today reported that people often rely on popularity — if everyone else seems to be buying something, we feel that item is worth our attention. Influencing is a market dedicated to making people act or buy something because of its popularity.

Popular trends create a sense of tribalism, which offers people a sense of unity and harmony. However, influencing can be a double-edged sword.

The New Yorker reported that digital influence can be a “salable commodity and a threat to democracy, a commercial dream and a political nightmare.” With influences come many voices, all with different motives.

Are digital influences harmful?

The think tank Center for a New American Security writes that digital influence can spread propaganda and impact more people, more quickly. It can impact political views and increase polarization. So, is it OK that we rely so heavily on social media platforms and their users?

The personal biases of users, as well as misinformation, can impact our own personal views. Those with more influence have the power to impact more opinions. Social media influencers, including political leaders and celebrities, can effect our opinions because of the influential power they hold.

An example of this is in political parties. According to The Economist, “as partisanship grows, committed members of political parties seem increasingly inclined to change their attitudes to match those of their parties’ leaders.”

Political party leaders have a large influence over their parties and have the influence to impact opinions within their party. However, they aren’t the only ones with the power to influence politics.

Perspectives on Politics reported that with massive media reach, celebrities have a large platform to promote their views and issues, and are able to get access to governing bodies like U.S. Congress and the United Nations.

Jason Momoa used his influence to visit the United Nations and speak out about island nations and climate change challenges. Another example of celebrity influence was when Oprah Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2007.

One example of damaging influence relates to fast fashion. On TikTok, there are various videos of “hauls” where users purchase lots of items and promote the fast-fashion industry, which is damaging to the environment and often violates labor laws. These influences encourage young people to buy items from unethical sources.

Our ability to be easily influenced because of a want to fit in or be popular can cause many issues in society through political views and promoting consumerism. It might be time to reassess our influences.

How long will influencing last?

Influencing has grown in numbers and in popularity. According to Fashion magazine, the influencer market has become heavily saturated and expanded to include “micro influencers.” Micro influencers have less followers, but are just as valuable for marketing and have influence.

Influencing will be around for a long time because of its effectiveness. People, especially women, are more likely to be influenced to make purchases or lifestyle changes from recommendations from other people, according to Forbes.

Influencing plays a large role in impacting behavior by using recommendations, which is why it is not going away anytime soon.

Who is the highest paid influencer?

The highest paid influencer is LeLe Pons. According to Livingly, Pons is paid $144,000 per post.