Is influencer marketing a new phenomenon?

In 1890, Nancy Green became the face of “Aunt Jemima”. She was hired by RT Davis Milling to be the face of their pancake mix. She was a pioneer in influencer marketing (she was the first black female model and activist, and she was the first face of a brand), influencing a generation of readymade pancake mix buyers.

In 1905, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (American silent movie actor) endorsed Murad, Turkish cigarettes. This paved the way for celebrity endorsements.

Before 1931, Santa Claus was depicted as a gaunt man, an evil-looking elf, alternately wore a bishop’s robe and a Norse huntsman’s animal skin. Artist Haddon Sundblom painted the Santa we know today, drinking a bottle of Coca Cola. This was the first time a fictional character became the face of a brand.

MTV began as a 24-hour platform for music videos and debuted 1 August 1981. The network struggled in its early years, playing clips repetitively, until the launch of the “I want my MTV” campaign. MTV’s Les Garland convinced his friend Mick Jagger to shout the line into the camera. The campaign steamrolled from there with artists like David Bowie and Pete Townshend jumping on board, causing a significant rise in cable tv subscriptions.

The rise of social media created a platform for a new category of influencers to arise, and for all categories, celebrities and other, to share in their own way online, splitting the market. Before, the influencer was in a tv ad campaign (highly scripted) or on a billboard, versus influencer marketing where influencers share personal messages in their own voice.

We recently discussed the rise of virtual influencers and avatars, and we questioned their relatability and whether virtual influencers become a real and significant part of the marketing landscape in the future. What do you think?


Michelle Marais, Digital Marketing Manager

Michelle Marais is the Digital Marketing Manager at R-Squared, a leading influencer marketing agency partnering with some of the largest brands in South Africa and internationally. Our team focuses on out of the box solutions for authenticity in influencer marketing.


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