History Of Influencer Marketing Predates Social Media By Centuries – But Is There Enough Transparency In The 21st Century?

History Of Influencer Marketing Predates Social Media By Centuries – But Is There Enough Transparency In The 21st Century?

Vlogger makes video at home in stylish urban apartment


The marketed influencer has existed in modern times since the 1930s, but in truth it could be traced back to ancient Rome when gladiators actually endorsed products. However, the word “influencer” was only added to the modern lexicon in the last decade and was only officially added to the English dictionary last year.

One of the first widely recognized “influencer” collaborations dates back to 1760 when Wedgwood first made a tea set for the wife of King George III. Kings were the driving force of the era, and Wedgwood quickly marketed its brand as a “Royal” approval. This gave it such a luxury status that the brand is still considered suitable for a king or queen even today.

In the 20th century, Coco Channel was one of the first and most enduring influencers in the fashion world. Now social media has given everyone the opportunity to become an “influencer” and offer their recommendations to the masses.

Paid influence

The fact that many people can now make a living as “influencers” has led to old controversies about marketing re-emerging. Are influencers really impressed with the products and services they are promoting, or are these paid endorsements a form of advertising? And is enough being done today to ensure transparency?

The internet in general, and social media in particular, has blurred the line between “editorial” and “advertising” and some do not warn enough to alarm consumers.

“Mommy Bloggers have been the most influential communicators on the Internet since social media began more than a decade ago,” said technology entrepreneur Lon Safko, author of the Social Media Bible.

“So much so that the FTC had to pass a 2012 mommy blogger bill that says any blogger who receives compensation from a company that the blogger reviews must clearly state this on the first line of their blog.” , Safko explained. “It was too often a mommy blogger talked about how wonderful a certain gang of disposable diapers were when Proctor & Gamble drove to their house in a semi-trailer full of free disposable diapers the next day.”

Gray areas and gaps have emerged, and influencers generally did not have to offer such disclosure.

“This law only applies to bloggers, not to Facebook influencers or Instagram or Twitter or TicTok influencers,” added Safko. “The FTC or the FCC do not provide such laws to protect us from other influences sponsored by the mainstream media or, worse, that generate income from the personal views and agendas of sponsors and owners.”

Influencing factors in the spotlight

Reason is that influencers need to be far more open about being paid by a brand.

“With so many people, especially young adults, getting information online, the role of ‘influencers’ in promoting brands and new products and services deserves special attention,” said Lawrence Parnell, associate professor and director of the Strategic Public Relations program at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.

“Although the FTC guidelines are clear enough, they seem to fall short in terms of enforcement. Most of the responsibility lies with the influencer, disclosing a business relationship via a hashtag (e.g. #sponsored) or, for example, as an ‘ambassador’ Identify. “added Parnell.

However, some progress has been made in this regard.

“Influencers who advertise in organic content have driven changes to social media platforms like Instagram and Youtube, including paid partnership tags,” said Dustin York, associate professor and director of communications for students and alumni at Maryville University .

“And there has been an urge for influencers to use #ad in their copy when compensated (which has sparked a trend of would-be influencers posting #ad content in hopes of being seen as more popular than them ). But what has it really changed? “York mused. “Product placements on television have been going on for years, and sponsored articles in newspapers aren’t new. And now Instagram Influencer @lilmiqeula is literally a digital avatar – currently close to three million followers – and sells a wide variety of products. The line between authentic voice and paid.” Sponsorships are no longer recognizable. “

Financial information

It could help the consumer know when an influencer is getting paid, and perhaps the in-depth Biden administration will look into the matter – but more likely it could be a normal business with little being done on the subject.

“Financial conflict disclosure has increased in recent years,” suggested James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business. “We as a society and many of our leaders have put a distance between what we do and how we are compensated for our work. There is little understanding of the importance of financial connections between influencers and those of them to recognize advertised or even discussed products. “”

That void can be a chasm when it comes to social media, warned Bailey.

“Because of its ephemeral nature, social media can have a powerful but fleeting influence and is often not taken as seriously as it should,” he added. The immediacy of social media makes it abundant ground for conflict and fraudulent practices. Endorsement guides like the one created by the FTC bring the importance of transparency to the fore. Social media influencers have a platform for information, but have a duty not to deceive their audience. The clarity of brand relationships and conflicts ensures that the public knows the “what” and “why” of a recommendation.

Do Consumers Really Care?

The other consideration is that most of the public may not even care if influencers are paid. But that’s been the case for years – did anyone really think that athletes would consider a certain brand of sports equipment to be superior or that a NASCAR driver would care about sponsoring their car?

In other words, why would anyone expect influencers to really stand behind these products?

“The sad truth is that consumers don’t pay more attention to them than the required legal information, which is provided in small print or by a quick speaker in car or finance ads,” suggested Parnell. “Almost everyone overlooks this and focuses on the glamorous and exciting material that the celebrity or ‘lifestyle expert’ is presenting.”

“I am always amazed that millions of followers will believe and follow the advice of an unqualified pop, country or rap singer just because they had a hit,” said Safko. “This is now more than fake news and biased reporting. This is a serious lack of a credible, truthful, and unbiased source of information.”

However, in the long run, disclosure could be beneficial for both the brand and the influencer.

“Brands that want to be seen as authentic and transparent should better identify relationships with influencers so current and prospective customers can make an informed decision,” Parnell said.