Depending on your definition of influence marketing, endorsements have existed for as long as there have been notable figures in society, but the internet age brought with it the chance for people to build organic, loyal followings largely by being themselves, and becoming opinion leaders when it came to marketing.
Early examples of this include JenniCam and the first wave of notable bloggers, but arguably the first platform that truly allowed for influencers to be creative and turn their unorthodox passions into careers would be YouTube.
YouTube launched in 2005 and within a year was already beginning to see potential as a platform for more than cat videos and random camera phone clips.
Although at this point there wasn’t a way to make money directly from advertising, that was less of an issue thanks to companies willing to invest in the future.
Many major companies saw YouTube as an effective way to create sponsored content almost immediately, but unlike the modern system of advertising you see today, a lot of the sponsors were rather more integrated.
One of the earliest examples of this was the web series Lonelygirl15, which initially portrayed itself as a legitimate blog of a teenage girl before slowly developing into a science-fiction thriller involving bizarre cults and convoluted sci-fi plots.
In an episode in 2007, after the show had been revealed to be fictional, the show signed a deal to include product placement with The Hershey Company to promote Ice Breakers Sours, shown in a lingering shot in March 2007. Later the music store Amie Street and Neutrogena would also feature.
However, arguably the most famous early example of sponsored content was in the series Fred, which from a relatively early stage started to include sponsored content, despite the show’s rather strange and sometimes disturbing subject matter.
The first and most famous example of this was the Zipit Wireless Messenger, an early wireless device used to instant message other people, before later sponsoring the box office bomb City of Ember, with a mock movie trailer being notably more successful than the film’s actual trailer.
These two were not successes. However, a cross-promotion with internet-themed children’s sitcom iCarly was significantly more successful, leading to the latter becoming one of the biggest shows on Nickelodeon and the former working with the company directly on three feature films and a TV show.