The Evolution of Celebrity Influencers

  • Published on
    Jan 05, 2022

A celebrity walking on the red carpet as reporters take photos of her

Celebrity influencers are the past, present, and future of successful marketing. 

Imagine Times Square without those awe-striking BTS x Hyundai billboards lighting up New York City. Or what if that viral Heinz Ketchup commercial with Ed Sheeran that makes us all ROFL never existed in the first place?

Sounds like a pretty dull world, right? 

Like the bright shining stars that they are, celebrities add sparkle to the brands they endorse. Almost like magic, it convinces us to give a second look and somehow makes us remember and trust the brand. For these very reasons, celebrity influencers are your express ticket to brand recognition. 

The trend of leveraging famous personalities to capture the attention of the masses isn’t some new technique, though—it has actually been around for a few hundred years.

Grab your sunglasses and an ice-cold soda, because we’re about to take a trip back in time to discover the influencer evolution. 

Influencer Evolution: A Historical Timeline of How It All Started

The power of celebrity influencers began to rise all the way back in the 1700s. Yes, that long ago. This ancient marketing tool has been catapulting businesses to widespread recognition for centuries—and it’s bound to never go out of style. 

Let’s take a closer look at the influencer evolution through the years, and how it became the multi-billion dollar industry it is today. 

The 1700s

The earliest record of celebrity influencers was in the 1700s. Josiah Wedgwood, a British entrepreneur, thought of a technique to put the spotlight on his Fine China business. 

In 1765, he created a cream-coloured tea set for Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III. Clearly, the royal family was so fascinated by his work that it resulted in Wedgwood being appointed as “Potter to her Majesty.” While he might have just been looking for a royal recommendation, we bet he didn’t see it coming that he’d end up with such a shiny, majestic title. 

Soon, the sets he created became known as “Queensware” and emerged as trending topics in London newspapers. Everyone who wanted a touch of royalty on their dinner tables was lining up to buy them and more than willing to pay hefty prices for them too. 

Not only was this one of the earliest examples of how celebrity influencers can fuel popularity, but it also showed how they’re game-changers in the branding process.  

The 1800s

Trading cards were first introduced in the 1800s and played a vital role in the celebrity influencer evolution. From breath fresheners to sodas, brands would use images of celebrities alongside product descriptions to give to customers or insert them in product packaging. 

Cigarette company “Old Judge” is known for releasing the first major set of baseball cards (about 2,000 different images) in 1887. Sales and customer loyalty shot up like never before amongst eager collectors—proving that celebrity influencers do such a great job at influencing the masses to become patrons. 

People of all ages continue to rave (and fight) about these collectibles even in our modern era. You’ve probably heard of old baseball cards selling for millions of dollars in 2021, which really shows how much long-term power lies in celebrity influencers. 

A collage baseball cards mixed in with other sports

The 1930s

While leveraging the images of celebrities to increase brand awareness was a successful technique used in the 1700s and 1800s, these personalities weren’t actually paid for these “endorsements,” nor did brands always have the permission to use their photos.

All of this changed in the 1930s, when baseball superstar Babe Ruth was paid by Red Rock Cola to endorse their product. He became the first celebrity and athlete to become a paid endorser.

It wasn’t long before movie stars and TV personalities became sought-after endorsers as well. 

The 1980s

The influencer evolution reached a major turning point in the 1980s. At this stage, it wasn’t just about celebrity influencers convincing consumers to try out an existing product—brands began to release new products revolving specifically around their chosen star.

In 1984, Michael Jordan signed a historic deal with Nike worth $250,000 to produce the basketball icon’s very own sneaker line. Thirty-five years later, in 2019, the Nike Air Jordan brand had an estimated worth of three billion dollars. This goes to show that a partnership with the right celebrity influencers might just be the magic spell brands need to thrive in the mainstream scene.  

 pair of Air Jordans

The 2000s

The early 2000s saw partnerships between brands and celebrity influencers reach a whole new level of creativity. Justin Timberlake’s ultra-successful team up with McDonald’s in 2003, which cemented the phrase “Ba Da Ba Ba Bah, I’m Lovin’ It!” in everyone’s head, is the perfect example.

Aside from a string of commercials featuring the singer aired worldwide, the track “I’m Lovin’ It” was actually produced specially for the fast-food chain’s marketing efforts. To strengthen this partnership further, McDonald’s even sponsored Timberlake’s 35-city European solo tour that same year. 

The fact that 19 years later, everyone still hums “Ba Da Ba Ba Bah” in their minds whenever they see those Golden Arches demonstrates how brand recall can pretty much echo into eternity when you align your brand with the right stars. 


The industry of celebrity influencers looks a lot different today than it did at the beginning of the influencer evolution. We’re at a point where celebrities have become established “brands” themselves. When these famous personalities team up with businesses, it ends up being nothing short of a co-branded force to be reckoned with.   

As marketers have been shifting from traditional advertising (e.g. tv commercials) to digital advertising on social media platforms, this has drastically changed the way celebrity influencer marketing works. Just a single post from a star’s official Instagram account can amplify brand awareness and drive engagement like never before. 

Let’s take a look at soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to get a better understanding of where the influencer evolution is at today. 

As the most followed person on Instagram, he rakes in about $1.6 million per Instagram post. It’s a pricey yet worthy investment that brands are lining up for—and the proof is in the numbers. His partnership with Therabody generated over 5.6 million engagements. 

But that isn’t the only notable change in the influencer evolution timeline. Nowadays, you don’t have to be a traditional “celebrity” with box-office hits or multiple Billboard number ones in order to be famous. The Kardashians serve as the perfect example of this concept. Kim Kardashian, who has over 286 million followers, has successfully put the spotlight on brands like Balenciaga, Balmain, De Grisogono, Revolve, Lumee, and JetSmarter through sponsored Instagram posts. 

Evolve Your Brand With Celebrity Influencers

Thinking about making your brand evolve into a well-known and trusted entity by teaming up with celebrity influencers?

Talent Connect is here to get you in touch with the A-listers. Whether it’s for influencer marketing, brand endorsements, or corporate events, our team will connect you with the world’s biggest stars.
Contact us today to kickstart the booking process!

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