Psychology behind influence: New age advertising or picked from history

In advertising folklore, it is said that long ago, the Queen and the Pope used to endorse medicine- for the benefits of common people. In a sense, they were the first influencers in the history of influencer marketing, promoting the use of medicine to those who weren’t believers yet. Thereafter in 1890, Nancy Green was hired by RT Davis Milling Company to be the face of their pancake mix called “Aunt Jemima.” She represented a popular character, Aunt Jemima from a local minstrel show. In just a matter of time, Aunt Jemima gave the pancake mix a unique identity and made it famous. She was even awarded medals and certificates for her effective showmanship. In the history of influencer marketing, Aunt Jemima is considered to be one of the pioneers though it is fundamentally different from what influencer marketing is today.

Fast-forwarding to today, millennials and Gen Z have disrupted trends in consumer behaviour and have changed the history of influencer marketing, as we knew it. They don’t rely on celebrity brand ambassadors but rather need social proof before they decide to buy anything. This has given birth to new categories of influencers, from people with only a few thousand followers to those with millions of followers.

The business of influence is professionalizing and how! And influence as we know is not a static quality. It’s a status one has to earn and then maintain. Content creators  are getting integrated into our daily lives and we might not even realize the clout they have over our day to day decisions. Brand dollars as we know have increasingly been flooded into the space. 

Buying Behaviour Patterns:

Humans are complex organisms driven by various emotions that are often unfathomed. Early psychologists thought that humans were rational in their decision-making until it was revealed that often, they make decisions based on emotion and then rationalize them. Let’s for a moment look at what influenced their buying behaviour. 

Some of the triggers for buying range from: 

Herd mentality or McClelland’s Affiliation 

A consumer, who buys a product based on the recommendation of an influencer, is displaying herd mentality as part of the influencer’s tribe. McClelland called it affiliation, where the consumer wants to be associated with others through a partnership of shared buying decisions. 

Fear of missing out (FOMO) or scarcity 

People also are motivated to buy, driven by the fear of missing out. It also builds on the scarcity principle. Anything that is perceived to be in short supply becomes more attractive and hence needs to be purchased. 


Sometimes, the buyer has received a freebie from the influencer and she feels obliged to return the favour by buying a product on his recommendation. In this case, the value of the freebie doesn’t matter. It is the fact that the influencer has given something unasked. 

Bridging the curiosity gap 

If there is a buyer who is not aware of something and yet wants to know more about it. The knowledge gap is called the curiosity gap. Depending upon the product, consumers will buy it to fill in the curiosity gap based on the recommendation of the influencer. 

Trust in the influencer, as a consumer 

If an influencer is using the product, which she is recommending then, the consumer is more disposed to buy it. The believability of an influencer plays a great role in influencing buying on the part of a consumer. 

Authority of the influencer 

If an influencer is perceived as an authority in her field then consumers are more eager to buy the recommended product. It is also the halo or rub-off effect coming into play. 

Are there any more reasons why consumers or followers get influenced by a user having high social reach? Do share your thoughts in the comments section.

P.S – The article was originally published by me in ET Brand Equity