Influencing before Instagram

Posted on April 06, 2021

For someone who experienced her teenage years a far, far cry from the glory days of the mid-90s, Nuala sure has some good taste when it comes to pop culture. One of her favourite things these days, now Liverpool have returned to their rightful place outside the top four, is Instagram influencers. However, as much as she loves them, she’s asking the question…was the influencer landscape a lot more fun ‘back in the day’? Off you go, Nuala…

I didn’t get Instagram until 2012, it had apparently been around for two years prior but like most things, it didn’t take off until Love Island started in 2015. This meant I had gone through most of my glorious teenage life without being bombarded with swipe up links and giveaways.

However, one would imagine influencers and ‘Get the Look’ only kicked off when Insta bloggers and reels were around. However, I would argue that the real evolution of influencer marketing, reality TV stars and ‘Get the Look’ was in the mid / late 2000’s. I’m talking the days when Oasis headlined Glastonbury and Kate Moss was pap’d wearing low belts and mucky wellies in the era of Pete Doherty. 

Sure, you could say these celebrity influencers dated back to Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana but the combination of TV, the internet, paparazzi and the UK launch of magazines like Heat and Grazia meant the rise of the celebrity and our need to look, dress and act like them really took off in the early / mid 2000s.

It was of course normal to watch red carpet celebrities at the Oscars and the ‘who are you wearing’ fiasco had always been popular, but it was almost fantastical, and we never really thought we could be like these A-listers. It wasn’t until Topshop teamed up with Kate Moss in 2007 for the first celebrity high street collaboration that people could literally replicate this model’s boho / vintage style for an affordable price and so began the high street celebrity collaborations which would evolve and elaborate to this day.

The issue was, it was much more difficult to become an ‘influencer', and to get yourself a collaboration or #gifted product you had to be seen on TV. Sure, social media was working its way into society, but you couldn’t make a career out of sharing love on Bebo or befriending people on MySpace. Virtual followers and outfit tags hadn’t quite broke the internet yet, so we gawked at models like Sienna Miller in Look magazine, longed for Alexa Chung’s coolness on T4 and spent most days watching music videos and MTV Cribs.

Reality TV stars are heavily associated with influencers and Instagram, so we often associate shows like Selling Sunset, Love Island, Celebs Go Dating, Married at First Site etc. with the late 2000s but in all honesty, I think reality TV is becoming close to saturation and maybe even the influencer life is too.

Take us back to 2000 when Big Brother entered our lives, move over Molly Mae and Tommy Fury, Nikki Grahame and Pete Bennett were here first! This was the first time everyone sat down EVERY night to watch non-famous, somewhat normal, definitely entertaining people sit around and essentially do nothing and we absolutely loved it. You didn’t enter the Big Brother House already modelling for ASOS with 10K Instagram followers and a six pack - reality TV was definitely less glamorous and it’s when it was at its best.  

It seems as if the influencer market is increasingly more difficult to break in to and it would be near impossible to have a brand collaboration, especially fashion, without Instagram or TikTok yet Kate Moss still doesn’t have either. These types of shows and public figures have been around for years but the only real thing that has changed is the media they are shown on.

Maybe it’s just me who is thankful I managed (just about) to grow up obsessing over Alex Turner’s authentic love letter to Alexa Chung instead of crying over the Love Islanders’ letters to their chosen other half on the final night. I use Pinterest but am thankful I experienced the original mood boards involving snipping pieces of magazines to make a collage for my actual wall. Life was a bit more simple and lot more cool or maybe that’s just the nostalgia speaking.