Commentary

When Life Imitates Art: The Evolution Of Celebrity Brands On And Off-Screen

Funny how this time of year we are obsessed with the awards shows, the red carpet the glitz, the celebrity story lines. This year, I enjoyed watching how so many celebrities are morphing their brands. Lady Gaga’s knock-out “Sound Of Music” tribute, the honesty and passion in some of the acceptances speeches, be it Patricia Arquette’s talking about equal wages, John Legend on equality across all barriers, or one of the night’s top screen writers who encouraged young creative souls to keep it weird. 

Traditionally, real life is Hollywood’s inspiration. What’s interesting is how this is changing as celebrities manage their own rise and fall of fame and are confronted with new social media starlets. How do these new personal brands to remain relevant beyond the silver screens, on social media and online? 

The age-old celebrity product endorsements still exist but we’re seeing more and more of the celebrity brand expansion emulate into “real life.” From Beyonce’s new vegan meal delivery service, to Jessica Simpson’s clothing line, and Jessica Alba’s natural products company, all of these traditional celebs have found ways to expand their brands beyond typical endorsements and into areas of commerce that affect us directly as consumers and impact our daily lives. Celebrities — both on and off the red carpets — are entering the big-time in traditional business.

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There is an inverse relationship here too, and we can point examples of life imitating art. Just as audiences are drawn to films based on real-life events, the rise of real life spokespeople that break the traditional celebrity mold, appearing on the big screen and enjoying the brand endorsements once only reserved for Hollywood’s elite. So with rise of social media and democratization of fame, “celebrity” now refers to virtually anyone with a following. And these people with a following are redefining “traditional” celebrity.

Seems like you could cut one of these examples and still have the content be the same

Take Jenna Marbles, for example, with 14 million subscribers to her funny and unfiltered YouTube channel and nearly 1.7 billion views, she’s making Hollywood-level money from YouTube ads served to her audience. And with features in The New York Times, on ABC News and MTV, this self-described DIY digital entertainer is one of the top 10 highest paid YouTube stars. 

Or what about Alex from Target? An average 16 year old with an after-school job as a bag boy at Target, until a picture of him at work went viral on Twitter and with the help of a hashtag #alexfromtarget he gained over 100,000 followers in one day. He’s since appeared on talk shows including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” has been offered advertising deals and sponsorships, is pursuing a music career, appearing in movies, and launching a clothing line.

The lines between celebrity, business executive, corporate spokesperson, and average Joe are more blurred than ever. And as traditional celebrities meddle in business, and the average Joes become overnight stars, businesses should brace themselves for the shift in commerce trends to come. 

First, consider a cautionary tale. As traditional celebrities expand their brand reach across industries and categories, and continue to grow their brands outside of the entertainment space, it means more competition for the rest of us. Businesses, entertainment, and elsewhere, we all compete for the same prize, consumer attention and dollars. Celebs are a unique threat, as they come armed with an identity that precedes them in a market where they’re already a household name.  

The other takeaway however, is rich with opportunity. Not only do we have tools to create fame at our fingertips, by publishing a YouTube video, sharing a Twitter photo, or liking a Facebook status, we can tap into willing and eager brand spokespeople in ways never before possible. With the rise of the “real life” star, consumers are comfortable with celebrity coming from all walks of life, and, as businesses, we can use this to our advantage. In fact, your next celebrity spokesperson may be sitting right next to you.

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