Star Burst: What The Fragmentation of Celebrity Means For Marketers

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.

As technology changes, so does fame.

The growth of the digital age has democratized the idea of celebrity  where anyone can become famous, bypassing old gatekeepers like casting directors, publishing houses, and elections.

Today fame has become so fragmented that we’re often exposed to only a small subset of the modern celebrity class. With so many different platforms and channels, our highly personalized media consumption has given way to just as many celebrities. Each platform owns its own niche: Charli D’Amelio leads TikTok, Mr. Beast was named the top-earning creator on YouTube, and five out of the top 20 Instagram accounts are Kardashians.



As such, our collective experience has changed. A totem pole that once united generations under a shared identity has fragmented into a million pieces. Even experiences of a singular event can vary depending on which platforms you use to access it. Tentpoles like the Olympics can be watched on TV, streamed online, read about, and  experienced from the athlete’s point of view on platforms like TikTok. We no longer have to seek out creators and artists; instead, algorithms are now dictating who we see. Tailored to your taste, the stars you’ve encountered may vary vastly from those your peers meet.

In parallel, the lifespans of stardom have also shrunken over time. Viral media has catapulted normal folks to short-lived notoriety, fulfilling Andy Warhol’s idea of 15 minutes of fame. Blink and you might miss it. Viral sensations like "Tiger King" and TikTok’s West Elm Caleb dominated the conversation for a time before becoming just another flash in the pan. Many creators are desperately trying to recreate the magic that led to their videos going viral, but wind up as one-hit wonders.

Today, there is a new playbook—or life cycle—for the famous. From content creation to brand engagements and creator collabs, there’s certain steps people have to take to turn themselves into the next great influencers. And inevitably, with so many gaining fame and fortune at such a young age, mistakes will happen. Which is why that life cycle now includes the eventual social media apology, shared on Instagram or YouTube.

The old Hollywood machine isn’t going away anytime soon; this year’s Oscars finally reversed their downward ratings trend, and the most famous person according to Google in 2020 was Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Still, ubiquitous stars may soon become a relic of the past. According to research from YouGov and the Consumer Technology Association, 39% of our total weekly media usage is dedicated to user-generated content.

As marketers, that means it’s more important than ever to understand niche influencers to reach your specific audiences. Understand where in the influencer life cycle your chosen influencers lie, and how your brand can work to engage their audiences. And with channel fragmentation, take more time to explore and understand the differences in how your audiences interact with different platforms.

Most importantly of all: What do we as human beings ultimately lose with this shift in fame, and might it be more difficult to connect with one another without having that same shared experience? It’s worth considering how marketers and brands can play a role in solving that issue  as well.

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