New York versus Hoopz? I didn't have a favorite contestant. In fact, I really didn't care who won. But that didn't stop me from watching vh1's "Celebreality" program, "Flavor of Love," for 11 weeks every Sunday night, culminating in a captivating finale -- and I'm not being facetious -- in which New York and Hoopz duked it out for the Flav's attention in Puerto Vallarta. At first I was a closet viewer, ashamed to admit that I watched this urban spin-off of "The Bachelor." I sat glued to my TV set watching with awe (balanced with moments of disgust) as 20 women did the amazingly entertaining and even ungodly to "win" Flavor Flav as their squeeze.
This was entertainment at its most addictive. By week six, I found myself craving more "Flavor of Love." Who were these women? What needs were fulfilled by appearing half-naked on television and lusting after Flavor Flav? Did Flav take himself seriously? (Yes all the way to the bank.) Was the XL Movado-styled watch that he wore around his neck stealth product placement? The answers were a mere Google search away. My fellow "Flavor" junkies united on the show's message board, MySpace.com, and various chat rooms across the Internet, extending the experience beyond the tube.
I'm not alone. One-third of Americans are celebrity-obsessed, according to Kate Douglas, in a 2003 article in New Scientist. Recently we spoke with a number of entertainment experts to understand more about this cultural phenom. Star magazine's vice president-group publisher, Michelle Myers, told us that the number of editorial pages devoted to entertainment and celebrity increased by 316 percent over the last 10 years. Celebrities graced the cover of 41 percent of U.S. magazine covers in 2005, versus only 4 percent of covers dedicated to national affairs. Why? What's behind our fascination with celebrities?
Jeff Olde, senior vice president and president of programming and production for vh1, believes celebrities are simply "more fun to watch." I agree but only when they are psychotic, neurotic, and narcissistic, which is the secret sauce of vh1's "Celebreality" platform. It puts a spin on the bubbles and sparkles usually associated with celebrity and tackles "more interesting and serious issues" like drug addiction, poor self-esteem, weak morals, and weight control.
How can you leverage this voyeuristic power for your brands?
>>Find the right space. Flavor Flav may not be the right fit for a wholesome packaged goods marketer, but he might be perfect for an online dating service. Just because a property is hot doesn't mean it is a strategic fit for your brand.
>>Go on tour. An advertising endorsement is not enough. Make sure your product goes where the celebrity goes. Leverage all celebrity contacts TV, print, online, radio, and events to their fullest potential.
>>Take a calculated risk. Marketers should do their homework to create a solid celebrity strategy, then dive in headfirst. You may get a few bumps and bruises along the way, but these days, taking a risk is your safest bet.
In the words of Flavor Flav: "You know what time it is...My time is up."