Love her or hate her, you have to hand it to Lady Gaga - the woman knows how to sell. Beyond the Rolling Stone covers, business rags have also tracked Gaga's moves with the breathless fervor of her very own "little monsters," awed at the lickety-split empire she's erected in barely two years. Fast Company just gave her the top spot on its 100 Most Creative People in Business list. Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Ad Age are similarly reverent toward the 24-year-old pop star's brand.
Time and again, biz publications praise Gaga's Internet savvy above all. She constantly tweets! The number of Gaga Facebook fans rivals the populations of most World Cup team countries! Her videos have crashed her own Web site! And that active online presence allows her to maintain an air of authenticity that fuels the Gaga machine, according to her manager Troy Carter.
But I'd say the brilliance of Lady Gaga's business smarts isn't demonstrated in record sales, since artists profit more from concert sales and outside deals than moving music. It's in her ability to attract an enormous fan base while simultaneously managing an ever-growing list of endorsements, product placements, creative collaborations and charitable causes.
To date, Lady Gaga has been associated or signed on with upwards of 15 different brands ranging from her creative director spot at Polaroid and Virgin Mobile tour sponsorship to the Campari bottle that repeatedly pops up in "Love Game." That (very unofficial) tally doesn't include the more happenstance connections, such as the marker-graffittied Birkin bag she took to Japan and her videos' extensive fashion credits.
When her oh-so-shocking "Telephone" video debuted in March, the pantry full of products that popped up in the 9-minute movie attracted as much attention as that jailhouse girl kiss. Asked about the overt advertising, Gaga played right back to the media that can't analyze her cultural significance enough. In response to Wonder Bread appearing in one of the scenes, she coolly called it "a commentary on the kind of country that we are." Perhaps that's true, but the Miracle Whip she slathered on that metaphor-laden loaf paid for its cameo (although maybe not as much as the Russian billionaire in "Alejandro").
Of course, Lady Gaga's cultural predecessor Madonna has also thrown her weight behind select products, just not at such warp speed. As Andrew Hampp pointed out in Fast Company: "Madonna's notorious endorsement for Pepsi in 1989 ... came seven years after the debut of her first single in 1982."
The brands courting Gaga haven't flushed away cash on these endorsements, either. Recent research from Harvard Business School found that athletic celebrity endorsements provide a 4 percent sales boost on average. And whaddya know, the Viva Glam lipsticks she and Cyndi Lauper promoted for MAC cosmetics are the best-selling in the line's history. When PlentyofFish.com flashed on an HP laptop screen for a few moments during "Telephone," the dating site reported a 15 percent traffic bump almost immediately.
Lady Gaga could be gone tomorrow, but she's wisely expanding her brand far beyond singles and videos like a pro while she's at the top. So even if "Poker Face" makes you want to poke your eyes out, it's hard to deny that the business media bandwagon is right. Gaga Inc. isn't just a pantsless pop factory; it's a very profitable business with a very smart young woman at the helm.