If you have a pulse and you're not hiding out in a cave somewhere, chances are you've noticed an inordinate number of celebs schilling products lately. They're everywhere, and I'm not just talking about the washed up actor/spokesman selling car insurance on TV ads. Just about every A-lister, from Jennifer Anniston and her ubiquitous bottle of Smart Water to LL Cool J and his Chapstick brand have permeated the media landscape.
Wonder why, when you see pictures of Hayden Panettiere on PerezHilton.com, she's wearing Candies shoes? Well, that may have something to do with the fact that she is their latest spokesmodel. Not only that, the company is underwriting the cost of her first album that's dropping in a month, and the music video. Brands have become the big power players in the world of entertainment, and it's going to stay that way.
Some might call this selling out, but they're missing the point. Not only are these partnerships smart marketing strategies, consumer brands and stars need each other in this era of new media.
The market has become so fragmented, with dozens of information outlets competing for the attention of savvy young consumers, that traditional advertising simply does not reach them anymore. Even when I was a teen, we were glued to the TV on Thursday nights. Consuming the ads was part of the experience of watching Dawson's Creek and Beverly Hills 90210. When Ali Landry became the new Doritos girl, we actually cared who she was. And we all noticed that the kids on Dawson's Creek wore American Eagle.
But, according to my latest research, a whopping 93% of kids prefer Internet to TV. Who watches TV on television these days? Very few people under 25! These youth are like my baby brother. They're using the downtime this summer to order they're favorite HBO series on Netflix. They're catching up on Ugly Betty via ABC.com. They love the shows, but they're not watching the ads. They don't have to!
They've got 30 to 40 different ways to get content. They're IMing friends, surfing the net, running their own social network pages on MySpace. Not only are they watching YouTube, they're creating and posting their own content. To stand out and be heard past all this noise, Cover Girl needs the coolness factor of Rihanna or Drew Barrymore. Together, these brands create a much more powerful, long-lasting image then they would apart. In short, the marriage of brand and star is a force to be reckoned with.
But it's not just the consumer brand that needs the artist. Celebrities need the deep pockets of these advertisers to help them create content. They're not making the kind of money they used to, because kids are downloading it for free. Even big music labels don't have the cash to develop artists and pay for big album releases these days. Only the Procter & Gambles of this world have the resources to pay for the kind of marketing and research that's needed to promote albums, movies and television shows.
That's why Island Def Jam's pairing with P&G's Tag brand of men's body spray was so smart. The music major's Island Urban vision, under uber producer Jermaine Dupri, created a whole new, branded label, Tag Records. Tag, a brand that's suffered in the face of a slick marketing campaign by rival Axe, gets the street cred of being associated with a figure like JD, and JD gets ridiculous amounts of money to develop and break new urban artists. He said it himself: "I've never seen someone wanting to devote this much money to breaking new artists...Nobody in the music business has the marketing budget that I have."
Of course, the pressure's on for Jermaine to make Tag a hot product. He's got to get Tag associated with a smoking new artist and impress urban kids with the fact that the brand had a huge hand in creating the kind of music they love. Even then, it's not a slam dunk. I've seen the jokes in the chat rooms. Kids are finding it hard to believe that a man who wears Cartier watches and Gucci sneakers would drench himself in a body spray that "smells like Lemon Pledge."
The celebrities can't be greedy. They can't accept just any deal. I doubt you'll see too many more partnerships like Diddy's with Ciroc vodka when the man's only drinking Patron tequila while he parties on his yacht. There are so many exciting directions he could take a brand like that, but he's not!
Marketers also have to be smart about what pairings will actually work. Chris Lighty of Violator Management is brilliant at getting celebrities he manages a direct stake in the products they promote, and he always puts them together with products that make sense for them. Lip smacking LL Cool J and Chapstick? Genius!
Ad veterans like Jarrod Moses, who runs United Entertainment Group, and David Caruso, of Acme Content Co., also understand the complex nexus of content, art, and effective branding. Jarrod's creating a platform for The Biggest Loser's drill sergeant, Bob Harper. In this case, the celebrity is becoming the brand, selling his own line of exercise clothes, fitness equipment, and vitamins. Other advertisers will follow when they see the traffic on his website 0 a kind of social network for dieters. It'll work because it's such an obvious fit.
Of course, sometimes it's best not to be too obvious. The series "Lipstick Jungle" is a case in point. It seemed like the whole show revolved around Brooke Shields reapplying her Maybelline lipstick in the ladies' room. Endless plugs by the underwriter of the show were such a turn off, viewers changed the channel.
No matter how perfect the celeb/brand match may seem, like all great relationships, it requires a subtle balancing act.
Tina Wells, 28, founded Buzz Marketing Group when she was just 17. A leading consulting company that specializes in the latest youth trends, Buzz clients include St. Martin's Press, SonyBMG, Sesame Workshop and Time Inc., to name a few. A trailblazer in her field, her list of honors include Essence Magazine's 40 Under 40 Award, Billboard's 30 Under 30 Award, and AOL's Black Voices Female Entrepreneur's Award.