Both Pringle and Rothman cite Paris Hilton as the ultimate example of someone who’s turned instant fame into big brand success. Hilton, once only famous for being an heiress that dances on tables, has parlayed her celebrity into record deals, reality shows, a hairpiece line, a watch line and (count ’em) six successful lines of perfume.
“Paris Hilton is the ultimate business model,” Rothman says. “Anyone who is famous today in that capacity is looking to what she did in trying to establish themselves as their own brand.”
Parlux Fragrances, Inc., the manufacturer of Hilton’s fragrance and watch lines, recently announced that Fairy Dust, Hilton’s most recent fragrance, sold approximately US$ 7.5 million by the end of 2008—and it only began shipping in late September. To date, sales for all of Hilton’s brands are approaching the US$ 100M mark and are expected to crack US$ 150M in the next few years.
These are impressive numbers for someone who is famous for being famous. In recent months, nearly 400 people in Lancaster, PA, shelled out close to US$ 200 each for a Paris Hilton fragrance, gift bag and a two-to-three-minute audience with Paris herself.
That’s a big chunk of change in financially challenged times, but those times are ripe for consumers to escape into a celebrity-driven fantasy. “If people can’t afford a Chanel bag, they will buy a Chanel lipstick to live a little bit of that lifestyle. Paris Hilton represents a certain glam fairy tale life. By buying something from Paris Hilton, consumers are buying a little bit of her lifestyle, a little bit of her fairy tale,” Rothman says.
But without adequate support, a venture—even if launched by one of the world’s most beautiful people—can fall flat. Model Heidi Klum wanted to launch her 100 percent fat-free German candy brand as My Favorite Candies by Heidi Klum in the US a few years ago, but the venture soon met its demise.
“Heidi is a wonderful businessperson, but we just couldn’t find a market for her product,” says Susan Rosenthal, VP marketing and export, Hillside Candy. “The package didn’t work out as best as it could. We did want to have a picture of her and couldn’t do it. And as we were launching, she announced she was pregnant with her first child and she was kind of out of the public eye at that point. The timing was off.”
What about the long term? What’s the expected trajectory of brands that promote looks over substance? “Paris could be a fluke,” Rothman says. “If these other people who are famous not for anything tangible prove themselves as brands over time, then it might be an ongoing trend. If Paris is the only one, then companies might shy away from aligning themselves with them. If our economy continues to be weak, people are going to really want to bank on a sure thing rather than take a gamble on someone without substance.”