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  Celebrity Brands: Extending 15 Minutes of Fame   Celebrity Brands: Extending 15 Minutes of Fame  Vivian Manning-Schaffel  
Celebrity Brands: Extending 15 Minutes of Fame Hamish Pringle, author of Celebrity Sells and director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising in the UK, says ad campaigns gave celebrities and the beautiful people license to go global in aligning themselves with products. “It legitimized commercial activity,” he says.

Pringle cites Paul Newman as a pioneer in making self-branding a class act. “Here was a distinguished Hollywood actor doing a commercial product line. Even though all profits went to charity, it gave him and everyone else permission to become a brand, without a damaging effect on their career,” Pringle explains. “The benefit of doing your own brand campaign is that it keeps you in the public eye 365 days a year.”

And thus, many respected celebrities have discovered a myriad of ways their talent and taste can translate into products that make big bucks. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker joined with Coty to launch two successful fragrances. And no celebranding article would be complete without mention of the almighty JLo brand. Actress, singer and designer Jennifer Lopez has become all but a household name, with two clothing brands and six fragrance lines tucked under her trim belt.

But in today’s raucous, media-fueled cult of personality, a whole new breed of celebrities has emerged, and becoming a brand is the first item on their to-do lists. Thanks in part to the advent of reality TV, it’s no longer required for a celebrity to excel in their craft—be it acting, music or modeling—to inspire consumers to crack open their wallets. It may just be enough to look good and walk the earth.

Some of these reality-show stars are now perceived by certain market segments as beauty icons in their own right, and they are eager to get in on the game while it’s being played. “Most people who are wise know that fame is fleeting. These reality-show stars will do whatever they can to extend their fame while they are considered a viable commodity. They are striking while the iron’s hot to ensure some kind of longevity, or at least financial security,” says Katherine Rothman, president of KMR Communications, Inc.

And, for a marginal fee, consumers get a product that brings a little of that fame into their lives. “There is this Andy Warhol thing going on. Consumers are lifting scenes from other people’s movies. They are cutting and pasting the lives of these celebrities to produce their own story, and it extends into buying the products that they make or buy,” Pringle says.

Why should companies hitch their wagons to an instacelebrity in building a brand? “From a publicist’s perspective, having a recognizable face associated with a brand is invaluable,” Rothman says. “If consumers see a look that they want to emulate, even though the celebrity might not be a beauty expert or a fashion model, it’s going to be an equally profitable brand. A company looking for instant buzz might do well in picking a Victoria Beckham or Kim Kardashian [to launch a product with] because at the moment, those people are in the limelight. In some cases, it can even leverage more attention than someone more knowledgeable about beauty who’s been out of the limelight.”

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.”     



Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a freelance writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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Celebrity Brands: Extending 15 Minutes of Fame
 As the economy re-calibrates itself, brand and marketing professionals will be expected to more with less. At the same time, organizations are going through an internal analysis and will place greater value on their employees as brand champions, not celebrities. Additionally, as more Gen X and Millennials assume decision making positions, they will be more critical of celebrity brands and understand that aligning with a celebrity will only make sense if that celebrity stands for something. Sorry Paris! 
Rex Whisman, Principal, BrandED Consultants Group - February 16, 2009
 Perception is the desire to be deceived by ideas that align with our alter ego life styles. What is it about the Paris Hilton's of the world that we gravitate towards? The money! The fame! The idea that we can have a piece of that life style. Let's be real - I don't know many females conversing at the water cooler about the lovely fragrance that is Paris. But the deep inner workings of our desires take over. We don't talk about it. We don't converse at water coolers about it. But we want it. We need it. We need it to survive our mundane 8-5 work schedule. We need it to survive picking up kids from school and taking the dog to the vet. All of us have this inner chemical balance of life - and brands that can speak to the inner workings of that balance will succeed. Will leave their mark. Will be "perceived" as the greatest brands ever. Think about the brands we associate ourselves with now! To the few brands that speak to the inner balance - we become loyal. 
Bill Backus, Chief Branding Officer, eleph'ant DnA - February 18, 2009
 Celebrity branding is a direct result of our star-gazing obsession, fed to a large extent by gossip press, paparazzi and the likes. In a world where attention spans are shrinking, celebrity branding is the fastest way for a brand to establish itself. It is a shortcut to branding as the 'brand character' already exists in people's minds, thus avoiding the need to build brand equity from scratch when starting a new brand. Asia is also picking up on this celebranding phenomenon and the 1st ever Asian celebrity fragrance was launched in Oct08 in Greater China and SE Asia. The success of it relates very much to Bill Backus' perceptive comment about the need to balance our inner workings and we do it almost subconsciously. This particular Asian celebrity is admired for her edgy, independent, live-life-by-my-own-rules attitude, this is a latent desire amongst many Asian young women and the fragrance helped fulfill this need. Any celebrity with aspirational value makes great brand equity! 
Wendy Leung-Baumann, Director, Brand9 Group - March 8, 2009
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