Adam Ayers

Are Celebrity Brands The Future Of Retail?

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As long as there have been celebrities, there have been companies driving truckloads of money up to their houses, looking to have them shill their product, whatever it may be. Brad Pitt pushed Pringles, Justin Bieber a line of nail polish, and who can forget Jamie Lee Curtis and her love for Activia yogurt? Even President Donald Trump has hawked everything from steaks to pizza to vodka.

The fact of the matter is that if you’re famous, you have fans, and fans can be turned into money. Lots of money.

What’s changing now is how this money is made and who’s making it. Sure, celebrities still push name-brand products, but they often do so in more subtle ways. A recognizable voice often soothes us into thinking about Mercedes-Benz (we’re looking at you, Jon Hamm). Increasingly, though, we’re seeing celebrities take control of their own brands as well as the brands they choose to engage with, often to astonishing success.

Social Media

Until relatively recently, a celebrity’s brand was more or less in the hands of a few entertainment shows and magazines you would pick through at the grocery checkout. While this celeb-economy worked in many ways, it often followed a predatory relationship in which these media outfits saw the most success doing “takedowns,” and any flattering coverage was more or less dictated not by the celebs themselves, but by the publications. Basically, that kind of gleeful negative press was just the cost of being famous.

Enter social media. With the explosion of platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, celebrities were able to take control of their own narratives and communicate them to astonishingly large audiences. The resulting ecosystem is one in which individuals feel more connected to the celebrities they follow than ever, and celebs feel more in control.

One only needs to look to Kylie Jenner. Launching Kylie Cosmetics in 2015 with a single $29 product, the company has turned into a cosmetics behemoth, with Jenner now having an estimated net worth of $1 billion. One of the most astonishing things about this is that the company boasts only 12 employees. By employing existing companies with expertise in product design, production, marketing and e-commerce, Jenner has shown she realizes that her value is not in “owning a cosmetics company.” Rather, it is in putting her efforts into being the ultimate version of her celebrity self, a person who dictates what her fans want and capitalizes on the market that she creates in real time via social media, 24 hours a day.

These huge audiences, combined with a celebrity’s influence over them, offer huge potential for disrupting traditional retail models.

What This Means For Traditional Retail

For companies looking to get a sales boost from a celebrity endorsement, the power structure couldn’t have shifted more. No longer is the brand in the power position by providing an economic benefit and ad exposure to the celebrity. Now it’s the other way around. Most celebrities will be well compensated for an endorsement on their personal social channels, but because they have such committed and coveted followers, they have what the brands want and can afford to be selective.

For many celebrities, endorsements are falling to the wayside as collaborations become the norm, with both the brand and the celebrity benefiting from the association and the wider consumer sentiment that this is more “authentic.”

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

One of the ways retailers have adapted to this new “individual as a brand” situation is to team up with a celebrity. For example, Adidas swept in and wooed rapper Kanye West away from Nike, where the firebrand rapper was famously upset that — as he told Forbes — while he was being paid to push sneakers, he wasn’t seeing any revenue sharing when his shoe had “the same level of impact as an Air Jordan.”

Instead of just offering West a simple financial transaction, Adidas offered him something more valuable: the platform and infrastructure to create. Now, Adidas gets to watch limited sneaker releases from his Yeezy brand sell out in minutes. By upsetting the traditional endorsement narrative and shifting it to one of collaboration, both Adidas and West have realized far greater benefits — both in terms of income and exposure — than they would have otherwise.

How Technology Can Help

Platforms such as Shopify, Shipstation, Square and Stripe are making it easy for anyone to accept payments and ship products directly to their customers. The real magic of these platforms is their ability to give you real-time feedback on the success of your various campaigns, allowing you to constantly test, learn and scale what works. Facebook (and Instagram), Snapchat and Google (using Google Analytics) are also making it easy to build audiences from people who have visited your website and target lookalike audiences.

Ultimately, celebrities are in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling their brands and the income streams that they can potentially generate. Now armed with social media, celebrities have enormous amounts of leverage when it comes to collaborating with brands or creating them. With global recognition and dedicated audiences, celebrities can run streamlined operations that spend a fraction of what traditional brands spend on marketing, customer acquisition and retention.

For a celebrity who has risen to the heights of notoriety and has the online following to prove it, the heavy lifting has already largely been done. It’s merely a matter of taking that celebrity to the bank.

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