Leveraging the power of celebrity

I was in the US last week for meetings and couldn’t help but get caught up in the scale of the celebrity industry over there. It’s huge.

Discard the entertainment industry (which is another monster – especially on the West Coast), I’m talking about the industry surrounding celebrities and reporting on what they do,  what they drink, what they wear, what they have to say about things and who they’re dating.

Magazines, websites, radio shows, TV shows, columnists – all dedicated to reporting on the minutiae of celebrity.

By celebrity I basically mean any ‘public’ person – not necessarily gossip rag staples.

Revenue wise these businesses are viable – as there is an intense hunger for brands, especially in the US, to surround themselves with celebrity and those who aspire to emulate it.

And these are brands across the board targeting all kinds of people – Teens, young women, grocery buyers, young men, Males 18-35, the affluent, the middle class. Everyone.

These celebrities are influential. They can help make or break a brand and they drive immense public interest. For the past 60+ years they have fuelled an industry that exists around them, an industry that is viable and valuable.

Many of these celebrities are changing the role they play in the wider world of media – going from subject to media owner.

Martha Stewart and Oprah are two good examples of celebrities that have ‘become the media’ and own extremely lucrative media businesses which they also control.

There also Tyra Banks – who owns a production company but has also partnered wth Demand Media to build out her own Tyra media properties. Ellen De Generes is the same, partnering with AOL. Lance Armstrong has done the same thing with Livestrong. Jim Cramer is another with Mad Money. Charles Barkley with Turner.

The likes of Britney, the Kardashians, and various bands are also looking to build out their own presences and take advertising.

Plus think about people like Arianna Huffington with Huffington Post, Tina Brown with the Daily Beast – who have gone from Editor-In-Chief to media owners.

Social channels have allowed many of these celebs to have a more direct relationship with their fans/followers and have given them the confidence to look at developing direct relationships with brands and cutting out the intermediary. It’s almost like mass media has given them such a big platform that they don’t need them anymore – they’ve migrated many of their followers across into channels they control.

Which means brands now have the option of aligning themselves with a celebrity without having to endorse them. Brands can now place ads on these celebrities sites and reach an audience of scale in a context that is desirable.

It got me thinking – if this has happened in the US, when will it happen in Australia. Because it is a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’.

And who are the names who could develop their own media outlet and make it successful.

Alan Kohler is one person who has already done this. He was the business reporter for over two decades and had developed huge trust with a national audience. He took the plunge and started Business Spectator and now it’s in a position where it would be scaring his former employer and its new CEO. He is one of just a handful of examples though.

Who are Australian’s in technology, fashion, sport, news and current affairs that could potentially walk away from network TV/print/magazine distribution and develop their own thing?

And is their an opportunity for someone locally to curate and nurture this and build the operations around these marquee names? Create a wide network of influence that when you look at the total audience, is significant enough to attract larger brand dollars.

I know Australia isn’t as obsessed with the cult of celebrity that the US is, but it’s still a country that champions the people it connects with. TV and magazines have always depended on marquee names that connect deeply with the audience – those names people allow into their lives/living room regularly. Digital hasn’t done that yet … it’s much more anonymous and much more functional. This has caused weak brands, weak engagement and low levels of loyalty across the board.

The question for brands is – do you want to align with an outlet that is more about straight function or utility, or do you want to align with an individual or outlet with serious influence and clout that guides the wider conversation. The question for brands comes down to ‘which one is going to reflect more favourably on my product and change perceptions in a positive way?’

What are your thoughts?


3 responses to “Leveraging the power of celebrity

  1. Hmm. It’s an interesting discussion, Ben, but I think you need to differentiate here between journalists (even celebrity journalists) who become publishers in their own right — which, after all, is a natural career progression for many — and actual celebrities creating new media platforms under their own brand.

    It’s one thing for Alan Kohler or Mia Freedman to start their own publications/publishing houses. After all, publishing has been their lives. It would be a whole ‘nother thing for a major Australian sportsperson, musician, actor/actress or even politician to do the same.

    We’ve certainly seen the first category in Australia. But I don’t think we’ve seen many (if any?) examples of the second category just yet.


    Renai LeMay
    Publisher, Delimiter

  2. Millward Brown is releasing the results of its first Australian CEBRA study today – will make an interesting follow up to your thoughts Ben. It explores the power of celebrtity and brands — which work and which don’t – and why.

  3. Interesting call out Shep. I’ll have a crack at three:

    1. Mia Freedman nails cross-media (blog, book, breakfast TV, etc)
    2. Matt Preston (TV, Twitter, TV, TV, TV, food books)
    3. Warnie (Online betting company, leveraged from TV commentating, Twitter, tabloid PR).

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