From pop stars turned politicians, to underwear models evolving into method movie actors—successful celebrities such as Bono and Mark Wahlberg can teach marketers some surprising lessons on the business of branding. Welcome to the intersection of Madison and Vine.
The most successful celebrities have authentic personae. Take pop sensation Lady Gaga for example. She’s capitalized on her eclectic style and character, remaining true to her wild "Gaga" persona. Other celebrities, such as Jennifer Lawrence, Russell Brand, and Joan Rivers, are as famous for their idiosyncrasies as they are for their work; it’s their authentic sense of self that makes them endearing to the public.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting career began to wane, he reinvented himself into a politician, eventually becoming the governor of California. And while this risky endeavor was met with initial skepticism, to put it lightly, the ex-Terminator generated a ton of media interest while also keeping his star firmly rooted on Hollywood Boulevard.
For years, over-exposure for a celebrity was the kiss of death. Superstars of yore such as Michael Jackson would deliberately create a level of mystery and intrigue that kept their fans coming back for more. It’s a different story today, as many celebrities rely on excessive levels of exposure to drive their businesses. Take tabloid-centric, reality TV-star Kim Kardashian as a prime example. Arguably the most over-exposed celebrity of all time, Kim pulled in $12 million last year by remaining in the spotlight—keeping people glued to her E! Network show while also purchasing her Kardashian Kollection products.
Many people believe the fashion and entertainment industries to be full of clones, but the most memorable celebrities are those who dare to differentiate the way that they look, sound, or behave. Think of Marilyn’s red pout, Lauren Hutton’s gap teeth, Adele’s contralto singing voice, or Naomi Campbell’s fierce runway walk. Owning a particular look or embracing a flaw can be the key component a celebrity uses to set them apart from their peers.
Tiger Woods, one of the most successful golfers of all time, enjoyed a squeaky-clean image for most of his career until 2009 when news broke that he had been involved in an extramarital affair (or 15?). But after publicly apologizing in a press conference, consumer sentiment improved and Tiger’s now back in the spotlight for the right reasons—a good golf game. We all mess up, celebrities included, and there’s power in a timely and meaningful apology.
When the world’s most successful girl band, The Spice Girls, called it quits in 2000, Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) decided to strike out on her own. Even the least discerning ear picked up on the fact that Posh wasn’t exactly this generation’s Whitney Houston, so wise Victoria turned her efforts elsewhere. After designing for Rock & Republic and later launching her own denim brand, dVb Style, Victoria emerged as a full-fledged fashion brand—an area much more comfortable to her than music—and is now one of the most highly regarded fashion icons of this generation.
Simply put, some of the master marketers of our generation are celebrities. They demonstrate an uncanny ability to connect with their target audiences and develop a devoted following. And while there’s certainly no guaranteed path to fame and fortune, brands would benefit from paying closer attention to superstar personalities. Fortune 500 CMOs, get ready for your close-ups.
—Jeetendr Sehdev is a branding authority and the author of the upcoming book Superstar: The Art & Science of Celebrity Branding. Follow him on Twitter @jeetendrsehdev.
[Image: Flickr user Michael Beck]