There seems to be a lot of hype over sites such as Coolspotters.com, SeenOn.com and Seesmic.com. If you haven’t already heard of these sites let me take a moment to explain their proposition. These websites feature candid photographs of celebrities and other bold-name-types using and wearing well known brand name products and clothing. They then link to other sites or brick and mortar stores where you can purchase whatever you saw your favorite celebrity flaunting. Welcome to reality branding, or what Marc Gobe, President of branding think tank Emotional Branding calls “a near perfect mash-up of celebrity obsession, rabid consumerism and Web 2.0 functionality”.This concept is nothing new. Traditional media has long recognized that celebrity association is a powerful driver of buying decisions. In 1995, Time Inc. has had tremendous success with In Style magazine which shares a principle similar to these sites which provide readers with product details for trends modeled by America's favorite celebrities. Similarly, Condé Nast took the idea a step further with Lucky magazine, called a magologue—the product offerings of a catalogue with the editorial influence of a magazine.
What these innovative sites have done is shorten the cycle in which Joe Consumer is not only aware of what a certain celebrity is wearing or using but then empowers that reader to become buyer with just a click. Whew! Now I no longer have to flip to the back of the magazine to see the “Where You Can Buy It” column. I love ‘instant gratification’!
However as the line between sponsored advertising and reality branding disappears many consumers may fail to differentiate between a celebrity’s sponsorship and their personal shopping decisions. But then what’s the difference anyway? Most celebrity types are often paid for wearing a certain designers clothing and receive gift bags with free items from brands that are hoping to score big with a celebrity endorsing its product by association. Personally, I don’t know how many celebrities are stepping out and spending their tax rebate checks on the latest and greatest when it’s delivered to their doorstep daily – free of charge; we are not them, but then that’s not what brands want you to think anyway.
***Chase Wegmann is Director of Business Development & Client Strategy for a advertising, branding and marketing agency in New York City***