With the rise of social media evolving the definition of “celebrity status,” stardom has become easier to achieve but harder to maintain.
This new ephemeral nature of fame leaves celebrities in a somewhat vulnerable position – in need of constant reinvention to keep their follower count up, media coverage high and pockets full.
It’s a forever game of forever pursuits. And one of the many avenues they’re employing as they (at times) desperately seek an escape from potential irrelevance (and the associated costs) is through the addition of “founder and CEO” to their multi-hyphenate titles.
Celebrities have been transitioning from Hollywood star to wannabe business mogul for decades, ranging from run-of-the-mill alcohol and perfume brands to more obscure ventures like Kate Basinger’s failed attempt to transform a town she purchased into a tourist attraction in 1989, or Kevin Costner’s foray against oil spills with his (also failed) Ocean Therapy Solutions.
But today, it seems like every celebrity owns a brand. While they still tend to dominate the beauty and alcohol spaces (there are literally over 75 celebrity beauty brands), stars in pursuit of a business to call their own aren’t stopping there. In fact, they’re not stopping at all.
But honestly, most of them should.
While I’m not anti-celebrity (I religiously tune into award show red carpets and will be watching the new season of The Kardashians), I can’t help but wonder how so many celebrities think that a company with their name on it can pragmatically create value for both themselves and others.
Perhaps a better question is whether they consider those implications at all?
At their best, celebrity brands have an innate ability to turn their platform into power— to express creativity through innovation and/or ingenuity and to connect with people in a way that matters. But at their worst, celebrity ventures bring cheap brand building and mediocre products into crowded markets and come off as greedy attempts to make more money off the backs of loyal followers.
Note that it is not every celebrity’s job to create societal value by generating, inspiring or facilitating meaningful change. But it is every brand’s responsibility to do exactly that. And when celebrities start brands, not enough of them take that job seriously.
My request for every celeb, whether they live on the A-list or the D-list: Please stop launching random brands… or at least only do so after thinking about these five things first!
1. What message are you sending?
When your image is so inextricably linked with your brand, everything that brand says and does is a reflection of you – so it’s crucial to think about what you’re putting out into the world and what you’re asking your audience to believe or do.
Take Kourtney Kardashian’s “lemme purr” gummies. The reality star launched the supplements earlier this year to normalize conversations around vaginal health. But everything about this product — from its name to its intent — tells people that their vaginas aren’t normal, reinforcing bad stereotypes about women’s bodies, health and expectations of society. Like, why, exactly, does my vagina need to be “fresh?” Unanswered questions and vagaries abound.
2. Is this brand about you or the problem you’re trying to solve?
More often than not, the lines between celebrity and brand are blurred. Are you the brand? Or is the brand its own thing? Like Charlie D’Amelio’s The D’Amelio Show… Weird at best, random at worst – but definitely not an example of a celebrity-owned brand done well.
But Shay Mitchell’s Beis, on the other hand? Spot on. Her products fill a void in the market and the products can stand on their own. Her presence is mostly behind the scenes such that she’s (refreshingly) enabled her brand to speak for itself.
3. Are you really all that different?
Having a fanbase doesn’t mean people should give you their money for mediocre products. Product market fit and true differentiation remains critical to both brand and business success.
Case in point: being beautiful isn’t a good enough reason to start a beauty brand. Take Addison Rae. After amassing tons of followers, she started Item Beauty, and in less than a year it totally failed. The products weren’t doing anything different and couldn’t stand on their own merit.
On the other hand, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has hit all the right notes, truly changing the beauty industry and setting a new standard for shade inclusivity. She’s authentically executed and delivered on the idea that beauty must be inclusive, because that’s what consumers both want and expect.
4. Do you *actually* know what you’re doing?
A good brand can’t fix a bad product — and celebrity isn’t a substitute for subject matter expertise.
Unfortunately, too many celebrities to count have entered an industry they have little-to-no understanding of. They, of course, hire teams who know more than they do, but they can’t provide the sort of direction necessary while also helping that brand differentiate.
Let’s talk about Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila. Beyond being criticized for its quality by consumers and bartenders, it's a brand that feels random at best. Jenner has shaped a reputation as the least party-girl of her sisters, making the brand feel misplaced from the get-go. Jennifer Lopez also built an image around not drinking, but then went on to launch an alcohol line. It makes no sense.
Where Kendall disappoints, Kim Kardashian excels. Few could pretend to know more about shapewear than she does, and she’s highly involved in the development, designs and marketing of Skims. She’s got credibility, but she’s also gone above and beyond to ensure that she’s designing products that are inclusive both in terms of size and skin tone.
5. Seriously— maybe don’t launch a brand (unless you really, really should…)
Not every celebrity needs to be an entrepreneur. Starting your own company isn’t the only way to engage more deeply with your fanbase, diversify your revenue streams, expand your creativity or address world problems.
Sometimes, impact is better delivered in partnership with existing entities and in collaboration with people who straight up know more than you do. Hear me out: creating more noise in a space that matters to you isn’t the way to make that thing matter more.
Lily Thaler is a strategist, Design Bridge and Partners.