How the rise of celebrity brands offers lessons to all

Mark Izatt (1)Entertainment franchises have long understood the power of selling to fandoms. Die-hard followers will buy anything related to their favourites and ever-growing franchises like Star Wars, Jurassic World and Marvel continue to cash in on this, with near-constant product launches, pop-up shops and digital activations. Now, other sectors are finding ways to mimic this style of cultish world-building and profitably expand their visions.

Some of the biggest and most iconic entertainment brands today are the celebrities themselves, and there are now many ways to consume their creative worlds. With beauty lines once considered ‘trashy’ and ‘cheap’, it’s fascinating to watch the sector shift to a more premium market. It has become a go-to revenue driver for celebrities while providing fans with a new way to consume and even to feel close to them – knowing that the product they’re applying to their skin, nails or hair can be found in the bathroom of the person they idolise.

We’ve watched brand launches pile up from stars including Rihanna, Kim and Kylie Kardashian, Harry Styles, Jared Leto, Tyler the Creator, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga, Drew Barrymore, Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, and Ariana Grande. By and large, none of these talents are clinical beauticians. Far from the clinical authority of a Dr Barbara Sturm or an Augustinus Bader, their primary sell is not efficacy, but branding.

There is nothing particularly unique about the overnight serums and nail polishes under Harry Styles’ brand Pleasing. But with retro-colourful packaging and names like ‘Acid Drops’ and ‘Shroom Bloom’, we immediately understand that this is an extension of his musical and sartorial style.

Almost identical nail varnish shades can be found over at Tyler, The Creator’s brand Golf Le Fleur – but its packaging and marketing materials show us we’re buying into the artist’s current brand of hip hop preppy, if that’s what we’re drawn to. The choice of product also tells us something about the artists’ values – men who celebrate a love of beauty and colour, encouraging their listeners to break gender convention (albeit conservatively).

Arguably, there is less scepticism than ever about celebrity brand launches. We don’t always expect founders to have qualifications in the sector they’re moving into. The term “creative director” is perhaps applicable and used more than ever as a catch-all – especially after so many years of seeing the unqualified turn great luxury houses around to their visions. Most recently, Pharrell Williams has been appointed men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton. Can he handle the task without any training in fashion? He’s one of the great shapers of recent pop culture – so if his vision is strong enough, I would argue he can.

Probably the celebrity-helmed beauty brand enjoying the greatest success is Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. Now widely available in both high-end stores and the high-street (namely at Boots), it’s a mammoth success story. Amid ongoing memes that Rihanna’s been on a long hiatus from the recording studio, Fenty has allowed her to stay firmly in the public eye as a pop culture giant. In those intervening years between albums, her output has been products rather than music.

Fenty Beauty is a rare bird, commanding critical acclaim for its product formulas and efficacy as much as its marketing. Beauty consumers are savvier than ever, with awareness of active ingredients growing thanks to ultra-transparent brands like The Ordinary, and the abundance of advice and information found online.

Ultimately, the sparkle and excitement of branding gives way if a product can’t stand up on its own – a combination of the two is the winning formula. It remains a challenge for the sector to strike the balance between appealing branding and appealing figureheads – but it’s clear that both of these pillars require equal care and attention in order to cut-through an increasingly cluttered landscape.

All brands can learn a lesson from what entrepreneurial celebrities have shown us. With a strong sense of self and a cohesive vision, any brand can build a world which spans product categories and proliferates its revenue stream – it just takes creative flare.

To understand a target audience is to understand a consumer tribe, finding ways to excite them with pieces of a world they want to be a part of. If a cohesive strategic and aesthetic vision is always kept at the heart, we can think creatively about ways to build a multi-channel, multi-sector world that’s worth buying into.

Mark Izatt is creative director at Cream

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