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Sex Tapes, Jail Time and $300 Headphones

The Extraordinary Power of Celebrity Brands

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Love it or hate it, celebrity culture is inescapable. Instagram inspired stories feature prominently alongside more serious topics on news websites and celebrity snaps have been injected into social networks amongst our real life friends.

A celebrity’s proximity to our own lives offers a potential for influence even bigger than Kanye West’s ego. But why do some celebrities have bigger brand power than others? What is it about them that captures our attention?

To try to solve this mystery, we explored some of the most iconic celebrity brands of recent times.

Dr Dre

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When Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine decided to start a business selling $300 headphones, no one believed they would succeed. This year, Beats Music and Beats Electronics was sold to Apple for a cool $3 billion.

People aren’t buying the headphones for their sound quality - for $300 you would want the headphones to personally serenade you - but because they are freaking cool. Beats transformed headphones into a fashion accessory, an item more important for its status value than its function.

Dr Dre is a key figure in the rap industry and Beats’s association with him and the countless other celebrities that are seen sporting them has been key to Beats’ success. 

Now that the headphones are in Apple’s hands, we’re looking forward to The Next Episode. See what we did there?

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Michael Jordan 

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Michael Jordan starred in Space Jam, has a line of super successful shoes named after him, and he’s frequently worshipped in rap songs. 

11 years after his retirement, MJ’s brand is as strong as it was when he first partnered with Nike in 1989. Last year he earned $80 million and sales for Jordan brand, a division of Nike, grew 11%.

He’s been hailed the best basketball player of all time and is one of the rare celebrities to maintain an emotional connection with his consumer base for over 25 years.

Why? Everyone wants to be like Mike. 

Martha Stewart

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Speaking of someone whose brand has gotten stronger over time, Martha Stewart has found a niche amongst home makers becoming the first female self-made billionaire in the United States. 

She’s an apron wearing, soufflé making example of the American Dream. While she cops criticism for her unattainable standards and idealisation of a home centric life, her perfectionism and work ethic is admirable, which is probably why she’s so successful.

A stint in jail in 2004 proved a minor blip on her radar, despite joining the likes of Osama Bin Laden on the UK’s black list.

Martha’s endorsements extend from books to magazines, to TV shows and even dog accessories.

Being likened to Martha Stewart is one of the highest forms of domestic praise and when your name is incorporated into the lexicon, you know you’ve done a good job.

Kim Kardashian 

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Celebs embroiled in the recent iCloud scandal should take comfort in Kim Kardashian’s humble beginnings as Paris Hilton’s BFF and star of a sex tape.

During his wedding speech Kim’s hubby Kanye West referred to the Kardashians as an industry. Sounds krazy, but Yeezus has a point.

Kim and momager Kris have found their market and fully maximized their fame for being famous. Kardashian Kollection has ventured into products from clothing to handbags to shoes to makeup, and their endorsements range from diet pills to energy drinks.

Kim K reportedly earns $20,000 for simply tweeting a product endorsement and charges up to $1 million for an event appearance. Her and her hubby have also sparked some hilarious parody videos.

As consumers we’re drawn into their dramatic and glamorous lives. While the storylines of photoshoots, exotic holidays and whirlwind weddings are far removed from our own reality, underpinning each scandal, feud or even photoshop fail is what seems like a genuinely strong family bond, a unique feature in a genre filled with back stabbing and bitching.

Oprah

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Since her career began, we have been collectively drawn to Oprah’s empathy and authenticity and inspired by her story and relentless optimism.

Generally speaking, talk show hosts have a wide audience of loyal followers. Often they’re incorporated into a person’s day and by virtue of their role as host, we feel connected to them.

In terms of influence, Oprah is unrivalled. A stamp of approval from Oprah can completely transform a brand. Ladies, we have Oprah to thank for pulling Spanx out of obscurity. 

You get a reputation! You get a reputation! You get a reputation!

They make an eclectic mix of celebrities but are all famous brands in their own right. While Martha’s impossibly high domestic standards and Kim’s controversial actions might polarise some people, the people that identify to them are often loyal and dedicated fans.

So why do some celebrities have bigger brand power than others? I don't really know the answer. I guess it is because love 'em or hate 'em, they've all found their niche, their people and their voice. 

And why are we as consumers so intimately involved with the lives of celebrities? Maybe it's because we connect with people who we harbour some kind of kindred connection, some we enjoy watching out of general amusement and sometimes, it's a just voyeuristic peek into the lives of the rich and famous.