Welcome to another insider lesson on girl-targeted marketing. Pay strict attention, because today's topic is one of marketing's most damaging obsessions. If you watched the Super Bowl and saw Jessica Simpson prancing for Pizza Hut (see BW Online, 2/6/06, "Super Bowl XL's Also-Ran Ads"), you already have insight into the potential perils of "celebrity-ism." The marketing trend is one of the biggest mistakes being made in the 21st-century girl market.
Celebrity-ism happens when you lose faith in your ability to win a girl on your own merits. You convince yourself that you need a celebrity to be somebody, to be valuable, and to get attention. As this insecurity grows, you stop building up your own individual brand identity and choose to hide behind the images of famous people instead.
IDENTITY THEFT. You use their identity in your promotions, print ads, and commercials. Sometimes you even take on their identities completely and name products after them, like Curious perfume by Britney Spears.
You believe that Lindsay Lohan or Beyonce can make your product more attractive, and that girls will want you if you use them in your ads. But you're wrong. Don't be fooled by the hype and glam. A celebrity can't make you cool or valuable. The only way to be cool... is to not try.
And it isn't just that celebrity-ism doesn't enhance your reputation -- it can irreparably damage it. Here is our girl-made explanation of how "celebrity-ism" is putting your brand at risk, and why companies need to drop the habit fast.
LOSING CREDIBILITY. Girls know celebrity endorsements are nothing but fabricated marketing stunts that have nothing to do with the celebrity's heartfelt opinions about the product. We also know that celebrities are paid good money to promote the product, which creates a little thing called a "conflict of interest." This disqualifies their endorsements as valid.
Since celebrities often promote many different products, your ads look insincere. Over-using celebrities invalidates them as having a special relationship with your product.
Girls might like some celebrities, but we passionately hate others. And if we loathe your celebrity, we'll loathe your product. If we don't respect your celebrity, we won't respect your product. Regardless of its potential quality, we won't give it a chance.
Remember that the minute your celebrity gets in trouble, your reputation gets dragged along by association. If they go down, you go down.
BUCKING THE TREND. Celebrities swing in and out of popularity at the speed of light. If our relationship is with your fleeting celebrity rather than with the enduring benefits of your product, there's nothing to keep us interested once our fascination with your celebrity fades.
Celebrity-obsessed girls aren't respected, especially when they parrot the look and actions of a celebrity. Girls who own celebrity-based products actually put themselves at risk of getting made fun of -- especially as they move beyond high school. It's not hip to have a big JLo label on your clothes or be caught spraying yourself with Britney Spears perfume. The celebrity label works against girls actually using the product -- despite product quality.
So, even if we like a celebrity-based product, we often refuse to buy it because we don't want our friends to think we got sucked into a marketing prank. Who wants to be the joke of the day?
Modern girls are too sophisticated to grant so much authority to celebrities. Celebrities are just people. Their opinions aren't more meaningful. And they're rich enough already, so why do they need our money? We don't want to support this worship trend.
TOO MUCH HYPE. Girls visually tune out celebrity ads. We're bombarded with celebrity pictures everywhere we turn until we just can't stand looking at those same faces anymore. Nicole Richie, Beyonce, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, Hiliary Duff, and Paris and Nicky Hilton are pasted around so heavily they have left permanent imprints in our memories.
Celebrity ads aren't exciting or mysterious. They don't stimulate our imagination or intellect. Frankly, they're boring, so we don't absorb the marketing message.
Or rather, we can't absorb the marketing message because it's hidden behind that famous face. Celebrity ads never teach us about your product. As a result, it's often hard to remember anything useful about the ad other than the fact that Catherine Zeta-Jones is modeling for T-Mobile or Lindsay Lohan for Dooney & Burke.
NOTHING PERSONAL. Girls cannot relate to celebs on a personal level because celebreties' lives are nothing like the real world. They're are rich and buy exclusive and boutique products. How could they understand the challenges of buying on a budget?
How many celebrities would buy the products they're campaigning for? Would Beyonce actually use L'oreal Feria hair dye? Do you believe that Christina Aguilera sports Sketchers? And as much as we respect Queen Latifah, given all the cool cosmetic options today, it is a challenge to accept that Cover Girl is her favorite brand.
Using celebs tells us your product can't stand on its own feet. Flaunting a celebrity screams "I'm insecure" as clearly as a middle-aged man seeking to find himself a naïve trophy wife. It shows us you don't believe in your brand. And if you don't believe in it, then why should we?
INDIVIDUAL-ISM. Celebrities undermine your quality and industry expertise. Girls assume that if you had a strong legitimate product, you would promote it based on its undeniable attributes instead of stooping to promote someone else's identity.
So the lesson is, celebrity-ism will not get you access to today's girl market. Modern girls are not celebrity fiends. We strive to be individuals, not to just parrot the rich and famous. So if you want to be a respected leader in the 21st-century American girl market, you must lead with honest values, quality, originality and great products. Then you'll succeed by doing what your mother always told you to: just be yourself.
The Girls of 3iYing, BusinessWeek. February 8, 2006
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