The face of celebrity endorsements is changing. Now, famous spokepeople aren't simply appearing for money, they're often taking a stake in the business itself. Marketers who are considering an endorsement now should take this into consideration and choose the right person, meme or trend as not only a way to boost sales temporarily, but for the long run.

Written by
Caroline McCarthy
December 2011

In the age of social media, a face on a box of Wheaties just doesn’t mean what it used to. Consumers are given every opportunity to interact with brands through social-media technologies — from +1s to customer-service tweets to branded Farmville gear — and they’re expecting that those brands’ celebrity spokespeople will get a little more interactive, too. Celebrity endorsement has become celebrity collaboration. Let’s look into what that means.

We’re seeing a trend of celebrities, when becoming the spokesperson or “face” of a brand, taking on titles like investors, creative directors, and advisors that imply a much deeper level of involvement than simply being in a cosmetics company’s ads. Lady Gaga isn’t just the poster girl of camera brand Polaroid, she’s its “creative director,” brought on board to bring the struggling yet nostalgia-rich company some new clout among the millions of “little monsters” who follow her religiously, mostly on digital platforms; likewise, in December, actor and singer Justin Timberlake was named creative director of golf brand Callaway. Actor Adrian Grenier has “co-founded” a company called SHFT that creates, promotes, and sells “green” media — meaning that, effectively, he was a built-in spokesman from the beginning. And in a twist that eschews the classic model of the celebrity being the one getting compensated, entertainment figures like MC Hammer, Alyssa Milano, and (most famously) Ashton Kutcher have begun making venture capital investments in new companies, becoming involved not just as financial backers but as already-recognizable celebrity spokespeople.

The line has blurred between a celebrity who is known for entertainment talent and one for whom his or her primary accomplishments are business ventures.

In recent years, brick-and-mortar apparel chains have realized that celebrity-designed fashion lines can bring new customers in the door, and digital music retailers have realized the power of celebrity-picked playlists. Now, entire start-up retail businesses are being built on the premise of marketing products to consumers through celebrities who have “curated” them, like AHAlife and OpenSky, neither of which sells a product without a blurb from the notable figure who chose it. These can range from a Food Network chef or an actress who has reinvented herself as a yogi.

Now that celebrities’ use of social media — not to mention the culture of reality television and the incessant celebrity gossip press — is 24/7, entertainment figures are looking to present themselves, with the help of their PR and management teams, as businesses and brands themselves. The line has blurred between a celebrity who is known for entertainment talent and one for whom his or her primary accomplishments are business ventures. And thanks to reality TV and Twitter, there are now niche celebrities for everyone — comedians, interior designers, singer-songwriters, organic chefs.

What’s relevant to your brand is that seeking out these new kinds of business roles and endorsements is now par for the course when it comes to celebrities on the rise. And these days the popularity of a new pop star, comedian, or lifestyle guru is, more often than not, going to begin on the internet — not too long ago, Justin Bieber was a kid singing on YouTube. At Google we’re really excited about people like Daria Musk, an independent singer-songwriter who gained a loyal cult following by playing acoustic sets for hours in Google+ hangouts and now counts a guitar manufacturer among the number of brands looking to sponsor and reach out to her. There can even be a hint of irony to it; just look at teen pop singer Rebecca Black, whose music video on YouTube rose to popularity due in large part to people who didn’t like it — and yet she’s now appearing in mainstream singer Katy Perry’s videos and her music has popped up in TV commercials.

If you’re looking to find opportunities for celebrities to interact with your brand and power it forward in the process, you’re going to want to find the right match, and you’re going to want to find it early. Pay attention to what’s “trending” — hot new queries in Google Trends, rising memes on internet culture hubs like Reddit or BuzzFeed, or what’s cooking on the YouTube Trends blog. You might just find a sensation on the rise who’s looking for a brand like yours.