Leveraging the Celebrity Brand: Politics

Yesterday, I spoke of the Burberry company, now a sort of fashion conglomerate whose latest pitch might be this: “If you like our coats and our plaid, why not try our lipstick?”

It may work, it may not. But it sure happens a lot these days, particularly with celebrities


Here are two examples:

1). Two months ago, the fine actress Helen Mirren appeared before a Senate subcommittee to speak in favor of a new piece of legislation to aid Holocaust survivors and relatives in recovering family possessions stolen by the Nazis. This bill was not controversial — cosponsors included Charles Schumer, D-NY, and Ted Cruz, R-Tex.

What did Mirren have to offer? Well, in a movie last year, she played an elderly Jewish woman who attempted to reclaim family possessions that were seized by the Nazis.

I raise this not to say that the bill lacks merit but to note that there are probably real people in this country whose lost family art has never been recovered. Why not get their stories? Why publicize someone who has acted the part instead?

2). Two years ago, actor/comedian/whatever Seth Rogen appeared before a congressional committee to promote Alzheimer’s research; his mother-in-law had developed early-onset Alzheimer’s, and he had seen the devastating effects on her and her family.

I don’t doubt Rogen’s sincerity. But there must be hundreds of thousands of other people, anonymous but real, who have spent years of their lives caring for relatives with dementia. There must be hundreds who have devoted their lives, full-time, to promoting this cause while Rogen, understandably, has devoted his own time to his on-camera career. Why not ask these others to share what they have learned from their efforts?

Yes, yes, maybe the congressional hearings included testimony from lesser proles with more relevant experience. But, if so, why was all the press devoted to the movie stars?

Being famous has pluses and minuses. One of the pluses is that you can leverage your “brand” in different ways. Athletes get shoe contracts. Beautiful models endorse expensive cosmetic products. And well-known actors who want to develop gravitas can leverage their well-paid day jobs into fronting for efforts that should be able to stand on their own.

Why can’t the people who have worked in the trenches on important issues be regarded seriously? Why is it that we prefer to hear — or the media prefer to present — these stories from people who have spent careers cultivating celebrity personae rather than from people who have walked the walk?
The Election

Enough of this seriousness. Let’s talk about some of the celebrities who have been giving us voting advice this year.

For Clinton: Kim Kardashian, a high school graduate who is famous for appearing in a reality television show, for an enormous surgically enhanced derriere, for product endorsements and for a Twitter claque of more than 40 million people with too much time on their hands.

For Trump: Richie Incognito, a football player now with the Bills but who was let go by the Dolphins after rookie Jonathan Martin “told investigators Incognito joked that he and other teammates would rape Martin’s sister, a medical student none of them had ever met. Incognito also used racial slurs with Martin, made jokes about slavery and routinely demeaned Martin for not being ‘black enough.'”

For Clinton: Cher

For Trump: Ted Nugent

For Clinton: Miley Cyrus

For Trump: Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch

For Clinton: Lady Gaga

For Trump: Mike Tyson

None of these people has any special background in domestic or foreign policy. At most, their prominence may have moved them to the front of the lines for meet-and-greets with the candidates they favor.

Their insights into the suitability of one candidate over another are by definition very limited. Adopting a modicum of modesty would suit them better.

Again, it’s back to marketing. If you have an established brand — let’s call it fame — shouldn’t you be careful about how far you seek to leverage it in a pretty noisy and crowded political system?

Personally, I think it’s all Burberry lipstick. I’m not buying it.

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