The Return Of The Celebrity-Backed Brand

Celebrity brand endorsement is nothing new. The first recorded case of it dates back to the 1760s when Josiah Wedgwood and Sons, producers of pottery and chinaware, marketed their wares with endorsements from Britain’s royal family, hoping to show off the company’s inherent value and the high quality of their products.

In their hundreds of years of existence, the celebrity endorsement has become an increasingly prominent part of branding — so prominent, in fact, that by the end of the 20th century, they weren’t just endorsing products. Celebrities actually started rolling out products and brands of their own.

Ailsa Chang of NPR believes Elizabeth Taylor is the celebrity we should thank for this massive evolution. Always a trendsetter, Taylor partnered with Estée Lauderin 1991 to release the fragrance White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor was not the first celebrity to try to do something like this, said Chang, but she was “the first truly successful one.” In fact to this day, White Diamonds continues to be one of the bestselling celebrity fragrances in the world.

From there, the floodgates opened. Scores of celebrities released perfumes in the 1990s and 2000s — Britney Spears once had 23 different fragrances associated with her name — but the offerings also quickly became more diverse. The past 30 years saw celebrities going into all kinds of businesses.

In 1994, George Foreman launched the eponymous grill that changed the face of dorm cooking forever; Kanye West, Jay-Z and Madonna all moved heavily on footwear and apparel in the early 2000s and 2010s; Jessica Alba co-founded the Honest Company to offer a new take on consumer goods in 2011; Rihanna sought to make the beauty world more inclusive with the highly praised Fenty cosmetics line last year and Tom Brady continues to try to sell the world on the concept of avocado ice cream with his TB12 performance meals.

Not every celebrity brand is a hit, of course — and they historically wear out their welcome with consumers. Looking back at perfumes, for example, after Spears, Taylor and Rihanna all scored hit perfume lines between the late 2000s and early 2010s, pop star fragrances started flooding the market, taking the sweet smell out of celebrity. The market remained dormant until 2017, when Kim Kardashian revived the celebrity perfume industry in the most Kim Kardashian way possible.

Her fragrance was only sold online. Customers couldn’t smell the product, but it was packaged in a bottle designed to look exactly like Kardashian’s body. It was a smash hit.

“People knew that the One Direction band members were probably not in the lab working with their noses on their scent,” Jenna Rosenstein, senior beauty editor for said in an interview with NPR. “Kim Kardashian approached perfume in 2017 in a completely different way. And you could tell that she had a hand in every single element of that perfume. She quite literally copied her body.”

Though very few of us can launch a hit product merely by modeling its packaging on our own body measurements, there is more than one way to make a brand sizzle with a little help from a celebrity endorsement.

Earlier this week, international media titan Oprah Winfrey announced an investment in True Food Kitchen, a healthy-eating startup based out of Houston. True Food Kitchen’s bread and butter, so to speak, is sustainable, local and organic dining. Fishbowl, a restaurant data firm, placed True Food Kitchen at No. 1 on its list of the top 10 emerging restaurant brands of 2018. Dr. Andrew Weil and Phoenix restaurateur Sam Fox founded True Food Kitchen in 2008 and modeled it around Weil’s anti-inflammatory food pyramid.

Winfrey, after visiting True Food Kitchen, decided to seek out CEO Christine Barone to discuss further collaboration.

“I love bringing people together over a good meal,” Winfrey said in a statement. “When I first dined at True Food Kitchen, I was so impressed with the team’s passion for healthy eating and, of course, the delicious food, that I knew I wanted to be part of the company’s future.”

That collaboration turned out to be an investment in the firm, though the amount remains unknown. Private equity firm Centerbridge Partners will remain the restaurant’s controlling shareholder, but Winfrey will join the board and act as a consultant for the brand.

Barone said True Food Kitchen ended 2017 with double-digit same-store sales growth, though she did not share specific numbers. She also noted the official “Oprah seal of approval” could result in the firm doubling its business in the next three years.

And that probably isn’t an exaggeration, given the power Winfrey has brought to other brands. This week’s latest investment by Winfrey is part of an existing health and wellness investment pattern. In 2015, Winfrey purchased approximately 10 percent of Weight Watchers’ stock — though today she only owns about 8 percent of the brand — and its stock is currently at an all-time high. On July 11, financial services company Seeking Alpha asked the rhetorical question about Weight Watchers’ future in an article titled “How Much Higher Can Weight Watchers Stock Go?

While Winfrey is hoping to help us all eat healthier, Kate Hudson is hoping to outfit us for the gym.

As of today, Hudson’s five-year-old firm, Fabletics, has about 25 brick-and-mortar locations where it sells its colorful brand of athletic and athleisure wear for consumers. According to reports, Fabletics is looking to dramatically expand its physical presence by opening 75 more stores in the U.S. and other countries.

Not only is it expanding its physical presence, Fabletics is also test-driving a new store design at its Bellevue, Washington, location, scheduled to open later in 2018, according to CNBC.  The new design will feature a selfie wall for photos, advanced payment options and what Fabletics is calling a “next generation” shopping experience for its patrons.

As for the other 74 stores, Fabletics has offered no official timeline, but said the firm has “rapidly surpassed $300 million in annual revenue” after only five years in operation. Fabletics has also touted that its time to market has notably shrunk from eight weeks to six.

Fabletics continues to adhere to Hudson’s vision, with the brand’s focus on fitness and lifestyle. Professional athletes are very inspiring, she noted, but the average person isn’t quite ready to go from zero to 60 during a workout routine. People want to be fit, but not necessarily “cross-train fit,” Hudson told CNBC.

“Sometimes, for an average woman, or an everyday woman, or a soccer mom or someone who doesn’t necessarily know how to get into the healthy lifestyle, it can be a little bit intimidating,” Hudson said. “So, I kind of wanted to create something that was more about a lifestyle than an actual fitness brand. And it seemed to really resonate.”

Speaking of resonating with consumers, Winfrey and Hudson may already be in business, but this week in celebrity branding also saw a new player come to the table, whose poker face can’t be read, if her songs are to be believed.

That’s right, Lady Gaga is also going into business — the makeup business specifically — and she seems to have already gotten Silicon Valley’s blessing for the project. By blessing, of course, we mean money.

According to Recode reports, Lightspeed Venture Partners has made an early-stage investment in Haus Beauty — Gaga’s beauty brand. Exact amounts are unknown, but estimates put it between $5 million and $10 million.

The startup is currently rumored to be running under the leadership of CEO Ben Jones, the former chief digital officer at the Honest Company and its offshoot Honest Beauty.

Gaga — born Stefani Germanotta — is reportedly the firm’s founder, but her level of direct involvement with the brand is unclear.

Makeup is, in many ways, the next great frontier of celebrating businesses led by women, particularly for famous female entrepreneurs. Take, for example, Kylie Jenner, who has supposedly made $900 million by selling her Kylie Cosmetics makeup directly to her army of 100 million followers across social media. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty has also been deemed an incredible success thanks to its focus on inclusivity — the brand reportedly makes makeup for all skin tones — and its incredibly active social media following.

Will Lady Gaga be able to sell as much makeup as Rihanna? Does the world need more Fabletics stores? Will Oprah have as much of a dramatic effect on business as the folks at True Kitchen think she will?

With celebrities building new businesses wherever you look — and Kate Hudson proudly telling CNBC this week that her goal is to rule the world — it’s almost too impossible to deny the sizzle in the air around the celebrity brand.


New PYMNTS Study: Subscription Commerce Conversion Index – July 2020 

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