Is it even possible to sell out anymore?
There was a time, not long ago, when celebrities eschewed product placements and brand endorsements in order to maintain their integrity as both artists and tastemakers. During this era, “selling out” was considered the most damaging thing that could happen to a celebrity’s reputation. Celebrities who appeared in television commercials always seemed to have fallen on hard times, and were only hawking the latest cell phone carrier or probiotic yogurt due to humiliating monetary necessity.
Glance around the internet in 2016, and it will become evident that those days are over. Perhaps consumers’ rising tolerance for native content reflects their understanding that, as traditional distribution models evolve, publishers and artists must make their living in novel ways. Or maybe the dwindling availability of untarnished content, music, and art has forced consumers to simply accept the ubiquitous presence of advertising in media.
Whatever the root cause, the anti-capitalist mystique that celebrities once strove to cultivate has been purchased by Coca Cola, Beats by Dre, and Chanel No. 5.
Selling Out to Social Media
Don’t get me wrong — celebrity endorsements are hardly revolutionary, having gotten their start back in the 1940s. But with the advent of social media, the rise of the viral music video, and the frequency with which celebrities now align themselves with corporate brands, it seems that artists and actors will no longer wash their faces or make breakfast unless someone’s paying them to do it. Everyone from local fitness bloggers to Kim Kardashian can now cash in on the rise of social media promotion, taking advantage of the evolving guidelines of the process and the relatively low effort associated with advertising something on Twitter or Instagram.
Sweetening the deal, brands are willing to shell out major cash just to get in front of an influencer’s engaged and loyal following. Scott Disick, the seemingly famous-for-no-reason Kardashian clinger (who has a whopping 18 million Instagram followers), earns up to $20,000 in exchange for one sponsored post. Stigma or not (and there doesn’t seem to be much of one left), that’s easy money.
An Industry’s Evolution
Thanks in large part to plummeting record sales and the rise of a new generation of musical artist-friendly ad execs, commercial song placement — once considered the lowest form of selling out — can now be interpreted as a cornerstone of success.
Who can forget the power of an early aughts iPod commercial? Even indie rock musicians have ceded to this lucrative trend, as this painfully cheesy Oreo commercial featuring a single from Canadian folk-pop duo Tegan and Sara demonstrates:
Powerhouse stars like Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj have gone so far as to integrate products into their wildly popular music videos, with clothing labels and the latest Beats by Dre speakers appearing in videos that routinely garner upwards of 100 million YouTube views.
— Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) December 7, 2015
What’s perhaps most surprising about this shift is the public response. Today’s young listeners don’t seem to feel that the integrity of their consumption experience has been violated when a beloved artist incorporates a blatant sales pitch into their latest artistic offering.
“Decades of posturing and sanctimony were rendered moot once artists realized that corporate gigs were the only paying gigs in town,” critic Jessica Hopper wrote for BuzzFeed in 2013. “A (very) necessary evil.” As the industry stigma has lessoned, so, too, has consumers’ aversion to the marriage of art and commerce.
The use of social media as a celebrity advertising tool isn’t likely to go anywhere soon. As long as famous faces are willing to play the game, sponsored posts, product placements, and endorsements will continue to vie for consumer dollars. But as celebrities increasingly take on the role of cheer captains for consumer goods, fans should strive to remain savvy enough to discern between an authentic rave and a staged sales pitch.
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(Photo Credit:Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr)