HiJinks, Hashtags and Heightened Tempers: Celebrity Marketing Tactics

John Baker 3 months ago

In the latest edition of our 'in my opinion' series, we look at some of the biggest heavyweights in the fame game and how they are choosing to market themselves to the world in 2017 with social media at their finger-tips. First up, YouTubers...

YouTube Influencers

If you’re over the age of 30 (maybe 25) and not a keen devotee of the latest YouTubers, you may never have heard of Jake Paul. His neighbours in West Hollywood certainly have; Paul, with 9.1 million subscribers, is rapidly gaining a reputation for not giving a damn. He does some of the ‘normal’ things that YouTube stars do, such as blowing things up, swimming a lot with semi-naked beauties, and other silliness.

However, this 20 year-old is particularly naughty. It’s setting fire to items in his back yard, or windsurfing along the local roads during rainstorms. It’s placing a trampoline in the middle of a busy highway, and fighting off a wild kangaroo ‘that broke into’ his house. Worst of all for his beleaguered neighbours, it’s informing fans of his address and inviting hordes of them to come party…

Each video of Paul acting like a “douchebag”– as fellow YouTuber Philip DeFranco describes him – earns Paul somewhere in the region of $1m or more (see below).

Throw in merchandising and sponsorship, and you have a very rich young man with seemingly no constraints, who has realised that embellishing and growing a bad reputation is a good thing.

Indeed, it can be harnessed and used to turn words and action into money. This year’s VidCon, the annual conference for YouTube creators, was widely described as the most controversial of all time, with plenty of unsavoury behaviour. Jake’s brother Logan was the perpetrator of at least some of the hi-jinks, hiding $3,000 around the venue to the delight of young fans. Instagram model Christian Burns gleefully recorded himself branding a security guard ‘ugly’ to his face, in a video that went viral (and made the guard an unlikely celeb).

Sport

Bad sells, people like it, and nowhere is that more obvious than in sport. On August 26, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, one of the most unusual boxing matches ever will take place, pitching a debutant against the most gifted fighter of his generation. It’s grotesque and it’s garish, but sadly for boxing purists, Floyd Mayweather against Conor McGregor is also the biggest fight of all time.

Combat sports participants have long known that their most valuable pre-fight weapon is often their mouths, and despite many boxing fans shying away from what they perceive as a parody of sport, McGregor’s larger than life personality sells, big time. It’s not just the fact that he is so outrageously offensive, wearing a suit with profanity pin-stripes and destroying Mayweather in the high-profile press conferences (all streamed live, of course); it’s also the fact that he can effortlessly slip into a ‘man for the people’ guise while still reminding everyone of his obscene wealth.

McGregor, aka @TheNotoriousMMA, might one day post a picture of himself bathed in sweat after a tough session in the ring, or holding a child tenderly. The next day he’s driving a lime green Lamborghini or sparring in Gucci trunks, all to the delight of his 5.1m followers.

Mayweather, of course, does not shy away from boasting of Bugattis and casual multi-million-dollar betting wins himself. He’s kept viewers interested by posting a video of sparring that leaves just enough doubt as to whether he’s any good at boxing or not, and whether he’s a good pro or not as well.

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Others want a slice of the fame pie; it’s a sure sign that you’re doing well when the impersonators start turning up, and a weightlifter McGregor lookalike impressing crowds at Venice Beach won’t have harmed the fight’s selling power.

Not that it needs it; tickets were allegedly listed at $150,000 on Stubhub, and not many fights are shown in cinemas these days. Contrast the event with another to be held three weeks later in the same arena, a genuine P4P boxing clash between middleweights ‘GGG’ Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Because of their non-controversial personalities, no-one’s bothered about it.

Anger, criticism and trolling are currency on social media, particularly Twitter as it’s an arena where we can contact anyone in the world and just unload on them, with no barrier to entry – although perhaps it is a factor in stopping newbies from entering the fray. So just in case we’d forgotten that the Gallagher brothers don’t get on, Liam constantly reminds us of the fact. When Gary Lineker and Piers Morgan engage in their regular spats, neither strays from their character. At each juncture of the various celebrity bust-ups, we’re reminded of their personality, their brand, and what brought them fame in the first place.

Politics

After sport and entertainment, the next most combative arena is politics. The left-right war of words was already heated before Trump came to power, but since November it’s just accelerated into poison. From Owen Jones to Katie Hopkins, and Jack Monroe to Tommy Robinson, everyone has an equal right to a say. Of course it’s all too easy to shy away from those we dislike or despise, and this has led to accusations of social media as an echo chamber where we only seek who we want to seek and hear who we want to hear. Perhaps if we didn’t, Brexit and the recent elections would not have been so shocking.

For some, the ultimate badge of notoriety on social media is to be banned from it. One of the biggest personalities on Twitter until relatively recently, was the British conservative commentator and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos; a scourge of feminists, Muslims, BLM activists and most pointedly the left, Milo became one of the first ‘personalities’ to actively exploit his infamy, which eventually led to a Twitter ban after a scathing review of the new Ghostbusters film that was seized upon by his fans, to the detriment of actress Leslie Jones. However, Milo doesn’t care. In fact, he states that the ban has made him even bigger and catapulted sales of his new book and demands for his college talks into orbit. It also perpetuates his argument that social media is loaded against free speech.

Finally, of course, we come to the world’s most famous troll. No US President has ever used the media in the way Donald Trump has, marshalling a marketing campaign that was simple in idea but complex in execution.

According to the Washington Post, Trump used a number of devices to win the election, from his systematic unpicking of the MSM through the accusations of fake news, his marshalling of the alt-right, to the use of hashtags including #maga (Make America Great Again), #draintheswamp, #neverhillary, and #corruptmedia to rally support. Trump knew that huge swathes of the electorate would never vote for him under any circumstances, so he just didn’t bother with them. Meanwhile, the flyover states were ripe to be swayed by his rhetoric, and so it proved.

President Trump has nearly 35m Twitter followers but follows just 45 himself. Apart from #covfefe there are very few false steps in the Trump brand.

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His messages range from congratulatory:

“The crowd in Ohio was amazing last night - broke all records. We all had a great time in a great State. Will be back soon!”

to condemnatory:

“Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!”

Sometimes there’s little emotion, but plenty of content: the massive story that was the recent ban on transgender people serving in the military was delivered in stark fashion, but each of the three tweets was liked by more than 100,000 people. Now, in power, he knows he has until at least 2020 to make his mark. Expect a bumpy ride, and no lack of further notoriety.

So, What Have We Learnt?

As marketers we all know how important tone of voice is (see our Style Guide), and these people are truly themselves – they haven’t tried to be particularly nice or noble, and it would seem strange to their fans if they were. They’ve got hard skins and don’t concern themselves with what others are thinking; that toughness, allied to flashes of quick wit, is what gets people talking, and following.

So if you think a client can benefit from becoming a super villain online, or at least one with a little bit of sass, you’d better make sure you are interesting and authentic - and can back up your attitude!

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