Dear Celebrities, please stop launching brands. Like seriously, please stop

Words by Lily Thaler
Date 2022-03-03

With the rise of social media and seismic shifts in culture evolving what it means to have celebrity status, stardom has essentially become easier to achieve but harder to maintain. This newly ephemeral nature leaves celebrities in an interesting, somewhat vulnerable position: In need of constant reinvention to keep their follower count up, media coverage high and their pockets full.

It’s a forever game of forever pursuits. And one of the many avenues they’re employing as they (at times) desperately seek an escape from potential irrelevance (and the associated costs) in the face of an unstable, ever-changing entertainment landscape is through the addition of “Founder & CEO” to their multi-hyphenate status.

This move isn’t new – Celebrities have been making the transition from Hollywood star to wannabe business mogul in one way or another for decades, ranging from run-of-the-mill alcohol and perfume brands to more obscure ventures like Kate Basinger’s failed attempt to buy a town and transform it into a tourist attraction in 1989 and Kevin Costner’s foray against oil spills with his (also failed) Ocean Therapy Solutions.

But today, it seems like every celebrity owns a brand. Seriously. While they still tend to dominate the beauty and alcohol spaces (there are literally over 75 celebrity brands in beauty alone), stars in pursuit of a business to call their own aren’t stopping there. In fact, they’re not stopping at all.

And honestly, they should. Or at least most of them should literally stop. While I’m not anti-celebrity by any means (I religiously tune into award show red carpets and will be watching the new season of the Kardashians), I can’t help but wonder how so many celebrities look at the world we live in and think that a company with their name on can pragmatically create value for both themselves and others. Or perhaps it’s a better question as to whether they even consider those applications at all.

At their best, brands founded by celebrities have an innate ability to turn their platform into power – to express creativity through innovation and/or ingenuity, and to connect with people in a way that matters. But at their worst, celebrity ventures bring cheap brand building and mediocre products into (already) crowded markets and come off as greedy attempts to make more money off the backs of loyal followers.

Note that it is not every celebrity’s job to create societal value by generating/inspiring/facilitating meaningful change. But it is every brand’s responsibility to do exactly that. And when celebrities start brands, not enough of them take that job seriously.

Mic drop, I know.

So my plea is this – My call to action if you will. My request for every celeb, whether they live life on the A-list or the D-list.

Please stop launching random brands... or at least only launch them when you’ve thought about these five things first!

What message are you sending?

When your image is so inextricably linked with your brand, everything that brand says and does is a reflection of you, so it’s crucial to think about what you’re putting out into the world and what you’re asking your audience to believe or do.

Take Kourtney Kardashian’s “Lemme purr” gummies for example. The reality star launched the supplements earlier this year to normalize and support conversations around vaginal health. But everything about this product—from the name to its intent—tells users that their vaginas aren’t normal, reinforcing all kinds of bad stereotypes about women’s bodies, their health, and the expectations they need to live up to. Like, why, exactly, does my vagina need to be “fresh”? Unanswered questions and vagaries abound.

Is this brand about you or the problem you’re trying to solve?

Let’s get real: More often than not, the lines between celebrity and brand are blurred. Are you the brand? Or is the brand its own thing?

Like Charlie D’Amelio’s family show company… Weird at best. Random at worst. But definitely not an example of a celebrity-owned brand done well.

But Shay Mitchell’s Beis, on the other hand? Spot on. Her products fill a void in the market and to be quite frank, the products can stand on their own, without her. Her presence is mostly behind the scenes such that she’s (refreshingly) enabled her brand to speak for itself.

Are you really all that different?

Having a fanbase doesn’t mean consumers should give you their money for mediocre products. Product market fit and true differentiation remains critical to both brand and business success.

Sadly, we’ve seen the worst of this is in the beauty space. And being beautiful isn’t a good enough reason to start a beauty brand. Take Addison Rae, for example. She blew up and amassed tons of followers, started a beauty brand called Item Beauty, and in less than a year it totally failed. Even Sephora removed it from shelves because the products just weren’t doing anything different than other celebrity beauty brands or other beauty brands, more generally. In other words, the products couldn’t stand on their own merit.

Whereas Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has hit all the right notes, truly changing the beauty industry and setting a new standard for shade inclusivity. She’s authentically executed and delivered on the idea that beauty must be inclusive because that’s what consumers both want and expect.

Do you actually know what you’re doing?

At the end of the day, no matter how strong a brand is, a good brand can’t fix a bad product—and in the case of celebrity brands, celebrity isn’t a substitution for actual subject matter expertise.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many celebrities to count make a foray into an industry they have little-to-no understanding about. Yes, they of course hire teams who know more than they do, but these celebs can’t provide the sort of direction necessary to retain the reins while also helping that brand differentiate itself in the market.

Let’s talk about Kendall Jenner’s 818 tequila… I hate to say it, but the quality has been called out by consumers and bartenders. But also, it’s another brand that feels random at best. She’s shaped a reputation as the least party-girl of her sisters such that the launch felt misplaced from the get-go. Jennifer Lopez did something similar, having built an image around not drinking, but then she launched an alcohol line. It makes no sense.

Where Kendall disappoints, Kim Kardashian excels. Few could pretend to know more about shapewear than she does, and she’s highly involved in the development, designs and marketing of Skims. She’s got credibility, for one, but she’s also gone above and beyond to ensure that she’s designing products that are inclusive both in terms of size and skin tone.

Seriously— maybe don’t launch a brand (unless you really, really should…)

Not every celebrity needs to be an entrepreneur. Starting your own company isn’t the only way to engage more deeply with your fanbase or audience, or the only way to diversify your revenue streams, expand your creativity or address world problems.

Recognize that sometimes, impact is better delivered in partnership with existing entities and in collaboration with people who straight up know more than you do. Hear me out, but creating more noise in a space that matters to you isn’t the way to make that thing matter more.

Sofia Richie recently became the Beauty Director of Nudestix, a partnership which happened organically because she was looking to work in the natural makeup and beauty space. She ultimately worked with their R&D team and helped them launch their new body line, elevating a smaller brand that shares her beliefs, while still getting to leave her mark on an overcrowded market.

First published in Campaign US.