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Celebrity turned CEO

Recently, more and more celebrities have been adding business CEO to their resume. Taking advantage of their audiences and name recognizability, stars are venturing into the business world to launch their own companies — namely in the beauty, alcohol and clothing industries. Hailey Bieber, George Clooney, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kylie Jenner and Brad Pitt — to name a few — are few of many stars who have made this transition. More than just a product, though, these celebrities are selling a lifestyle. 

Take Hailey Bieber, née Baldwin, for example. Bieber was born into a famous family and has spent most of her life in the spotlight. At 17, she signed with Ford Models and established herself as a model, appearing in magazines, walking in fashion shows and collaborating with numerous fashion brands. As her modeling career advanced, so did her recognizability. Her fame surpassed that of her father — Stephen Baldwin — once she became known as a socialite, media personality and YouTuber, on top of her already budding modeling career. Most recently, she has added CEO and founder to the list as she launched her own skincare line. 

The announcement came via Instagram June 15, 2022. Hailey utilized the collaborative post feature on Instagram to share the news with her 48.2 million followers. “WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF RHODE,” the caption read. 

For the devoted fans of Bieber, this business venture came as no surprise. She was a beauty ambassador for BareMinerals, back in 2018, appearing in many campaigns as the face of the company. Consumers seemed to trust Bieber’s beauty advice because of her flawless, glowy skin and signature “glazed donut” look. It is as if she was primed to be the next celebrity beauty mogul. 

The next day, her company launched with just three products: a peptide lip treatment, a peptide glazing fluid, and a barrier restore cream. The line sold out in two days and there's been a waitlist to purchase ever since.  

The initial success of companies such as Rhode are, in large part, due to the massive followings of their famous owners. Celebrity CEOs inherently have a secured consumer demand, being backed by devoted fans. 

The fan-to-consumer pipeline is tricky, yet predictable. As consumers, it is easy to fall prey to marketing campaigns that promote a lifestyle attached to a product — so much of social media marketing is designed to do exactly that. However, as a fan that already idolizes a certain public figure, it is even easier to fall for the scheme that by buying their product you will be more like them.

For instance, many of the comments on Rhode’s Instagram are from people expressing their desire to have skin like Hailey’s:

@yayavvarr said, “getting skin like hailey is my only life goal” 

@acosta.mariaangela wrote, “you have beautiful skin you are beautiful ❤️”

@_ketysantoss__ “Your wonderful skin ?”

Although Hailey’s company does not seem to be directly attached to her name, Rhode is in fact the model’s middle name.

This strategy is commonly used by celebrities looking for crafty ways to capitalize on their platform without blatantly using their name. For instance, Justin Bieber, Hailey's husband, used his middle name for his clothing company, Drew. Similarly, Kourtney Kardashian’s lifestyle brand Poosh is named after the term of endearment for her daughter. Even Rhianna’s beauty brand, Fenty, is a reference to her full legal name: Robyn Rihanna Fenty.  

All in all, Hailey is not the first — and definitely not the last — celebrity to leverage her enviable lifestyle into a consumable brand.  

Back in 2013, George Clooney and Rande Gerber started their own Tequila brand, Casamigos. The idea reportedly came to them “by accident” while on vacation in Mexico, Gerber told Business Insider in an interview. Essentially, they were tired of bad-tasting tequila and wanted to create the best-tasting, smoothest tequila that could be consumed straight — no salt, no lime. 

At the time, Clooney was still acting and Gerber was enjoying life as a retired model. Neither of them had professional experience in the commercial industry, but they were never planning a business venture. Rather, they had envisioned a small project to share with their close circle. Hence the name, Casamigos, which loosely translates to “house of friends.”

“It wasn’t intended for the public, but once word got out, we couldn’t resist sharing it with everyone,” Gerber explained in an interview. Whether this is accurate or is a ruse to make the consumers feel like “friends” of the megastars is unknown but interesting to think about nonetheless. 

Once word got out, their small project grew exponentially. The unprecedented success of their company had them outperforming countless competitors. Everyone wanted to taste Casamigos. I mean, who wouldn’t want to buy tequila from Danny Ocean and the man married to a supermodel Cindy Crawford? Talk about a lifestyle attached to a product. 

Although Clooney and Gerber are adamant about keeping their fame separate from Casamigos, they are naturally the face of the brand. One of their campaigns shows the two men sporting aviator sunglasses and riding motorcycles down an open road — no tequila bottle in sight. The campaign highlights a lifestyle rather than a product.  

In 2017, Clooney and Gerber made a deal with Diageo, a beverage company, to sell Casamigos for $700 million upfront and $300 million in the following years, granted the company continued to achieve similar success. With the closing of this agreement, Clooney became the highest-paid actor, a title with questionable weight since a majority of his income was now unrelated to his acting career. In fact, Clooney had not starred in a film since 2016.  

As more and more celebrities hop on the trend of attaching their names to products and businesses, it begs the question, what does it mean for us as consumers who can’t help but want to buy products that attach ourselves to our favorite celebrities? Does this make us irresponsible consumers? Or crazed fans? No, it just makes us human. Humans caught up in an ever so clever, even more so effective, marketing scheme.  

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