Celebrity culture has grown to become a booming industry. Apart from the countless celebrity gossip weeklies that line supermarket shelves (and the bottom of the occasional bird cage) while simultaneously attracting millions online, this obsession with stars has single handedly spawned some of the Internet's most popular blogs, from Perez Hilton with its 13.5 million unique monthly readers to Time Warner-owned TMZ.com, this year valued at more than $100 million.
If you think it takes a certain type of advertiser to align with celebrity content, think again. Its audience spans demographics, encompassing everyone from 14-year old high school girls to high-ranking executives and mothers of three. They come to read the gossip, but also to find out what the stars are wearing, carrying, buying, eating, and driving. And although they may be in a specific state of mind to which, from a contextual standpoint, consumer packaged goods and lifestyle products seem most relevant, everyone from consumer electronics retailers to banks have tapped into this genus of engaged, active online consumer.
Whereas blogs, portals, and lifestyle/entertainment sites are a natural fit for offering celebrity content, it has infiltrated even the most highbrow properties. Every major online newspaper laces its Fashion & Style and Lifestyle & Culture sections with photos of actors and pop stars. If ever there was a stigma associated with celebrity gossip, that "mindless fluff for the masses" label is long gone. If publishers aren't considering how to weave it in, they're missing an opportunity to significantly boost their traffic. And if advertisers are writing it off as insignificant, they're leaving a lot of potential business on the table.
There's no need to compromise one's editorial integrity. There are plenty of ways to get creative that offer benefits for trusted advertising partners. This holiday season, Salon.com is offering sponsorships in a "Gifts For Your Famous Friends" feature; instead of the standard holiday gift guide, the edgy online news and entertainment site will be selecting gifts for famous folks who made the news in 2010. The idea is that consumers can associate their friends and family with each famous personality type and end up with a creative shopping list. For digital marketers, it's an opportunity to reach Salon's savvy, educated audience in a fun, seasonal environment.
For a parenting site like Babble, celebrity content represents a way to offer a more compressive and inclusive site experience; if you can get your diaper reviews and star gossip in one place, why go anywhere else? "After finding the service-related information they're looking for, users have a little time to browse through more fun lifestyle content," says Alisa Volkman, co-publisher and VP of sales strategy with Babble Media. "So while advertisers like to be in environments that are providing real value to moms I think there's also an appeal to catch them in their 'off or more leisurely time.'" Babble's Celebrity section features a "Bump Watch" along with posts on celebrity babies and moms.
Dedicated celebrity sites have a unique draw – particularly when they're as unique as iFollo. Launched last year, the up-and-coming site is a fan-driven online community built on real-life encounters with celebrities that users can post, share, and rate. The community is still in the process of building out its content and user base, but will soon be offering display ads targeted by behavioral profile. Campaigns will take into account the celebrities that users are following (often a telling sign of their interests) and the products and services those celebrities consume, and combine this contextual data with demographic information like age, gender, and location.
Earlier this year, Star Magazine launched an iPhone app to deliver celebrity updates by mobile means. It immediately snagged Unilever's Suave, Degree, and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter brands as section sponsors; each was associated with a relevant aspect of celebrity culture, allowing users to vote on celebrity photos, view red carpet looks, or read celebrity health tips in the context of the advertising brands.
Meanwhile, E Online, represented by Comcast Digital Entertainment, produces some of the most exciting home page skins and takeovers you'll see, while Glam Media, which was recently reported to be closing in on AOL in terms of unique monthly visitors, has an extensive celebrity section that's ripe for the partnering.
If you've ever worked with a brand that has hired a celebrity spokesperson, or if you find yourself pausing to read about Lindsey Lohan's latest antics as you surf your way to a page about politics, you already know the awesome power celebrities can wield. There's no shortage of them (reality TV has seen to that), so why not start considering them media partners? Publishers certainly are.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.