(Ben Widdicombe, Glenn Johnson, Patrick McMullan)
Last night the Soho House hosted the Roundtable Creative Media Group‘s monthly salon of industry trends. Five experts from diverse backgrounds spoke to an audience on how exactly celebrities are marketed and branded for today’s magazine and television audience.
What could have turned out to be a snooze-worthy event for anyone not in the branding/PR industry turned out to be a lively, insightful discussion, moderation by Glenn Johnson, Vice President of Evins Communication. Famed photog Patrick McMullan joined Gilt City’s EIC (ex-TMZ editor and tattoo hater) Ben Widdicombe, Slate PR’s Bianca Bianconi, VH1 executive producer Warren Cohen, and Budweiser Entertainment’s Brand Ambassador Colin Gorman to debate everything from Ryan Seacrest‘s deal with Colgate to Andy Warhol, Mob Wives, and Greek gods. (And no, not Chris Hemingsworth as Thor.)
“Celebrities are today’s Greek gods,” Mr. McMullan began. Well, they served the same purpose at least: giving everyone some common fodder to talk about during dinner. “Because we are covering the world, we are talking about these human beings in Godlike terms. As long as there has been printed word, there’s been celebs. And the first printed word was probably ‘Jesus.’”
“People get very angry about why we cover ‘non-entities’ like reality show stars,” Mr. Widdecombe added. “Kim Kardashian is just the latest incarnation. But the reality is that people like Jayne Mansfield and Lana Turner…Zsa Zsa Gabor…were only nominally actresses. They were more branded as celebrities, and were as famous for their lives as they were for any of their film work.”
This point seemed particularly relevant after Jon Hamm‘s recent dig at Kim Kardashian and reality show stars in Elle UK, calling Ms. Kardashian a “f*cking idiot.”
He continued the attack in Time Out London, saying:
“The sexy thing is so ephemeral and meaningless other than in the world of selling magazines. Who cares, when it’s reduced to just that? You might as well be a Kardashian and have a sex tape.”
On Monday Mr. Hamm took yet another swipe at reality shows on Today, saying “I don’t really understand the appeal of it other than in a sort of car crash sensibility.”
For all Mr. Hamm’s problems with Ms. Kardashian, the panel felt that the reality show star was not to be dismissed.
“I think the Kardashians get watched more than Mad Men,” Mr. Collins said. “So that really makes you wonder who has the right to call who something. Kim has found innovative ways to make money, and that sounds like a talent to me.”
“At the end of the day, yeah, you might see the coolest band ever on Saturday Night Live, but how many people see that, versus how many people watch the Kardashians?” Ms. Bianconi added. “They are polarizing, because you wonder who loves them…but clearly, a lot of people do. And they work very, very hard to produce content and products, to keep their brand alive.”
Harder working, we couldn’t help think, than Mr. Hamm, who might be considered more highbrow for playing Don Draper on AMC’s hit series, but who also just had the luxury of a 17th-month hiatus to goof off and take on pet projects, like starring in his girlfriend’s film, Friends with Kids. Meanwhile Ms. Kardashian was being honored as a Business Game Changer by The Huffington Post.
Sure, it might be comparing apples and well-dressed oranges, but at the end of the day, both the reality show star and the Mad Man are in the entertainment industry, and must continue to sell themselves to the public if they want to remain so.
(Photo via Patrick McMullan)
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