The Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas has always been an exciting time for us tech geeks, but it seems that celebrities are getting in on the fun now too! At last year’s event, Lady Gaga teamed up with Polaroid to announce a paparazzi-worthy new collaboration. The first product to be born out of this creative partnership was a co-branded printer, which later turned up on a number of best-of lists (not to mention gift lists!) CNet went as far as to say that it "made mobile printers sexy again.”
At that same convention in Vegas, we also saw appearances by rapper 50 Cent and his entourage, announcing their new Sleek by 50 headphones, and this year welcomed teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, who was there promoting TOSY Robotics’ new robot.
While little purse dogs and stunner shades may have been the celeb must-haves of the past, the current and future generations of Hollywood elite are embracing technology whole-heartedly, with stars like Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Hugh Grant and Justin Timberlake often spotted out and about touting their iPads and smartphones.
Other examples include the press conferences for Sony and Yahoo – which recruited Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen in the past and will feature Will Smith and Tom Hanks this year – Ashton Kutcher and Nikon, and Blackberry and spokesmen like Adrian Grenier and Common.
Although celebrities are all over the tech world, the jury’s still out on how effective some of these business alliances really are. Of course a celebrity contingent brings increased visibility and media attention to the brand, but it can also bring drama, as well as scepticism from consumers. 50 Cent’s headphones debut failed miserably after the deal fell through only a few months after he introduced the headphones at CES.
One incredibly successful example, however, would be Beats by Dr. Dre – a partnership comprised of record executive Jimmy Lovine, audio gear company Monster Cable Products and hip-hop mogul Dr. Dre. The product’s retail sales raked in an estimated $50 million for fourth quarter 2009, and the Beats line is now involved in a number of innovative crossover deals such as incorporation into a $2,300 HP laptop and Chrysler’s redesigned 300 sedan.
"CES has become the Super Bowl of tech marketing,” said David Schwab, managing director of Octagon First Call, a company that helps brands assess celebrity value for ad campaigns. "Like brands use athletes to launch products at the Super Bowl, tech companies are doing the exact same thing with stars at CES.”
The recipe for success in these celeb-tech collaborations? The products have to be quality – a famous face will only get you so far if you’re putting out a crap piece of technology. The link between celeb and gadget should also make sense (for example, Michael Jordan’s association with sneakers).
Finally, as mentioned earlier, we consumers aren’t as daft as some of these companies would like to think – "Consumers know when somebody’s stuck a name on a product or when they’re really invested in it,” says Brian Nohe, president of SMS Audio. The level of involvement by the star speaks volumes. So if the company is hocking the product as being "designed by” or "created by” the celebrity, as opposed to just slapping their name on it, it will have a far better chance at success.
Despite 50 Cent’s first failed segway into the technology industry, he’s back this year and has followed the above formula for success by developing his own product via SMS audio, a company in which he now owns a majority stake and serves as CEO.
50’s headphones aren’t just cool either, there’s a tie between SMS and Feeding America, with the company donating portions of proceeds from the headphones sales to the domestic food bank, much like 50’s energy drink line, which contributes to the U.N. World Food Program.
As cool as all of this is, we have just one concern – isn’t CES crowded enough already without adding those who are just there for the celebrity sitings?