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Launchpad: Celebrity entrepreneurs

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What’s going on?It’s been a quiet few weeks for genuinely interesting new business ideas but a time of frenetic activity for all those clever entrepreneurial celebrities who can apparently turn their hand to anything. Summer has given way to the Celebrity Launch Silly Season.

Who’s at it?Who isn’t? In just the past few weeks, Shilpa Shetty has launched a range of ready meals, Kylie Minogue has revealed her latest range of bed linen, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has put her name to a fair-trade organic fashion line, Gordon Ramsay is pushing a range of professional kitchen appliances, Katie Price has introduced an equestrian clothing range and Yasmin Le Bon has unveiled her clothing collection at Wallis. A scan over the pond shows even more widespread celebrity NPD activity – the most surprising of which sees Hollywood actress Alicia Silverstone turning her product development skills to a range of eco-friendly cosmetics. What a multi-talented bunch. What’s the problem? In the old days we had good honest celebrity endorsements – Henry Cooper and Kevin Keegan splashing the Brut all over with no pretense that the pair of them had found time to apply their fragrance formulation knowledge to create it. Although arguably it smelt like it. Nowadays we’re expected to believe celebrities are heavily involved in the R&D or design process and that they have a real passion for whatever it is being launched in their name. The reality in most cases barely involves the delivery of an ”I like that one, don’t like that one” opinion, the permission to use the “brand” name and agreement to take a cut of the profits. More troubling is how this whole trend belies the hard work and challenges faced by entrepreneurs and small businesses when launching new products and services. So why is it happening? Celebrity agents are acting more and more like brand managers and the celebrities themselves want to take more ownership of their image and business interests. In some sense the number of products bearing the celebrity’s name has become a measure of their brand equity – although the degree to which it is fiscally or ego-driven probably varies from one individual to the next.

So what can we learn?For manufacturers or brand owners, securing the services of an appropriate celebrity can be a great shortcut to trial and awareness, but longer-term success rates are unclear. In any successful venture, the celebrity brings an obvious credibility benefit for both consumers and the brand – we know Yasmin Le Bon understands fashion but what is it about being a talented chef that makes you a trusted purveyor of electrical appliances?

Either way, a bit more transparency about the level of celebrity involvement would be welcome, even if it is just a good old-fashioned endorsement.

Justin Wright is a founder of Mangrove Consulting, a specialist innovation consultancy advising companies on how to grow through innovation and entrepreneurship, and is a director of several small businesses. His life has not been the same since the launch of the 5 blade razor – he finds it hard to remember what life was like with only 4 blades…

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