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The Commoditization of Celebrity.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on May 24, 2006

At last week’s Design Strategy conference put on by Patrick Whitney’s IIT Institute of Design, I had an epiphany (after listening to the great presentations by Motorola’s Jim Wickes and Scott Durschlag). Everyone under 40, well maybe 30, is creating their own personal celebrity in Facebook, MySpace or any number of other social networking sites. They’re also using their Apple technology to create their own unique music libraries. At some point HP may come up with the iPod for photos and we can have our own special photo and video libraries. People are already creating ads for companies on the net—and a lot of them are better than what the ad agencies are creating.

And then there is the whole IDOL phenom on TV.

So, bottom line, we are making ourselves celebrities, challenging the status of movie stars and athletes, singers, crazy ad folks—you get the idea. When everyone can be a celebrity, the nature of celebrity changes. It gets cheaper, just like coal and corn, and the products and services now being outsourced to Asia. That’s commoditization and we are seeing the commoditization of celebrity.

Now I don’t make my living at the celebrity game (OK, maybe Yves Behar is kind of a celeb but Larry Keeley?). But there are a lot of other people out there who do—like Time Warner, Conde Nast, all of TV, Hollywood, Murdoch, etc. So what happens when we no longer celebrate celebrity—except for our own? Things change. Stuff happens.

I did make my living for one year off of celebrity. I was the Executive Editor of Manhattan Inc. in the mid-80s. The magazine wrote about the newly rich of New York, mostly Wall Street types but media and marketing types too. We tried to write strong, narrative stories about their lives. With tension. Sometimes it worked. But all the subjects wanted to be seen as heroic and handsome or beautiful and they often were the advertisers so many stories failed and were puffy.

That was before I discovered the world of design and innovation. A much better—and far more important—space to inhabit.

Reader Comments

Steve Portigal

May 25, 2006 12:09 AM

Seems like there's an obvious but important Andy Warhol quote that should be referenced here!

And although this sound incredibly ass-kissing, I did honestly have a definite celebrity moment when you first wrote me an email!

Bob Blaich

May 25, 2006 6:47 PM

Celeb Designers, nothing new. Loewy, Teague, Bel Geddes etc. in the 30-50's, Eames, Nelson,etc. in the 40-70's, Starck,Arad,Behar etc today. I suggest that the real stars today are the unsung designers in companies and consultancies that provide design leadership without stardom.
Design magazines have created awarness of the stars of the past, BW might dig deeper to find the stars of tomorrow in the corporate and consultant design teams.

Jessi Hempel

May 25, 2006 8:39 PM

Recently I had lunch with Aaron Cohen from BOLT Media, a social networking media company that lets teens post profiles, photos, the whole nine yards. He was telling me about his son, who is roughly seven years old, give or take a year. He said that when his son sits down to watch tv, he often decides between an episode of, say, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues and a home video of a cousin's birthday party featuring...him. In Aaron's kid's mind, they're roughly equivalent viewing experiences.

Imagine growing up in a world where distribution has entirely collapsed, allowing parents to create such polished material that viewers draw little distinction between Hollywood and home. I wonder how Aaron's son will understand the concept of celebrity?

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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