In the age we find ourselves, fuelled by desire, consumption, and the social media phenomenon, fashion and celebrity have become virtually synonymous. Whether we approve of it or not, “celebrity culture has seeped into every conceivable nook and cranny within the public sphere” (Church-Gibson 2012, 2), and celebrities themselves are becoming increasingly accessible. It seems that wherever we turn – magazines, television, or the internet – we are bombarded with celebrities; sporting the latest fashion trends, going through divorces, holidaying in enviable tropical locations. Do we care? Probably not. Do we look anyway? Almost always. The allure of the celebrity, and essentially the celebrity lifestyle, is undeniable: we want what celebrities have. They are the quintessential symbols of conspicuous consumption and desire (Berry 2016). With this in mind, it doesn’t take much to see why fashion – which, let’s not forget, is fundamentally linked to making money – capitalises upon our obsession with celebrities and social media in order to promote their brands and ultimately reap the rewards.
Take the sporting brand Puma, for instance. The company, which began in 1948 and has been struggling to stay relevant amongst similar brand giants Nike and Adidas, teamed up with the likes of Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, and, most recently, Cara Delevigne this year in a series of campaigns aimed at broadening their audience and boosting sales. Since none of these women actually have anything to do with sport, the selection of them as the faces of the brand could seem a little bizarre. What they lack in sporting prowess, however, they make up for with their high-profiles and huge followings: a combined total of over 243 million Instagram and Twitter followers between them, to be precise. All three women are young, successful, and, most importantly in the eyes of Puma, massively influential. This is a classic marketing move by the company; demonstrating how fashion brands seek the credibility and sway of celebrities in order to gain exposure and sell their products through positive association. After all, celebrities can reach consumers in a way that conventional advertising simply cannot, due to the fact they “humanise the product” and “offer meanings of extra depth through their personalities and lifestyles” (McCracken 1989, 315). This is understood as the ‘meaning transfer model’ (fig 1), whereby any associations we attach to celebrities are subconsciously attached to the products they endorse, and ultimately transferred onto the consumer through purchasing the product.
In using Kylie Jenner to promote the brand, for example, Puma is capitalising on not only the huge following that she has, but also the image she has built for herself: a powerful, confident, and “fierce” young woman. The Instagram advertisement – which was “liked” by 1.2 million people worldwide – essentially tells us that if we buy these shoes, then we, too, can be powerful, confident, and fierce, just like Kylie and Puma. With the brand reporting net profits rising by 27.6% (Fernandez 2016) since the advent of these campaigns, the power of the celebrity endorsement is clearly undeniable.
I think it’s fair to surmise that our obsession with social media and celebrity culture is only going to grow, and with the obvious success of celebrity endorsements in an increasingly competitive commercial world, the distinction between fashion and celebrity will continue to disappear.
Berry, Jess. “Fashion and Celebrity Culture.” Lecture, Queensland College of Art Brisbane, 2016.
Church-Gibson, Pamela. 2012. Fashion and Celebrity Culture. London: Bloomsbury.
Fernandez, Chantal. 2016. “Puma Feels the Rihanna and Kylie Jenner Sell Out Effect.” Fashionista Blog, 27 July.
McCracken, Grant. 1989. “Who is the Celebrity Endorser? Cultural Foundations of the Endorsement Process.” Journal of Consumer Research 16: 315.