The genre has spawned an endless gaggle of production-line celebrity nonentities who have skittered across the headlines for their allotted time before being dragged, screaming, back to obscurity.
No-one asks where they are now. Who cares about Rebecca Loos, Abi Titmuss, Preston and
Chantelle, Jade Goody? Even Shilpa Shetty (of the ‘BB race row’) has slipped into the shadows against the drama of real-life criminals trying to bomb UK cities and airports.
With Big Brother 8 limping on with declining audiences and diminishing tabloid coverage, the production line may be slowing down. So, will the age of celebrity – a defining element of modern British culture – wither alongside the decline of reality TV?
Many I have spoken to believe that the reverse is true: that celebrity association will remain one of the key tools of marketing and the communication of brand messages. They argue that, given the current centre of gravity in the UK media, celebrity endorsement offers a sure route to mass media coverage.
While phenomenally successful, celebrity-based magazines such as Heat and Closer sell a combined total of about 1.25 million copies a week, the possibilities of editorialising a brand through an appropriate celebrity endorsement are just too great to pass up. Such magazines, as well as the tabloid newspapers and various TV shows, also offer precisely defined audiences through which the celebrity-endorsed product can precisely target its demographic.
I believe what we are seeing now is the emergence of a new breed of super-celebrity whose fame is geared to last way beyond ‘15 minutes’. These are the cleverly managed few around whom brands are actually created, rather than mere endorsement. Currently they include Myleene Klass, Coleen McLoughlin and Paris Hilton.
The focus of the PR and management around them has been to identify key target audiences and to engage with them through a series of ‘best of brand’ associations that leverage the core values of the celebrity. Use of a name is awarded to carefully vetted licensees to enable them to produce, for example, Mylene-branded products. Each maintains an open and controlled dialogue with audiences through their target media and every decision is made with longevity in mind. Short-term photoshoots are generally eschewed – as are appearances on reality TV.
Thus the cult of the true celebrity outlasts, and ultimately outwits, the TV format which created so many brief moments of fame.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun