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There was a time when people became famous for one of two things: talent, or inventions. While both of these categories seem to have diminished, or possibly even died off in the last few years, it is the latter which I’ll be focusing on today.
To fully understand this change, we must first look to the car-making, mass-producing, anti-union, American bumper sticker that is Henry Ford. I very carefully chose the order of those adjectives as I feel that it highlights quite specifically the point of this blog post. Henry Ford is a car-maker (I am aware that this is not the most accurate terminology), first and foremost, that is what he is. Last of all, he is a bumper sticker, although that is largely irrelevant to my point.
“If there’s one thing both the James Dysons and the Paris Hiltons of the world can teach us, it’s that to get famous you need a lot of suction”
What I am trying to say is that Henry Ford is an inventor; he is famous for the product he produced. This is also true of various other household names, from Thomas Edison to Alexander Graham Bell, we know these men as “the inventor of this” or the “discoverer of that”.
In recent years though, there has been a strange shift in this idea. Products no longer make people famous, famous people make products. Instead of “the new automobile invented by Henry Ford”, we now have “Victoria Beckham’s new fashion range”. The focus has shifted away from the product and towards the person. Now, people who are already famous (for quite separate and distant things) are launching products off the back of their own names.
What this immediately calls into question is the quality of these products. Henry Ford’s cars were revolutionary enough to generate fame for their creator; from then on this fame provided an ethos for future inventions. Now though, a product doesn’t need to be of a high enough standard to launch its creator into fame and fortune …as its creator already has fame and fortune.
Obviously I’m not saying that all celebrity products are of low quality. If this were to be the case then the product’s various failings would quickly become associated with its creator, damaging the celebrity endorser’s carefully crafted reputation. This is the problem with celebrities making products rather than products making celebrities, it means that all of the brand’s equity is stored within their name. Heston Blumenthal is not a person, he is a range of produce, books and TV shows (admittedly a rather smug range of produce, books and TV shows).
So in actuality, this is quite a nice little set up. It does though, have one major loophole. What about those few celebrities whose reputations are so underwhelming that the poor-quality of their products cannot possibly provide any further damage.
Such examples could include the 2670% interest ‘payday’ loans promoted by deactivated airbag Kerry Katona, or alternatively the leopard print slippers created by Jersey Shore’s notorious sea-Kraken; Snooki. These semi-stars couldn’t give a toss about quality. And why should they? They have no reputation to lose? All they have is a fan base so obsessed with celebrity culture that the very concept of “quality” has become distorted. Quality products are celebrity products. Functionality, longevity and tangible assets are all irrelevant.
As usual I’m probably being pessimistic. Looking around our various supermarkets and stores we see so much more than “Paris Hilton’s this” and “Kim Kardashian’s that”. There are plenty of people who are still famous for the products they created; look at Richard Branson or better still, James Dyson. Dyson became famous for his innovative vacuum cleaners which revolutionised the market through lossless-suction.
So, I suppose if there’s one thing both the James Dysons and the Paris Hiltons of the world can teach us, it’s that to get famous… you need a lot of suction.