Makeup products spread out on a pink background

The Dated Business Model of Celebrity Brands

What once had a griphold on the public is now losing it's power

Social IssuesTech and the online world
By VoiceBox ·


Written by one of our team members

The Dated Business Model of Celebrity Brands

The interpretation of ‘celebrity’ is always progressing. From the once unattainable ancient Gods to elusive royalty to the glitz and glam of entertainment – the notion of fame never stagnates. But since the breakthrough of social media, the ‘celebrity’ has evolved yet again, from a once selective title to a culture of internet personalities and influencers. This cohort of online VIPs varies massively from beauty gurus, to ‘sharenters’, to SoundCloud singers to relatable teenagers – all showcasing often intricate details of their lives for fans to eagerly lap up. Influencers have had a grip on young people for decades, with the first big names emerging from the chaos of YouTube in 2008. Since then, influencers have migrated from making videos to the perfection of Instagram, and, more recently, TikTok.

The old criteria to become an influencer was not particularly difficult. One: know how to use social media. Two: be lucky enough for the algorithm to treat you nicely. Of course, other qualities were a bonus. Attractive, photogenic, funny, cute kid, cute dog, rich (even better if you're self-made), specific talent, vocal on social causes. But these traits and talents aren’t rare. In fact millions, even billions of people across the world possess such qualities. So, we find ourselves circling back to that all-important point of luck.

One such person of ‘luck’ is Kylie Jenner, Hollywood socialite and TV star. Her ‘luck’ (which is open to subjection), started when she was only nine years old. Her family – the notorious Kardashians – were all stars of their popular reality show, which did nothing more than televise the general antics and disarray of a large American family. An unconsenting spot as a child in a reality show wasn’t going to bring her the level of fame she has on its own. Her huge accumulation of wealth and status has only grown to an immense degree thanks to social media – but her journey to get there hasn’t always been easy. While Jenner is undeniably one of the most privileged women in the world, no one wants to have their awkward teenage phase televised to the masses. Tabloids, critics and even her own fans have sat ready and waiting to unpick her every move, deride her style and oppress her natural features. Such intense belittling is surely enough to break anyone who isn’t happy with how they look. But Jenner did something almost unheard of at the time. She capitalised off a feature she was bullied for the most: her lips.

In 2015, at 18 years old, Jenner kick-started the growth of her empire with the launch of something quite simple: three lip liquid lipsticks with matching lip liners, christened as ‘Kylie Lip Kits’. At the time, a ‘Lip Kit’ was fairly a new concept. Jenner herself has said that she always struggled to find a lip liner that matched her lipstick, which is what prompted her to create Kylie Lip Kits, later rebranded to Kylie Cosmetics. The products sold out immediately, initiating Jenner to restock and expand her product range after the successful test run. While the immense demand for her Lip Kits was unparalleled at the time, Jenner wasn’t the very first to commercialise her name. Veteran YouTuber Zoella had already launched her beauty brand in 2014, having had a chokehold over UK teenagers for five years prior. Similarly, controversial figure and beauty guru Jeffree Star also launched their brand a year before Jenner jumped on the train. But Jenner is most definitely one of the most successful founding mothers of celebrity brands, and, for many years, it has proven again and again to be a successful model.

But recently, the grasp that influencers have on their audiences has stagnated. The coronavirus pandemic truly highlighted the class divide across the world, with the actions of the super rich borne with massive controversy as they continued to flaunt their wealth when others were dying. From Jenner attending her sister’s ‘private island party’ during a violent second wave, to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres joking that being trapped in one of her multi-million dollar mansions was like “being in prison” – the relatability that so many influencers took pride in was slowly becoming more and more fraudulent.

Audiences have become fed up with the dated business model that so many influencers have relied on for years. Releasing new products in response to a celebrity feud (cough, Jeffree, cough), collaborations with the same people, no staple pieces, random holiday collections – Jenner has used her life and the people in it to amass her success, seemingly assuming that her fans will forever descend on product collaborations with her sisters and friends, or go weak at the knees at the idea of a “birthday collection”, launched to celebrate Jenner reaching another year of her life. This recycled model of ‘same product, new face’ is slowly dying. Rather than focusing on the quality of her brand, Jenner is almost operating a fast fashion dominion, copying and pasting her already depleted products into fresh packaging, running the same social media campaign where she pouts at the camera holding a lip gloss.

Fans are more aware than ever that once worshipped influencers are just a face for exploitation and power who profit off the very people who used to admire them. People are no longer engrossing themselves in trivial stories and negligible arguments that once dominated YouTube, Tumblr and celebrity news outlets. They want realness, not fakery hidden behind a wry smile and devious product placement. Kylie Cosmetics is in its flop era, and unless she changes her attitude, it’s going to stay that way.

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