The New Celebrity

Imagine you had access to your favorite celebrity almost all of the time. You knew what they had for breakfast. They recorded their deepest darkest secrets. They told you that you were one of their best friends. This is the celebrity of the Millennial Generation. The YouTube star.

Posting hundreds of videos talking about their favorite brands, showing how they play video games, sharing the things that make them laugh and cry and everything in between, the new celebrity is very different than the celebrity of generations past. Rather than being shrouded in secrecy, unavailable and mysterious, today’s celebrity overshares and provides anytime access to the mundane parts of their day. How is it that these YouTubers have millions of views and are having T-shirts and iPhone cases crafted in their honor, you may ask? 

The modern day celebrity has—perhaps unwittingly--incorporated some of the fundamental tenets of design thinking to skyrocket themselves to stardom. For Millennials, anytime access to relatable, authentic people has led to “snackable content” that can be consumed voraciously across any device with even 6 seconds to spare (the length of a Vine video). Unlike celebrities of the past, the YouTube star has an engaged and seemingly interconnected relationship with their fans. They take questions, invite fans into their videos and seem to share anything and everything they are thinking. This showcasing of extreme empathy and collaboration with their fans is extremely powerful. It demonstrates that these stars understand what their fans are going through, what moves them, scares them and empowers them. They are unafraid to embarrass or humiliate themselves in order to strengthen the star-fan bond, nor are they afraid to show deep emotion. Gone are the days when celebrities would keep the veneer of a perfect life and no emotion to impress fans. Today, the opposite emotions are what is demanded. Fans want someone who is “real”. They also need to be creative, funny, and entertaining. But, above all, they are relatable. 

As fans change what they want from celebrities, they also change what they want from brands. Rather than the use of a spokesperson showing how to use a picture perfect product to fuel a picture perfect life, Millennials want their very flawed, but real YouTube celebrities to show the products they actually use. They are passionate about innovation that improves the mundane parts of daily life (A recent video on better makeup products had 2.7 million views). What this means for retailers is that understanding how your products are really used and their true strengths and weaknesses is a priority. Making light of mistakes and fixing them rather than ignoring them or hoping consumers don’t find them is the only way to protect a brand. As the role of celebrities born on YouTube spills across platforms and mediums, the way companies position their own brands may be overshadowed by how today’s stars and their fans showcase their own use and possible uses for a product. This provides both a great opportunity for brands to heighten the seeming usefulness and authenticity of their brand as well as a reason to take a deeper look at what they are offering consumers and why. 

Some ideas for retailers and brands:

Well, I did some work with Benefit Cosmetics, which was right up my alley, because I love makeup, but I’m only working with brands that I actually like. I’m not going to just go promote things I don’t actually endorse or like.
— Britanny Furlan, Viner

Strong, direct sales tactics don’t work. As Wendy’s found out when it partnered with Brittany to promote their new flatbread sandwich and insisted she "be seen eating the sandwich, talking about it, and hashtagging it." It got their name out there, but people were saying:  

Now I specifically won’t go to Wendy’s!
— America's response

Increase the frequency that you take the pulse of your brand – Popular YouTube stars are posting videos daily. They need content, topics and brands to talk about, make fun of and rave about. Stay on top of how consumers see your brand: who loves it, who hates it and why. This will prevent you from learning the answers to these questions at the same time as 1 million other people.