All of this helped usher in a golden age of celebrity branding. Today you can wear Kim Kardashian shapewear under Nicole Richie sleepwear on a Rita Ora duvet thrown with an Ellen DeGeneres pillow. You can raise your child with organic baby food from Jennifer Garner and organic cotton towels from Jessica Alba, as well as organic diapers with dashing prints from Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard. You can shake up some drinks with Drake Champagne, Chainsmokers Tequila, Post Malone Rosé, and cocktail mixers courtesy of Jax Taylor and Lance Bass and then – in select countries – Snoop Dogg cannabis in Wiz Khalifa papers and ashes roll in a vessel that was lovingly designed by Seth Rogen. And that doesn’t even apply to the class of social media personalities like Addison Rae, who seemingly effortlessly jumped from performing 15-second TikTok dance routines to alchemizing fully articulated makeup lines.
The new Zeta-Jones coffee line reminded me of the branding saga that entangled a former co-star, George Clooney, in the early 2000s. Clooney appeared in commercials for Nespresso, a Nestle capsule-based espresso and coffee maker that, like many campaigns celebrities find potentially embarrassing, aired exclusively overseas. Thanks to the wonders of streaming online video, American viewers caught sight of the ads, and Clooney was exposed as a seedy operator: he became a movie star who thought he was too good for the company’s coffeemaker with megalomania. Clooney was classified as a sell-off and a hypocrite at press events, and he defensively announced that his Nespresso money was funding a satellite used to monitor a Sudanese war criminal.
Clooney believed he could improve his image by spending his advertising money on something virtuous, but his real reputation problem lay in his relationship with the way he had generated the money. When Clooney and his friend Rande Gerber developed a tequila, casamigos, and then sold it for a billion dollars, he was suddenly a game to chat about. In interviews, he carelessly pronounced “Jalisco” and bragged about how many shots he had fired with his buddy to get the smoothest pour. The game never arrived. (In 2015, Clooney also popped out of the Nespresso cabinet and signed to represent the brand in North America.)
Some hokeyness persists among these high-performing deals. TalkShopLive, Zeta-Jones’ e-commerce platform of choice, is a website that features a photo of a suspiciously white-toothed person, labeled “Ken Lindner” and simply assuming that a) you know who that is and b) You might be moved to buy something from him. (Google advises: “Mario Lopez’s longtime agent.”) Yet legitimate product agility stars – like memoir slingers Matthew McConaughey and Dolly Parton – have peacefully coexisted with influencers devoted to things like Sister Georgie and themselves since their inception in 2018 they call the masters of Crypto. The assumption that this type of gambit is calculated cynically is viewed as an unsophisticated, even insulting, analysis. “I didn’t ‘sell out’ by making my dreams come true,” Chrissy Teigen said on Twitter last year when her honor was questioned over cravings meme of Hulk Hogan wrestling with a sourdough bread. The Internet rallied in Teigen’s defense.
The consumerist way of performing celebrities has become more acceptable as it becomes increasingly clear that Hollywood work is not always that enviable, especially for women. Defining the film business as an artistic calling is what feels wrong now. Part of the appeal of a character like Teigen is their apologetic attitude towards their work. She is not ashamed to benefit from the added value that her high-minded art creates. She is just trying very hard to sell things.
Nevertheless, this hand can be outplayed. This month, Teigen released a range of household cleaning products with Cardashian matriarch Kris Jenner, and the backlash to her Cringey launch videos was so abrupt that Teigen nuked her Twitter account and labeled its users “mean”. There may have been a misjudgment in the satirical style of the video: when she made fun of the entire genre of celebrity branding, she presented herself as being unusually insincere.