A recent blog post in Forbes might help marketers grasp one of the most enduring principles of digital and technology: while some things never change, what changes around the edges is what’s most interesting.
The blog post, “The World’s Most Powerful Latino Celebrities,” has a catchy but somewhat misleading headline: it’s a look at the emerging power of Latino celebrities, but the list (at the end of the article) is no more than a list of the eight Latino celebrities who appear in the recent Forbes Celebrity 100 List. Nothing against Forbes (I am a regular contributor), but a list from a listshould force you to ask questions (e.g., can you really take the eight out of context?). And while the list is not your typical Forbes list (as they explain, it’s not just about money, but also about fame), it still strikes me as antiquated in the new world of digital, where marketers have grown to tolerate a bit more complexity. And nothing against the blog post, or the headline. The author, Anderson Antunes, does a great job making the case for Latino celebrity marketing, qualifying the opportunity with facts and figures (market size, demographic patterns, and the clout of celebrities in the digital era). But it’s precisely the size of this opportunity that requires marketers to think carefully before they set out to recruit someone for their next campaign. If you are going to do this, get it right.
What Is Celebrity?
The first question one might ask of any list is “what does it mean?” As I note, the article takes the eight people on the Celebrity 100 List who are known to be Latino. Seems fair enough, but what makes someone a celebrity? The Forbes editors devised this constraint: “film and television actors, TV personalities, models, athletes, authors, musicians and comedians.” While this definition helps eliminate apples-to-oranges comparisons, it seems a bit off in the world of digital and social. A more contemporary definition would have included politicians, scientists, and business leaders. And it probably would have included a more expansive definition of TV personality. In a much-discussed 2010poll by the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos rated Univision anchor Jorge Ramos as the fourth most important Latino leader in the U.S. today.
Influential for Whom?
One might argue that there’s a big difference between leadership and celebrity, but in the world of digital – where influence and access to large networks of followers matters – the distinction is largely academic. At best, one can argue that you can be a leader without being a celebrity, and you can be a celebrity and not be leader. But if you are both, you will certainly become popular with marketers. On the NGO side, we’ve seen many groups try to court the attention of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was listed number one on the Pew Hispanic poll. Sotomayor, whether she likes it or not, clearly qualifies as a leader-turned-celebrity. And among a number of Latino celebrities-turned-leaders, Colombia-born Shakira (also absent from the Forbes Celebrity 100 List) has been chasing a number of causes that have made her immensely attractive to commercial brands and NGOs alike. The point here is that a celebrity’s reputation and commitment to particular communities matters to marketers. There may have been a time when general celebrity was all that was required to sell a product, but in the reputation-driven economy, the person herself – her beliefs and her actions – is the thing now.
The Long Tail
And, as I said, it’s a commitment to specific communities that matters. In part, that’s because the digital world has unbundled the so-called general market of public opinion into many different niche markets. But it’s also because the digital world has enabled marketers to see that there are many leaders that are emerging in these markets. When the 2010 Pew poll first came out, the headline for many people was that 74 percent of Latinos could not or would not say who was the most important leader. Some interpreted that to mean that Latinos lack leadership. Others (me included) saw this as a sign that Latino leadership, like leadership everywhere in the world today, was becoming more distributed. In the digital world, the distribution of markets and its leaders truly matters. Marketers hoping to trade in the age-old game of celebrity marketing need to appreciate this.
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