Celebrity endorsement and promotion of beauty products is certainly nothing new: as previously reported in Beauty Matters, influencer marketing through social media is increasingly critical for beauty brands to connect and engage with customers. However recent years have seen a shift: rather than simply promote and endorse third party brands, celebrities are increasingly launching their own beauty brands. Recent high-profile celebrities to enter this space include Harry Styles, Jared Leto, Brad Pitt and Kate Moss. They join a celebrity beauty hall of fame, the likes of which include Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga and Rosie Huntington Whitely. It seems countless celebrities are entering the beauty market with their own brand – in the words of Louise Eccles in The Times (subscription required) "in 2022, are you even a celebrity without one?".
There has been a longstanding trend for celebrities to launch their own fragrances. Typically this has been in the context of broader celebrity merchandise, a way for celebrities to engage with their fans and monetise their star power, rather than a meaningful expansion into the broader beauty sector. However the recent trend is towards more authentic celebrity involvement. Rather than simply putting their name to limited edition products, modern-day celebrities are focused on building entire brands and are increasingly involved in developing the products themselves. Jennifer Lopez states, in relation to her 'JLo Beauty' brand, "I knew that when we launched, it had to be amazing because it has my name on it. I’ve been involved in all aspects of development, because JLo Beauty has to authentically mirror my values and reflect who I am, what I believe in, and how I live my life."
Some of the earliest celebrity brands to target the beauty sector in a meaningful way claimed to be filling gaps within the marketplace. For example, in 2009 Miranda Kerr launched 'Kora Organics' to target a gap in the organic beauty space, while in 2017 Rihanna's brand 'Fenty Beauty' was famously launched to provide more diverse and inclusive product ranges to cater for all skin tones. However the sheer number of new celebrity brands launching into what is already a saturated beauty market suggests that consumer need isn't the only driving force.
One attraction of the beauty sector is its wide consumer appeal. Other brand extension opportunities such as fashion are typically targeted at much more specific age and gender demographics. In contrast beauty products can have an almost universal appeal, particularly as the sector becomes increasingly gender-neutral.
Matthew Maxwell, strategic insight director at the brand consultancy Kantar was quoted in The Times (subscription required) as saying "For celebrities, it is an opportunity to make money but also remain relevant … In the Noughties, you would only find celebrity fragrances such as those by Britney, Paris Hilton or Beyoncé. Moving into skincare and make-up means customers are more likely to buy their brands long-term. Customers are very loyal to cosmetics once they become part of their daily routine."
A celebrity by any other name
The obvious step to capitalise on existing star attraction would be to develop an eponymous brand which bears the celebrity's name. Those who have gone down this route include Kylie Jenner, Victoria Beckham and Trinny Woodall. There are clear advantages with this approach: consumers will associate the celebrity and the beauty brand as one. The greater the celebrity star power, the greater the immediate cache of the brand.
However as considered below, there can be complications in allowing an individual's name to become the brand itself. Moreover, the trend away from limited edition collaborations towards developing entire brands favours a more nuanced approach. Increasingly celebrity-founded labels are adopting standalone names, which will allow the businesses to flourish successfully as an independent brand whilst still capitalising on the celebrity star power of their founder.
Examples include Jennifer Aniston's 'LolaVie' haircare range, Brad Bitt's 'Le Domaine' gender-neutral skincare range and Pharrell Williams' wellbeing line 'Humanrace'. A variation on this theme is to include a reference to, or twist on, the celebrity name; Kate Moss's new line is named 'Cosmoss', and Rihanna's 'Fenty' is named after her surname (but not the name she was originally famous under). Typically these brands are marketed with their celebrity founder front-and-centre, but importantly they also have a particular brand aesthetic and identity beyond celebrity which is capable of enduring appeal. In many cases, consumers could easily purchase from these brands without necessarily knowing of the celebrity connection.
There are inevitably potential pitfalls when a celebrity brand image becomes connected with a related but distinct consumer-facing brand. These include:
- Clearance and conflicts
- Just because a famous person is known under a certain name, it doesn't mean they are the only one – particularly in the case of single-name celebrities. Kylie Jenner's US trade mark application for KYLIE was famously blocked by Kylie Minogue, who had been identified by only her first name for much of her career and who had earlier trade mark rights. Ms Minogue stated in a television interview "I've spent a lifetime protecting my brand and building my brand so it was just something that had to be done".
- More generally, when adopting any brand name, it is important to undertake clearance searches to identify any potentially conflicting earlier rights, regardless of whether it is an invented word or the celebrity's own name. Hailey Bieber has encountered a much-publicised objection to her use and registration of RHODE (her middle name) by the well-known New York fashion brand trading under the same name, notwithstanding that Rhode is Ms Bieber's middle name.
- Eponymous brands
- The presence of eponymous brands in the beauty sector pre-dates the recent rush of celebrity launches. Many historic and prestigious fashion houses which have expanded into cosmetics and fragrance are eponymous brands (the likes of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent). Eponymous labels have long been favoured in the technical skincare and haircare sectors by dermatologist and hairdresser founded brands, such as Dr. Dennis Gross and Philip Kingsley, as well as make-up brands such as Laura Mercier. The difficulty with eponymous brands is that the brand equity is inextricably linked with the celebrity image. If the celebrity loses their appeal – whether due to negative publicity or simply the passage of time – the brand is likely to suffer. These risks (even in the case of non or semi eponymous brands) are aptly demonstrated by the recent publicity surrounding Kanye West's collaboration with Adidas.
- Moreover, significant complications may arise in the event the named individual and the brand decide to part ways. A famous example is the sale of the 'Jo Malone' brand to Estee Lauder in 1999. Following her departure from the business, Jo Malone was subject to a non-compete clause although she has since launched another brand, Jo Loves. Similarly, Dr Zein Obagi departed from his founder brand 'Obagi' skincare, and has since launched the separate business 'ZO Skincare'.
- From a commercial perspective, potential third-party investors or purchasers are likely to want to limit ongoing celebrity control and involvement. On the other hand, celebrities will want to retain as much control as possible of a brand trading under the image rights in their name.
- Jared Leto recently launched his own gender-neutral skincare line, Twentynine Palms, but has received some criticism (subscription required) for stating publicly that "I’ve never been really interested in beauty products".
- This goes to a broader point relating to authenticity: in a densely populated marketplace, consumers can afford to be selective and new brands need to work hard to connect with their target market. Key to this is the brand story: the thread that connects the celebrity-founder to the products themselves. Consumers want to be convinced that the famous founder is using these products themselves, not just putting their name on something.
- Connected with this is the question of brand ownership. As celebrity-founded brands take off, they may attract interest for the industry powerhouses: Rihanna's 'Fenty Beauty' is now 50% owned by LVMH (which itself owns industry leader Sephora). Whilst corporate investors and owners may seek to limit celebrity control, they must balance this against consumer demand for authenticity.