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Have we reached celebrity saturation?

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

The mass media are awash with celebrities and celebrity events. Celebrities seem to be everywhere.

Reality TV has created fame for many non-entities. “Pop Idol,” “Big Brother” and similar reality shows in most Western countries have thrust all kinds of people from obscurity to their fleeting moment of fame. And various celebrity magazines dominate the newsstands.

The famous words of Andy Warhol (a celebrity in his own right) in 1968 were prophetic: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Warhol was speaking metaphorically. He meant that many people will enjoy a short and intense period of fame before they sink back into obscurity.

The celebrity industry has provided riches for those who have driven the trend. Darryn Lyons, 41, a former photographer with the small-town Geelong Advertiser, near Melbourne, Australia, has built a worldwide celebrity photo agency. He is worth about US$50 million.

Lyons isn’t a paparazzo; in fact he is the opposite. His brand of celebrity photography is largely based on stage-managed events designed to keep celebrities in the public eye. He employs staff photographers and works hand-in-hand with agents and PR practitioners to take photos of ‘celebrities’ at events around the world. By selling the photos to the eager media, Lyons helps to maintain the fixation for the famous.

The work of Lyons and the entertainment media have led to a plethora of celebrity magazines such as Star, Soap, Who, Famous, NW, Madison in Australia, Heat, Now, Hello!, OK!, Hot Stars and Sneak in the UK and People, In Touch, Access, ET, In Style, Life & Style, Star, Celebrity Living in the USA.

And of course there are all the television shows such as “Pop Idol,” “Popstars,” “Dancing with the Stars” and Skating with Celebrities.”

But this celebrity mania may have peaked.

Kurt Anderson, a journalist with the New York magazine, observed that the viewing audience for this year’s Oscars was down 8% and the Grammys audience was down 11%. In the second half of 2005, the National Enquirer’s newsstand sales were down by 25% and Entertainment Weekly’s were down by 30%. Other US celebrity magazines have started to struggle (OK!), while others folded (Inside TV), including one that never made it to a launch (Star Shop).

The trouble with instant celebrity is that it is cheap and disposable. Most of the instant celebrities are forgettable and are in the same mould as too many other celebrities. This spells trouble for marketing and PR people. 

The old ploy of using a celebrity in publicity, advertising or sponsorship is in trouble. In the past, a relevant celebrity was a good tactic. The presence of a celebrity could automatically help advertisements stand out and the celebrity’s positive attributes could rub off on the product or service they were representing.

But not now. Audiences are sharper these days. Consumers may see no logical connection between the celebrity and the brand being marketed. A popular personality doesn’t necessarily mean a successful promotion.

And the use of celebrities has reached saturation level. Recent research by Millward Brown revealed that the use of celebrities in US advertising doubled in the past 10 years. Around a quarter of US ads now feature a celebrity.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this celebrity saturation can’t last. 

Wise PR and marketing people are turning elsewhere. They are turning to fundamentals.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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