Walk through a shopping mall these days, and you will see any number of stars, not advertising their own works, but serving as the face of some corporate product. You can see Taylor Swift. You can see has-beens like Brittney Spears. Or you can see Brad.
Now I don't care that there are giant posters of Brad all over the shopping mall. He is a star; he's a good-looking guy. I just don't like seeing him in an advertisement. I'd rather see him on a movie poster. But, instead, he's hawking Chanel 5. Is that for men or women? I don't know enough about it to know.
What I do know is that Brad does not dictate my cologne, my after shave, or even my soap, since the latter is probably what I most regularly smell like. Because a) I don't really care about it all that much and b) I'm not sure what the source of his expertise is.
It's possible, only possible, that I might seek out a particular guitar product because, say, Eric Clapton endorses it, and his own talents are beyond question. But only possible, I suggest, because even though he knows guitars, I'd still wonder in the back of my mind whether he really uses the product or whether he is just paid to say he uses it?
And that's the trouble with all of these tie-ins. Does Brad Pitt really legitimize a perfume or a cologne? Do I really think it's a great status symbol to wear the same watch that Eli Manning does? (Although I suppose one could argue, how does any beautiful model or sexy photograph really capture the properties of personal products?). The point here seems to be different, though, because some current movie stars or music stars or other celebrities seek to become a "brand" rather than a human being known for a particular talent or trait.
Branding, to me, is overreaching. Branding attempts to push a person beyond his or her sphere of legitimate influence and into a ubiquitous presence, a kind of personal corporation. Even though I acknowledge that there must be ungodly sums of money that comes one's way as result of tying oneself to all kinds of different products and circumstances, I'm still surprised that stars agree to do it. I think it makes them look foolish.
Probably, that's just me. For I have plenty of fellow music lovers, for example, who refuse to see the negative impact of a good song becoming the soundtrack for a television commercial. They don't see that that makes the song somehow less good. Maybe because it doesn't. Or maybe it does because the song is selling the car and the car is selling the song and the repetitiveness of a popular ad could create a concert situation where instead of internalizing the lyrics of a classic tune, I might have an insatiable urge to get in a rugged vehicle and do things in it that only professional drivers on a closed, test track are able to do.
It's maybe worse when the people are the brands. Take Taylor Swift, for example, whose face is also all over the mall connected to products and whose most recent CD cover looks more like a GAP or Banana Republic photo shot than a thematic representation of the music inside. It's almost like Swift or her handlers have realized that her career arc will be very, very brief and that they must get everything while the gettin' is good.
Some say that's practical; I say that's cynical.
The problem is that mega-exposure and overly-ambitious (as in, what the heck are you hawking that for?) make that brief arc a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I have to be assaulted with Taylor Swift or the Kardashians or the fading male beauty of Brad Pitt everywhere I go, I'm not going want to look at them or hear from them for very long before I'm completely sick of them. I'm not going to acknowledge the quality of Taylor Swift's new CD because I can't take her seriously as a musician because she's out selling everything everywhere.
Over-exposed celebrities are, perhaps without their realizing it, creating their own obsolescence. In fact, I'll push this line of thinking one step further: usually by the time the advertisers get ahold of you, you're already finished, at least finished as what you were that made them want to use you for their ads. The sad spectacle of Brad Pitt selling smells in the mall is undeniable, because we all carry our own commercial cynicism, which tells us: If You're Doing That, It Must Be Because You Have To. Right?
Careful, stars, you get what you're paid for.