March 22, 2005

Useless Celebrities

Do you care about any of these people?

I’m confused by Useless Celebrities, people who were intriguing for a brief moment, then the moment passed. Yet they still earn a paycheck because they’ve somehow convinced the people who dole out endorsement and hosting deals that they reach an important demographic.

Off the top of the head, I came up with this list of Useless Celebrities:
Cybill Shepherd
Carson Daly
Andie MacDowell
Carrot Top
Star Jones
Jay Leno
Joan Rivers
Ryan Seacrest
Rosie O’Donnell
John Tesh

I then tested this list on a wide cross-section of people with the question: “What do all of these people have in common?”

Some of the answers were:
“Annoying People!”
“Boring Stars.”
“Stars Who Are Washed Up?”
“They Have No Valid Reason To Exist?”

See, I was on to something! While follow up questions such as “Who are the fans of these people? How do they keep getting work when no one likes them?” found no answers, those polled generally agreed with the list as presented (save for one girl who truly likes Jay Leno), and were enthusiastic about adding names to the list. Names such as J.Lo, Ben Affleck, Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, and Martha Stewart were offered up, followed by variations on, “Man, I hate her/him!”

But Useless Celebrity is not about whom we personally dislike. For example, many a female blurted out Pamela Anderson’s name, but while their demographic may not like her, a certain male demographic adores her, thus making Miss Pammy a viable money-maker to certain groups pushing certain products. When there’s proof that a star brightens someone’s world, then they can’t qualify as Useless. Plus, a Useless Celebrity doesn’t elicit such strong emotions as hate. When the average person just doesn’t care enough to have an opinion about you, then yours is a desultory existence, David Arquette.

What I find so fascinating/confusing about Useless Celebrity is that corporations are willing to give these folks cash for the use of their name. It’s understood that a famous person elevates a product up from the crowd, and it also implies that said celebrity also embodies some positive aspect of the product. L’oreal pays Heather Locklear righteous cash to hawk their hair color because it’s a perfect match. But what does Andie MacDowell brign to that table? Was she the only “name” willing to work for the remainder of that year’s ad budget?

And that could be a clue. To a corporation, a dirt-cheap name might be better than no name at all. I get this image of a relentless agent, armed with a hyperbolic PowerPoint presentation, pestering Pepsi about their client’s ability to reach that all-important soft drink demographic. The Suits just don’t see the logic, until the agent says, “Ok, boys, I’ll level with ya. You can have him for only $15,000 – wait, make that $13,000, and do what you want with him!” And thus Carson Daly lands a cameo in Puff Daddy’s Pepsi commercial.

So, Useless Celebrity really translates to Inexpensive Corporate Tool? Hmm, I always miss the obvious…