Among the many things this year has called into question, is our relationship with celebrities. Without the usual red carpets and dazzling award shows, the shininess of their existence has dimmed slightly. They entertained on social media, hosted shows from their living rooms, and layer by layer peeled back the veil of privacy to their domestic settings. While the lockdown has given us—like it or not—more exposure to the details of their personal lives, for many people it has revealed how un-relatable celebrities can be. With so many people suddenly thrust into crisis, celebrities broadcasting messages of solidarity from their luxurious compound-style homes was not only unhelpful, for many people, it was infuriating. People did not appreciate when Madonna, from her rose-petal filled bath, called COVID-19 ‘the great equaliser.’ They did not waste a second before ripping apart Gal Gadot’s, now infamously tone-deaf, celebrity sing-a-long of ‘Imagine.’ The hardship of this year has prompted discussion for the significance of these famous people and what role we should expect them to play in our lives. At the same time, the hierarchy of celebrity status is also fading. These days especially, it is arguably the TikTok dancers, meme-makers, YouTubers, and influencers that have been the most successful at holding our attention. Speaking at Websummit, CEO of Cameo, Steven Galanis, declared the age of A-listers ‘a thing of the past.’ And perhaps nothing embodies this crossroads for celebrity better than the rise of his app Cameo.
Founded in 2017, business has taken off exponentially this year. The premise for Cameo is simple. It is an online marketplace which allows famous people to sell personalised video messages to their fans, who mostly purchase them as gifts. From Snoop Dogg to David Hasselhoff, celebrity chefs to reality TV stars, drag queens and even famous animals, fans have an impressive range to choose from. The talent sets their own prices. Currently Caitlyn Jenner is the platform’s most expensive Cameo, charging €2,300 per video. While according to Cameo, the person who did the most revenue this year is Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin from the American version of The Office. In an interview with the New York Times, CEO Galanis describes how using a mix of recruitment and referral, they get talent in three categories: ‘nostalgic, now, and next.’ For Lance Bass, singer for boyband NYSC, the majority of his fans request videos with their famous catchphrase ‘bye, bye, bye.’ Where Tiger King’s Carol Baskin has been inundated with requests since the enormous success of the Netflix Show this spring. While some people are horrified by the very concept of a Cameo, comparing it to some kind of dystopian puppet theatre, Galanis sees it as a practical solution for celebrities today who are often ‘more famous than rich.’ There might always be a particular class of celebrities too busy or too prestigious to be on Cameo, but the model is built to serve the ever-expanding leagues of micro-celebrities and influencers. Contrary to popular assumption, it is world-famous vlogger David Dobrik, not currently on the site, who is the person that Cameo gets the most requests for. ‘Way more than Beyonce,’ says Galanis.
Cameo is not the only service making the barrier between us and the famous more permeable. In Australia, there is Serenade, which allows music fans to request personal video performances from musicians. There is also Community, which you may have already noticed if your favourite celebs have been sharing their ‘phone number’ on social media. Using what they call ‘Social Messaging,’ Community allows users to connect with their large platforms in the style of a text messaging. For brands all this development leaves a lot to consider. For one, the realm of celebrity endorsements is changing as is the strategy for who to book. Cameo has started offering business pricing for small brands looking to buy promotions. A local car dealership now has the potential to go viral thanks to a celebrity ‘shout out’ they bought for a fraction of the normal advertising costs. The power and ability to influence is dispersing across more types of influencers. The public’s attention is shifting. For savvy brands, this means the toolkit may need to adapt to look a lot less traditional.