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June 17, 2024

Oort Cloud Oddities: Name Branding

By Alexandra Queen

I don't hate Paris Hilton as much as I used to. I used to comb the gossip columns for reports of Paris showing up in a horrible dress or doing something mind numbingly stupid. "HA!" I would show my husband. (Or my friends. Or the kid at the door selling magazine subscriptions.) "SEE? She's a horrible, stupid woman!"

But I'm not as outraged anymore. True, Paris has no redeeming qualities whatsoever beyond being rich, but it's hard to dislike someone who consistently proves me right, again and again. She's an "Old Faithful" of foolery. I can always Google Paris Hilton to find some new instance of stupidity or tactlessness. She's the Don Knotts of celebrity ing?nues, goofy living proof that some people can't be helped, no matter how much disposable income or cosmetic surgery you throw at them.

This week, she appeared at a convention to promote her own new video game: "Paris Hilton's Gem Jams". She graciously greeted her fans, and then proceeded to refer to the product by the wrong name, making it painfully obvious that she had no clue about the product bearing her name.

Maybe it was a genius ploy on her part, turning an unremarkable publicity event into national news by playing the twit again, knowing that plump, bitter columnistas like myself will pounce on any chance to prove our superiority over a wealthy, skinny chick, cleverly using my venom to fan the flames of her celebrity status ever higher. Soon she will rule us all by running for President of, you know, that country or something. Canada. No, wait, the United Nations? Whatever. When she's President, she can call it anything she wants! She can rename it France, and then name that city where the White House is, "Paris". (Duh.) And instead of the bald eagle, we can have Tinkerbell as our national mascot. Chihuahuas are kind of hairless, right? Yeah, that would be totally hawt.

And speaking of celebrities who have nothing going for them but "blond, bling and bulemia," Jessica Simpson is being sued because she won't wear the clothing brands that bear her name, and that she theoretically helped "design".

Between the two of them, they really got me thinking.

Using celebrity status to "brand" celebrity products isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm not really a fan of Oprah but she's built quite a powerful little commercial empire around her name. Sure, she has legions of assistants doing work for her, but there's absolutely no doubt that she's involved in what's going on. She presents interesting viewpoints from others, has interesting things to say herself, and recommends books of fairly consistent quality. There are folk who will buy or read anything Oprah recommends, but she invests quite a bit of energy into making sure she's presenting a quality product to her fans, and she's fairly good at it.

And take John Tesh's music (please). Would it have been as successful if he wasn't a celebrity? I doubt it, unless he skipped the concert at Red Rocks and played at a sleep therapy center instead. But did he have some legitimate talent as a composer and pianist? Absolutely. And his music made him really happy. Perfect example of respectable celebrity endorsement.

Sadly, most celebrities and merchandisers look at "name branding" and become so busy drooling over the potential proceeds that they miss the point.

Does Paris enjoy programming video games? Does Jessica like creating and sewing clothing? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess, "no." Merchandisers have always put icons like Barbie and SpongeBob on lunch boxes, toothbrushes, underwear, tonsil depressors and everything else a kid might come into daily contact with, no matter how briefly. That's tradition, born of preying on people whose brains don't have a fully developed decision-making center yet. But now, the generations who grew up with that kind of senseless bombardment are adults, with bigger disposable incomes. And warped sensibilities from being allowed to throw away cash on silly rip-offs like that.

What's the difference between that Hello Kitty scented eraser/rectal thermometer and those Jessica Simpson blue jeans or Jessica Alba baby clothes? Absolutely nothing. Just another random pairing of a branded name and an unrelated product, solely to separate the consumer from an extra buck. And the result leaves celebrity and consumer alike looking like fools.

On the other hand (as Paris is gradually eroding our sensibilities to convince us) looking dumb is hawt.

She's a crafty one, that Hilton girl.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-06-05
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