“A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool, a billion dollars” famous words spoken by the fictionalized version of Napster co-founder Sean Parker in the film The Social Network. Some celebrities agree with the sentiment and, with money to burn, have taken dead aim at 10-figure exits their acting careers could never muster.
Hollywood celebrities have been flirting with technology innovation for years. Justin Timberlake and MySpace had an affair, Ashton Kutcher is ruffling feathers with noteworthy tech investments, Snoop’s Snoopify is giving him $30,000 paydays each week, and Hewlett Packard hooked up with Lady Gaga for a few years.
Building, funding and selling a tech startup is no easy task and there’s no doubt attaching a celebrity to a technology startup doesn’t hurt, but every tech startup, every mobile app, every digital publishing and e-commerce play has a story and the pairing the story with the right star is paramount, not unlike traditional casting where a celebrity pitches a movie or sells a product. Examples of great pairs include Seinfeld for Amex and Kobe Bryant for Nike.
Spotlight: Tom Hanks And Kim Kardashian’s Mobile Apps
In 2014 Tom Hanks and Kim Kardashian, two celebrities with followings in entirely different markets both released mobile apps which are, or at some point were, ranked among the top grossing apps on iTunes. The contrast between these A-listers’ approach to mobile publishing, branding and monetization is as varied as their fans, and their respective entourage.
The Hanx Writer is a hipster inspired typewriting app designed to be fun and nostalgic first, functional second, and likely won’t be used as the primary note taking platform by power iPad users. Nonetheless it is be being “used” in great numbers, and it’s being monetized in a freemium model, free with special digital add-ons such as additional vintage designs for a fee. This app could perhaps been successful without a celebrity involvement, but having a A-lister like Tom Hanks, an actor not generally associated with technology and mobile applications industry, helps generate buzz at launch, loosen up investor dollars for seed funding, and calling it the Hanx Writer also didn’t hurt.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood operates on a similar monetization model, but entirely different concept and user interaction. Kardashian personifies her brand of life in Los Angeles through a first person story app with state of the art graphics and gameplay on a mobile device. Users can be “friends” with a digital Kim Kardashian, and explore adventures in Los Angeles and Hollywood like go to parties, get head shots, mingle with bosses and other celebs, and work at a retail store. Digital goods for sale with real cash include choices to buy outfits and accessories. If it sounds glamorous, that’s because it is, and only after hours on the app (and likely more than a few real dollars), the user can achieve A-list status – like Kim! Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is projected to generate anywhere between $80 million to $200 million according to Forbes. While an impressive mobile app in its own right with state of the art graphics, user interface, storytelling, and monetization strategy, having the branding powerhouse of Kim Kardashian put this app on the map.
A smoking hot body or a pretty face (I’m looking at you Tom Hanks) attached to an app doesn’t hurt but of course isn’t necessary. While the Hanx Writer demonstrates there needs to be no real connection between the celebrity and the app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood illustrates the potential for marketing boost when a celebrity with a large following builds a digital experience closely based on her brand, lifestyle, and personality. In either case, the experience is well produced and while the goods are in digital form the cash flow generated from these mobile applications is very much real.
Author: David N. Sharifi, Esq. is a Los Angeles based intellectual property attorney and technology startup consultant with focuses in entertainment law, emerging technologies, trademark protection, and “the internet of things”. David was recognized as one of the Top 30 Most Influential Attorneys in Digital Media and E-Commerce Law by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2014. Office: Ph: 310-751-0181; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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