BlackBerry’s big BB10 launch event had its fair share of major announcements (New phones! New name!) but perhaps the most surprising was when CEO Thorsten Heins introduced Grammy-winning singer Alicia Keys as the company’s new global creative director.
“She believes in the product and technology,” said Heins in a statement. “We are excited she will be bringing to us her enormous capabilities, as well as a vast network of relationships in the entertainment, social media and business communities, to help shape our brand and grow our business.”
Apparently Keys will be working closely with app developers, designers and other notable names like filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and author Neil Gaiman to create original BB10 content. “As global creative director, my goal is to inspire creativity with this platform, and I’m so excited to jump right in,” she said.
She’s just the latest in a curious line of celebrity-turned-creative directors, a trend that began a few years ago (insert RIM-even-late-to-this-party jokes here). One of the most high profile corporate/celebrity collaborations was between Lady GaGa and Polaroid, which resulted in a “Grey Label” line of products “designed by” the pop star and revealed at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. That same year, Intel named Will.i.am its director of creative innovation and the Black Eyed Peas frontman has gone on to work with other brands like Coke and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Last year, Callaway Golf anointed none other than Justin Timberlake its newest creative director and this month Beats Electronics tapped Trent Reznor as the chief creative officer for its new music streaming service.
It’s a fancy title but let’s face it, Alicia Keys will not have a cubicle in Waterloo any time soon. The likes of Ms. Keys et al aren’t going head to head with Apple’s Jony Ive on creative direction or product design. These are marketing moves at best, desperate grasps for relevancy at worst. Grant McCracken wrote a great post for the Harvard Business Review back in 2011 on this new rush for celeb-creativity by major brands. “These days no celebrity wants to act like a mere pitchman. Their limitless self-love prevents it. No, today’s celebrities must be active participants in branding and innovation. Not just pitchmen, but creative directors. They want to be our partners.”
Celebrities can be useful because celebrities are just that for a reason (Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo, notwithstanding). As McCracken points out, famous people are like windows into our culture. “They are the product of a naturally occurring experiment that throws up thousands of candidates to see which are embraced by the American public. So tested, each celebrity is living proof that this configuration of message, attitude, outlook works. It must be true. Think of every celebrity as a message in a bottle from American culture.”
This can be very valuable to a brand when it comes to creative content ideas and fostering a stronger connection with consumers. A more active partnership, beyond holding up the product and smiling, is simply how the role of celebrity endorser has evolved. But please, can we lose the whole official job title schtick? As legendary designer and creative director George Lois said, “Calling them that is an insult to real creative directors.”