Five steps to help Britain break the clutches of the celebrity

Posted on 15/02/2010


One in ten young people would drop out of education to be on reality TV.

This was in 2006 and the research Band & Brown undertook for the Learning and Skills Council revealed the worrying extent to which young people (in particular – and I would argue society as a whole) were influenced by the cult of celebrity.

The problem has only increased since and was brought into stark focus by a panel discussion (it never really came to debate as such) organised by the University of Westminster and the PRCA.

The high-profile (in PR terms) names, Clifford, Borkowski, Beattie and Linley, seemed to come to a worrying conclusion: It takes less now than ever before to become a celebrity, which in turn is only more likely to encourage young people to see it as a path to ‘success’.

Yet, they agreed, and as the impressive Trevor Beattie put it, “the spectrum of celebrity is getting wider and more thinly spread out” but that there is no end in sight for celebrity culture. Especially with politicians looking to stoop to the lowest common denominator (see PMwithPM) and with brands like Gillette throwing millions at celebrities like Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry not because they are true ambassadors, but because they fit a constructed corporate image.

Added to that, of course, there is good money to be made from celebrities. A quick look at the latest ABCs show how newspaper circulations need a boost – and the titles which do well all come with a healthy dose of celebrity. And brands like Walkers and Sainsbury’s were cited as seeing sales rise due to their celebrity relationships.

Now this is not to say that I think all celebrity-backed campaigns should be stopped immediately. As the panel pointed out, Jade Goody achieved more for cervical cancer awareness and prevention than 20 years of public health campaigns.

But for those concerned by the takeover of British society by celebrity culture, how do we stop it?

Well, Max Clifford (in between taking calls from Simon Cowell and boasting how expensive his services were) perhaps pointed to an answer. He claimed that if people knew half what he knew that the cult of celebrity would be over. So, the internet can help then:

1) The John Terry saga (et al) has shown how injunctions, super injunctions and Britain’s stifling libel law can be overcome.

2) A tribunal, like that suggested by Clifford himself, to assess the public interest in any celebrity ‘kiss and tell’ would offer no protection to those who mercilessly court the media. If a celebrity has a public Twitter, Facebook, etc, account, this should this make them fair game for relevant comment.

And then as more celebs become exposed:
3) The rumoured clampdown on government use of pointless celebrities in campaigns should be expanded, for example, share-holder campaigns shouldn’t allow unsuccessful celebrity campaigns to be rewarded in the boardroom (where’s the return on stitching your brand onto Lewis Hamilton’s jacket for example).

4) Organisations only look to secure meaningful tie ins with true talent that sits comfortably with the brand identity.

5) The insipid coverage of celebrities such as in Heat needs to stop… Jason Linley seemed pleased that his magazine is rarely involved in court cases. As journalists, Bauer employees should really stop and ask themselves why is this?