It’s getting hard to keep up with the celebrity titles. Every week, it seems, there’s a new creative director or partner or officer of some kind.
Just this month, the rapper Cardi B announced that she was joining Playboy as its first creative director in residence. (She is also a partner in Whipshots, a vodka-infused whipped cream that was released in early December.)
She joins a growing list of famous brand associates that includes Emily Ratajkowski, partner and creative director at Loops Beauty (face masks); Dakota Johnson, co-creative director and investor at Maude (sexual health and wellness products); Prince Harry, chief impact officer at BetterUp (employee coaching); Kendall Jenner, creative director at Fwrd (an online boutique); Drew Barrymore, creative director at Garnier (hair care and skin care); Jennifer Aniston, chief creative officer at Vital Proteins (supplements); and ASAP Rocky, guest artistic director at PacSun (clothing and accessories).
Once upon a time, famous people signed on to brands as their “faces” or “spokespeople.” With the rise of social media marketing came the flood of “ambassadors.” Now, a corporate title once reserved for the heads of fashion houses or the artistic leads at advertising firms is being tacked onto the résumés of actors, singers and models.
The titles have become so common that when Pete Davidson, the very datable comedian, and HoYeon Jung, a star of the Netflix series “Squid Game,” took over Calvin Klein’s Instagram account this week, many people assumed an announcement about their roles was coming. (A representative for Calvin Klein would not comment on that.)
“When you’re the face of something or a brand ambassador, you’re representing them,” said Susan Douglas, a professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan. “It doesn’t suggest particular talent or input. But ‘creative director’ suggests that you have a set of executive or creative skills. It burnishes your brand as not just being a pretty face.”
Some of the companies that celebrities have joined are not household names. They’re not Capital One (where Jennifer Garner and Samuel L. Jackson are spokespeople) or Nespresso (George Clooney, brand ambassador).
But that can actually be a benefit, Dr. Douglas said. “These niche companies don’t want to seem like Procter & Gamble,” Dr. Douglas said. “‘We’ve really tapped into people, we know what they want.’ Authenticity is the coin of the realm right now.”
It’s a two-way validation system. “The star becomes a stand-in for the brand, and the qualities of the brand mirror or enhance the qualities we associate with the star,” saidAndrea McDonnell, an associate professor of communication at Providence College.
In the case of Cardi B and Playboy, Dr. McDonnell said, “her personal brand revolves around empowered sexuality. She’s a female coming into what has been historically and by definition a male-centric space.”
Bringing her on as a creative director, she said, could “push the brand in a different direction, expand the audience and maybe do a little damage control.” (In a clip from A&E Network’s upcoming documentary series about Hugh Hefner and Playboy released last week, Holly Madison, who lived in the Playboy mansion and was one of Mr. Hefner’s girlfriends, says she “broke under the pressure” of being in the house.)
It is not clear to what extent these new roles are vanity titles. Some celebrities are bound to be more involved than others.
Eva Goicochea, the founder and chief executive of Maude, a sexual health and wellness company, said that Ms. Johnson joined in “an investor-adviser deal.” A project on which they’ve teamed with the Museum of Sex is planned for next spring.
Ms. Goicochea said that she hadn’t previously intended on working with anyone famous. “A lot of people think that it’s like Midas,” she said, referring to the king who turned everything he touched into gold. “That they’ll post about you and suddenly you’ll be raking in cash. Maybe in the short term. But you can’t be myopic about the potential and the downsides.”
For one, she said, stars are people, and they could say the wrong thing while representing the company. But there is also the risk that the brand begins to revolve around one person. “It starts to become about them and less about the topic,” Ms. Goicochea said.
Her advice to any business courting a celebrity or being courted by one? Vet the person thoroughly. After all, maintaining a positive and distinctive public image — both as a person and as a company — is only becoming more important.
“There’s a battle for visibility,” Dr. Douglas said. “What is the scarcest resource? People’s attention. You have to constantly have your name out there or people forget about you.”