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Two years ago, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo—the world’s most-followed Instagram account—caused a stir by removing two bottles of Coke from a press conference table, grabbing a bottle of water instead and shouting “water.”
Sports press conferences had always been a platform for statements. But no one—certainly no one of Ronaldo’s stature—had ever blatantly erased a global sponsor like that. The beverage giant’s shares dropped by more than 1.5% that day, knocking out $4B in value.
The visual came back to us this week, as Jimmy Butler—no Ronaldo, but not a nobody either—“pulled a Rihanna” in his press conference after Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals as he wore his own BIGFACE Brand shirt. (He had done the same for a different press conference two weeks ago, too.)
Butler, part of the celebrity packaged goods movement, launched BIGFACE with—pardon the eye-rolling pun here—a full-court PR press with Shopify in October 2021.
A lot has been made of the celebrity brand movement. We’ve written about it, at least in relation to Mr. Beast and Feastables, here and here. Most explorations often talk about how celebrities help drive down CAC, catapult growth, and push their brand to displace entrenched incumbents. At the very least, that’s the thesis behind the investments.
It’s also the most unlikely outcome.
The more likely outcome, though, is that the shift in power to the celebrity will make it more costly for the entrenched incumbents to remain so.
Some incumbents will lose market share, sure. Some will fade away near completely. But that’s the normal lifecycle of a brand. (Remember, just last summer, when Klondike retired Choco Taco?)
Others, though, will spend to protect their position.
Coca-Cola spends $4B annually on advertising. Plenty of that money goes to the types of sponsorships that put their products on press conference tables—and the equivalents to press conference tables.
But what if celebrities—in part empowered by investments into their brands and in part empowered by the shift—begin breaking historical patterns the way Ronaldo, Rihanna (at the Super Bowl) and Butler did?
Disrupting the patten—removing incumbent brand assets, overpowering incumbent brand assets—means Coca-Cola becomes less noticeable in that moments and, if that happens enough, less memorable. The brand needs to spend more to regain the lost impressions.
So, where might a brand like Coca-Cola turn?
They might turn to social—comparatively cheap, growing inventory that’s know to capture attention. It’s also, of course, the very place early-stage brands spend to reach customers. Greater investment and competition from outside the early-stage brand space means the inventory will get more costly for those who rely on it for growth.
This scenario—the one in which celebrity-led brands drive up the CAC for everyone—seems more likely than runaway success for celebrity-led brands. And that might be more disruptive than any one brand winning outsized market share on the backs of fame.