Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the current hyper-digital age is the ever-shrinking gap between the celebrity and everyman. Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in the realm of the celebrity tweet. Twitter, the pervasive microblogging website, promises thrilling accessibility to prominent public figures, particularly in the entertainment realm. By providing seemingly unrestricted access in 140 characters or less, Twitter affords a “candid” glimpse into the life of a celebrity in a way that had previously been reserved for edited interviews containing publicist-controlled statements. Twitter appears to allow for celebrity communication that is both instant and raw, in form and in content.
From its inception in 2006, Twitter has become an important promotional vehicle for public figures and businesses alike. With followers soaring well into the millions for many A-list celebrities, the commercial impact of Twitter is undeniable. Recently, Madonna and Britney Spears traded genial tweets about one day reuniting for a performance in an exchange that might have been intimate had it not occurred in front of a Twitter audience of nearly sixteen million (their combined number of followers) – their conversation strategically coinciding with the launch of Madonna’s new fragrance.
In addition to strengthening the loyalty of existing customers, Twitter offers retailers a unique mass marketing tool to reach specific demographics not yet tapped. Meanwhile, for celebrities, Twitter has heralded the arrival of a new revenue stream through endorsements. The Kardashians have reportedly received thousands of dollars per tweet to sponsor anything from Old Navy products to the services of ShoeDazzle.com, a fashion start-up whose affordable Shoe-of-the-Month business model is especially appealing to fans aspiring to attain a Kardashian-like lifestyle.
While Twitter plays a significant role in generating business, it also gives rise to considerable legal issues. For example, relying on the fact that the relationship between advertiser and celebrity is nearly indistinguishable, the FTC found that Twitter presented an unprecedented risk to consumers by way of deceptive advertising practices. Therefore, celebrities must comply with the FTC’s disclosure requirement, ensuring that their relationship with an advertising retailer is clear, even if such disclosure merely includes a hash symbol and the word “ad” at the end of their endorsing tweet. Such a disclosure must be made when a celebrity endorses a product in exchange for compensation in any form, whether monetary or not. From a retailer’s perspective, this all but defeats the intrigue that once attracted fashion-marketing visionaries to utilize Twitter in the first place, turning away from the traditional path of discreetly providing celebrities with free products in the hopes their products would be captured in the following week’s tabloids. For a celebrity, the onus is, for the first time, on them to comply with FTC regulation.
Despite the aforementioned limits to its potential as marketing means, Twitter has dramatically altered business as usual in the fashion and apparel sphere. In the transactional context, recent celebrity appearance agreements now contain clauses in which Twitter use is a negotiated deal point, requiring an attending celebrity to not only mention but to excitedly endorse an event, often with contractually-specified language and certain subject hashtags determined beforehand. Indeed, Twitter provides a new form of brand promotion through the use of celebrity that remains unparalleled to date. Perhaps the most evocative illustration of this power arrived at the 2012 Academy Awards, in the form of an Atelier Versace-clad Angelina Jolie, glamorous to the point of caricature, stylized and posing. The Twitter handle in homage to her look, @angiesrightleg, amassed 10,000 followers within its first hour.