While there are many perks of being a famous face in Hollywood (Money! VIP treatment! Free stuff!), there is also a system of reciprocity in place between celebrities and brands.
When a celebrity gets given/borrows/is offered something from a label - no matter how big or small - and they wear it out, there is an understanding that they will promote the brand they're wearing.
These days, that couldn't be easier - one Twitter or Instagram post and a designer gets their credit, millions of followers see their favourite starlet or singer wearing a brand they may not have heard of before, and purchases and more publicity follow (that's the brand logic, at least). Everyone's happy.
Until someone doesn't live up to their promise, which is what allegedly happened earlier this month when Alicia Keys' stylist, Jocelyn Goldstein, reneged on her agreement to feature a dress from designer Marc Bouwer.
A pregnant Keys wore one of the brand's dresses for a party she threw for hubby Swizz Beatz on 11 September and Goldstein had promised an Instagram post to Keys' 2.7 million followers would appear afterwards. It didn't.
According to WWD, once it became clear no posts would follow (there were some on Swizz Beatz' Instagram feed, but he has far fewer followers), Marc Bouwer president Paul Margolin suggested Keys pay just over £3,000 for the dress (retail value: around £6,000) after Keys' stylist asked if she could keep it. To add insult to injury, when the gown was eventually returned, it came with a £300+ dry cleaning bill.
While Marc Bouwer didn't get their credit in the end - Keys has a deal with Givenchy so wouldn't have been able to promote the label - Margolin did get an old-fashioned thank you from a representative at the stylist's agency.
"I said to him, 'What is that going to do for me? Am I supposed to call my mother to tell her, 'They called to say thank you?'" he told WWD, continuing:
"If you say in advance you're going to do it, you need to do it. It's understood if you're going to borrow a dress, you're going to get credit for it."
While the amount that celebrities need to prostitute themselves for endorsements can be a tad OTT (see Kevin Jonas live-tweeting his wife's birth via detergent brand Dreft - a particular low), there's nothing unreasonable about a brand expecting a credit from a celebrity, especially if it had been agreed upon. A "thank you," in this case, is meaningless.
2.7 million people seeing Alicia's dress? That could turn into cold hard cash for Marc Bouwer's label.
Also, let's remember its more than likely this celebrity has multiple wardrobes and more clothing than Selfridges without needing to borrow anything. Ever.
Academic literature has long linked celebrity endorsements with trustworthiness and likeability, and in our celeb-obsessed culture, we like the feeling of proximity to a star that we get from knowing who they're wearing (even if we know they were paid to promote that particular brand).
Often, when a celebrity endorses something, there are also "symbolic meanings" created beyond their image: their personality traits or talents or whatever get linked to the products they promote, making brand recognition even more important.
Celebrities feel more accessible and approachable to us than ever (sometimes, they even Tweet back to us!) and our desire to know everything about them is only getting more obsessive. Social media satisfies our urges because it makes it easier for them to tell us what they're doing and who they'll be wearing at all times.
Yes, product placement is tacky. But it's also the way the celebrity-brand relationship works. And it's a virtuous circle for all involved - as long as everyone follows the rules.
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