The Oprah Effect: For Celebrity Endorsements, Content’s Replaced Cereal Boxes

Celebrities sell. Just take a stroll through your neighborhood grocery store, and you’ll see Kim K, Kanye, and J-Lo plastered all over the checkout aisle. Actresses and singers have long since replaced nameless models on the faces of women’s magazines.

Out of all the human interest stories that journalists bring to the world, celebrities consistently stand out as pillars with unstoppable allure. From Britney Spears’s emotional breakdown to Tiger’s marital slip, the world was listening, watching, and responding in  ways that were unusually emotional and personal for the content of gossip magazines .

That’s because celebrities are the ultimate storytelling force — whether we’re following their rise or their downfall. And that’s why putting a celebrity face on content rather than a cereal box is now the latest strategy for brands and publishers.

Dr. Mehmet Oz at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 2010. (Credit: Helga Esteb)

Dr. Mehmet Oz at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 2010. (Credit: Helga Esteb)

The latest news on this front is that publishing company Hearst is  launching a magazine  branded with the name of the much-loved Dr. Mehmet Oz. For those who don’t know Dr. Oz, here are some quick facts:

  • He’s a cardiothoracic surgeon and professor at Columbia University in addition to a talk show host
  • He rose to fame through repeated appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
  • He was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award in 2010 for his talk show episode, “The Science of Intersex”
  • He runs a full-time in-house medical unit team of researchers, medical producers, and physicians.
  • Women in the 24 to 54 age group love him.

Long story short, he’s a phenomenon. As Jeff Bercovici points out in a Forbes article, magazines covers with Dr. Oz tend to yield double-digit increases in sales among his show’s viewers.

To brands and publishers, celebrity means more than instant sales

Beyond double-digit bumps in magazine issue sales, what Dr. Oz brings to the table is his relationship with his viewers. Just take a look at Samantha Feld, a 23-year-old publicist and loyal Dr. Oz follower.

“She quotes inspirational slogans from  his Twitter feed,” wrote Christine Haughney in The New York Times last year. “She added more olive oil to her diet because of his suggestion and made a rare trip into her kitchen to make one of his quinoa recipes.”

To Hearst, a celebrity-focused magazine is a new move, but they’re relying on relationship-building and storytelling to yield a big win. It’s worked with their popular Food Network Magazine and HGTV Magazine. But “this time, Hearst will discover whether a single personality — rather than an entire network worth of personalities — can carry a title,” explains Lauren Indvik for Mashable.

The move is a step beyond the traditional advertising model that boosts sales through brand-celebrity imagery and associations. When celebrities partner with brands to produce content, the relationship is for the long haul, beyond a five-second experience with a photograph.

But what happens when scandal ensues?

But when a brand, publisher, or media outlet inks a lucrative contract with an individual, they have to deal with the fact that that celebrity’s reputation may not always be as golden as Dr. Oz’s is now. Nobody’s infallible.

Just take a look at Paula Deen’s recent fall from grace. Thanks to a series of revelations that seemingly happened overnight, America’s once-loved celebrity chef has been outed as a leader “insensitive or worse to blacks, women, and other groups,” wrote Kim Severson for The New York Times.

The Food Network, which hosted her much watched down-home, Southern-fried cooking show, as well as her major sponsor Smithfield Foods, felt they had no other choice but to sever ties with the world-famous chef and restaurateur.

In cases like Deen’s, a very visible distance may be brands’ only options to save face — as cold and tough as it may seem — without irreparably damaging their own iages. Deep relationships, after all, tend to yield heart-wrenching fallouts, something that was clearer than ever when cyclist (and hero to millions of cancer survivors) Lance Armstrong admitted he’d been lying about taking performance-enhancing drugs for years. His endorsements were dropped within days, and  he was swiftly distanced from association with his Livestrong charitable foundation (which, coincidentally, had lent its name and brand to a health site called

But that’s a brand story for another day. Dr. Oz’s reputation is more or less squeaky-clean, but one can assume brand and publisher partners have nevertheless done plenty of due diligence.

Image by Featureflash

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