Are Personal Apps the Next Step in Celebrity Branding?

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Celebrity branding is nothing new – from fragrances to underwear endorsements to charities, public figures have perfected the practice of personal branding. But amid a cultural obsession with social media, celebrities are searching for new ways to position their personal brands and convince fans they’re media savvy.

Looking beyond Facebook and Twitter platforms, app developers are teaming up with Hollywood to create a new type of celebrity branding and public relations – the personal brand app.

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Last month HBO Entourage star Adrian Grenier launched an Apple product-based application, Reckless Adrian Grenier, in conjunction with video app developer Mobovivo. The app is cross-branded with the actor’s film company, Reckless Productions, driving his indie flick audience and Entourage fans to the same content.

The app allows users to engage with Grenier and Reckless Productions, providing a more thorough user experience including access to films, live signings, picture sharing and autographs. “It is more authentic than 140 characters,” says Trevor Doerksen, Mobovivo founder and CEO.

The collaboration enters a new realm of branding for celebrities, professional athletes and politicians, and gives them a chance at controlling their public images. “The creation of an app is a PR exercise in itself,” Gamaroff Digital’s Mike Gamaroff tells TIME. Gamaroff, who runs a London-based social media firm, explains that celebrities need to convince fans they’re media savvy and willing to engage with new technology.

“Provided that the app is designed in a way that is sympathetic to the tone and feel of the public figure – widgets and activities suited to their tone and audience – the potential is limitless,” he says. Gamaroff’s company has developed a social media app for a celebrity chef, while former Oasis member Noel Gallagher attached himself to their client, Blue Dot, a charitable organization, which offers user rewards in return for donations. Gallagher offers concert tickets to those who make donations, using their social media platform – and brand – to shape his image.

While Facebook and Twitter allow celebrities to connect with fans, the experience is limited in creativity. “If you use a website, you always end up having to go to another program to connect,” Grenier said in an interview with PBS’ MediaShift. An app allows starlets to cross-brand projects like Reckless Productions, without feeling like they’re spamming followers’ Twitter and Facebook feeds.

“Apps can use [Twitter and Facebook] as others to create destinations that allow a brand more control, autonomy and authentic engagement,” Doerksen says. Gamaroff points out that once an app is installed it becomes a permanent fixture on a user’s device, encouraging re-engagement.

So what’s going to keep fans from celebrity-app overload? “What will prevent people from creating personal websites?” Doerksen asks. Fair enough. Perhaps it’s worth noting that Americans have an appetite for multitasking their mobile interaction while watching television, giving actors all the more reason to create an app.

This year the Super Bowl had an unprecedented 111 million viewers, but 98 million people were also accessing mobile apps in the U.S. during the same time period. According to a Yahoo Mobile and Razorfish poll last year, 94 percent admitted to multitasking on their smartphones in some form while in front of the tube, while 38 percent of respondents said browsing the web while watching TV enhanced their viewing experience.

But celebrity apps are not limited to Hollywood. Sports figures and politicians may also consider developing apps to build better brands. Gamaroff says there is great potential for a personal app to serve as a hub of information, press material and campaign information, while also engaging with an audience.

“It is all about communication, and the tools change over time,” Doerksen adds. “What I like about apps is that they aggregate many forms of communication.”

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