In my quest to try and improve traffic to this site, I’ve considered all manner of strategies. One that I think I’ve mentioned before is the idea of trying to get celebrity endorsements. It’s a long tradition in the print media and I assume that it must work – just look at the number of celebrity quotes you’ll find on both front and back covers of most books these days. In fact, I sometimes think that Stephen King must receive some kind of payment for his endorsements, judging by the number he gives out. But just why should we be more inclined to buy something simply because a celebrity tells us we should? Why do advertisers, publishers, even politicians place such a cachet upon celebrity endorsement? OK, I can see why a beauty products manufacturer might want their products associate with, say, Jennifer Aniston, or Keira Knightly – the implicit message is that if you use our products, as they do, then you’ll be as beautiful and desirable as them. Obviously, the power of this sort of endorsement is highly dependent upon making a good match between product and celebrity. After all, I doubt very much anyone would be rushing out to buy a shampoo endorsed by, for instance, Vin Diesel.
To some extent the same is true of political endorsements – it’s saying this vastly successful individual you idolise votes for us, so if you do too, you could also be like them. In short, it’s aspirational. But some endorsements still mystify me. The other week, for example, I received a letter from top cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard – to be fair, several million other voters received the same letter – urging me to vote ‘Yes’ in the forthcoming referendum on electoral reform. Now, much as I might like Mr Izzard, I fail to see why the fact that he and sundry other celebrities who also signed the letter are in favour of replacing the ‘first past the post’ system for parliamentary elections with the ‘alternative vote’ system, should persuade me to do the same. Are they experts on electoral systems or constitutional affairs? What weight can I give to their opinions? Will it make me as successful as them if I vote ‘Yes’? By the same token, I’m equally unsure as to why I should be persuaded to vote ‘No’ just because former England cricket captain David Gower – nice chap though he is – backs the ‘No’ campaign.
But getting back to the original point – celebrity endorsements for The Sleaze. Who exactly would be suitable to endorse us? Someone sleazy? That would probably send the wrong message altogether. I have enough trouble with people who go by the domain name alone and assume that I’m running a porn site. It does mean that I get some very odd requests for product placement and advertising. Clearly, a better bet would be someone known to be involved in non-web based satire or, at the very least, humour. Preferably someone whose work I liked and respected. But even if I could secure such an endorsement, I’d still find using it problematic. Say that I got a nice complementary quote from, say, Charlie Brooker and I stuck it prominently on the site’s banner, what if Brooker then wrote something I didn’t agree with? Or started doing something I thought was crap (like appearing on 10 O’Clock Live, for instance)? Would it still be right of me to continue using his hypothetical endorsement? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to keep using it? Wouldn’t I be associating the site with something I didn’t believe in, just for the sake of chasing a few hits? Having accepted such an endorsement – even if I subsequently removed it – wouldn’t I be somewhat restricted in terms of the extent to which I could then criticise or parody the celebrity in question? After all, it would seem a little churlish, if not hypocritical, to turn on somebody who had previously been decent enough to give you a helping hand.
Ultimately, this is the problem with celebrity endorsements, and precisely why I’ve decided to avoid them. Sure, in the unlikely event that some celebrity somewhere decides to publicly announce how much they like The Sleaze, all well and good. I’ll most certainly not discourage them. But I won’t be quoting them anywhere on the site. Of course, if celebrities do spontaneously start giving the site the thumbs up, I’d start getting worried. It would be a sure sign that we’re getting too mainstream. Believe me, the one good thing that has come out of the past couple of years’ traffic-killing algo upheavals at Google, is that it has forced us to go back to our origins as an underground satire site and write more for that old core audience, rather than chasing the relatively easy traffic you used to be able to get through Google.
Back to those celebrities – do we really aspire to their lifestyles, as advertisers and politicians seem to think? Frankly, I’m quite insulted that they appear to imagine that I want to be some vacuous, insecure exhibitionist who can only define themselves in terms of the adulation they receive from complete strangers. OK, I know that’s a sweeping generalisation, but the reality is that the whole concept of celebrity has been undermined over the past couple of decades. When I was growing up, the term ‘celebrity’ tended to be reserved for people who had done something to deserve it, (to be fair, we tended to use the term ‘famous’ rather than ‘celebrity’, the implication being that in order to be known outside your community, to be ‘famous’, you had to have done something of note). Film stars, for instance, had to be of the magnitude of, say, Richard Burton, to gain our acclaim. Moreover, the famous of those days rarely appeared on chat shows or gave interviews to the press. You tended not to see them shopping in the local supermarket. They seemed almost divine.
Nowadays, of course, it is far easier to become a ‘celebrity’ – just appear on a reality TV show, or a TV talent contest, or simply shag someone off the TV. Consequently, celebrities no longer seem mysterious or glamourous. They’re ten-a-penny and distressingly like us mortals – except with more money. The flip side of this is that although celebrities might no longer seem ‘special’, the very fact that it is apparently easy to become one in today’s world of mass media and instant gratification, means that people probably are more susceptible to the aspirational aspect of celebrity endorsements. The fact is that these days you can be like them in the sense of being famous and possibly wealthy, even without any talent. But going back to my original point, I still wouldn’t aspire to the kind of empty fantasy existence most of today’s cut-price celebrities seem to inhabit. Well, this has been a pretty rambling and disturbingly serious editorial – I’ll try to work up a rant for next time. Until next time: keep it sleazy!