Did that $75 perfume really bring anyone closer to Jake Gyllenhaal?
I love celebrities and I love spending my money in inadvisable ways (I’ll never own a house regardless!), but I think the only thing I have actually purchased at the direct suggestion of a famous person is a pair of $80 Adidas Superstar sneakers.
These are the shoes Lorde wore in her “Green Light” music video and the Vevo-sponsored video for the choral arrangement of “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” and on many other occasions, including when she had the flu at the 2017 VMAs and appeared totally unhinged.
Do I regret this? Obviously not. It’s a classic, reliable sneaker, and Lorde is so beautiful and talented. I bought another pair after the first one got ruined by New York City’s hellish streets.
But it did make me wonder about a question many brands would like a clear answer to: Will people buy things just because celebrities tell them to? More importantly, will they do it more than once? Basically: When Lorde puts on a pair of Superstars, she’s not doing it for money. But would it be worth it for Adidas if she did?
This is trickier to answer than it seems on the surface. The status quo would say “yes”: Rappers are still getting paid to talk about Sprite, and thin people are still getting paid to talk about flat tummy tea. But it’s actually fairly opaque; a quick search turns up dozens and dozens of marketing and advertising executives and strategists asking, “Does influencer marketing actually work?”
We know that Coach has paid Selena Gomez $10 million and seen results as vague as “a significant spike in engagement and followers,” and we also know that brands are increasingly turning away from famous people and toward the far cheaper resource of thousands of normal people to do their outreach for them.
So what does the world of celebrity-influenced spending look like on the micro level? What are normal people — the people I work with, live with, or occasionally tweet at — spending their money on, and who told them to? I need to know! To that end, I asked them all the same question: What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever bought because of a celebrity?
Off the top, what I find interesting is that nearly every person who responded to my request started their admission with, “Not sure if this counts,” as if I were going to reply, “Actually no it doesn’t count; what you did is rational and smart not like all the other idiots I’ve been talking to.”
Sorry, friends! Not the case. If you bought something for no other reason than that a celebrity talked about it or wore or used it or was affiliated with it, it counts.
Here are the most ridiculous celebrity-inspired purchases my friends, colleagues, and Twitter acquaintances have ever made, from $3 bottles of juice to $95 cologne to a five-digit government loan.
“Doing Real Stuff Sucks” sweatshirt, Justin Bieber
In 2012, while employed at a teen magazine, I bought this sweatshirt because Justin Bieber was photographed wearing it. The typography was good! The message was funny! (In retrospect, though, was it? Chalk it up to post-grad angst.) After some internet research, I figured out it was made by a Polish company, to which I promptly paid 169 Polish zlotys ($50) for a version with white lettering. The fit was weird, but I wore it anyway.
—Julia Rubin, editor at The Goods
Dior Sauvage cologne, Johnny Depp
Two years ago, I was Christmas shopping for my dad at Macy’s and saw that Johnny Depp, an objectively terrible person, had endorsed a cologne called Dior Sauvage. [Note: This costs $95!] Intrigued by Depp’s rakish pirate looks in the in-store promotional displays, I stopped, spritzed one of those little paper strips, and inhaled. It smelled amazing — rich, spicy, dangerous. Exactly like a dad should smell.
I bought my dad the cologne, which he loved, and a year later, I was in the market for new cologne and bought it for myself. I continue to go on first dates with guys who tell me I smell amazing.
I am filled with shame.
—Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at The Verge
8Greens dietary supplement, Min Jin Lee
I bought these 8Greens fizzy tablet supplements ($14) because I saw them on the Strategist three times under their “What [X celebrity] can’t live without” column. I love the Strategist, I love being told what to buy, and I will happily click on affiliate links. Anyway, I didn’t really care the first two times I saw these tablets because the recommendations came from Brooke Shields and Molly Sims. Brooke Shields has vouched for some shady products in the past, including those serums that are supposed to grow out your eyelashes but could spell big trouble for your eyes if it gets in there.
But the third time around, it was mentioned by Pachinko writer Min Jin Lee, and I was like, “You know this HBIC doesn’t play around when it comes to sensible goods.” Also, it was included on her list among other boring items like very thick socks and earplugs, so I felt like I could trust her.
I was vulnerable to purchases around this time because I was just on the edge of getting a cold, which is exactly what these tablets are good for. I haven’t taken them yet because I felt better by the time they arrived, but now I feel prepared for when I feel like I’m about to get sick.
—Dami Lee, tech reporter at The Verge
Kylie Cosmetics Lip Kit, Kylie Jenner
I bought a Kylie Lip Kit in college. [Note: This sentence was originally relayed in all caps.]
Candy K. I think it cost $29 plus shipping, which was, like, a full shift of my part-time job. I was enraptured by the idea of a lipstick that lasted all day, and Kylie’s Insta was the first time I had heard of matte liquid lipsticks. This was when they first launched and there were only a few colors, but they always sold out immediately, so I’m pretty sure I logged on during class to buy it [this phrase was also in all caps!] when she announced the next release.
But it turns out that to wear matte lipstick, your lips cannot be even a tiny bit chapped, and it dries them out even if they aren’t. So I hated it and am still confused about how it looks so good in pictures. Then I found out that her formula is basically the same as ColourPop’s and theirs cost, like, $6. But I didn’t even like it enough to buy any of those.
—Katie O’Brien, media publicist
Kimoji perfume, Kim Kardashian West
At this point, I own three different Kimoji perfumes — the first one was a gift that I love, because 1) it’s a Kimoji heart and it’s genuinely adorable, and 2) it makes me smell like a cotton candy orgy. But then [Kardashian] stopped selling them and you can’t buy the Hearts series anymore, which made me anxious because I hate change.
When Kim released her next set, I bought the Kimoji Cherry perfume right away. It didn’t smell as good. Then I bought the Kimoji “vibes” perfume. It definitely didn’t smell as good.
Now I have three different Kimoji perfumes that I douse myself in sometimes before bed. They’re $45 each. I like to smell nice when I’m falling asleep, but also I just feel like a dumbass for spending so much money on Kim Kardashian fragrances. Perfumes last a long time. I’m going to smell like Kim well into my 30s.
I never watched Kim’s show but respected her as A Business. With recent Kanye events — since she’s married to him — and her becoming a weird PR mouthpiece for President Trump, I wouldn’t call myself a fan anymore. But she’s one of those people who’s too big to ignore because she has a hand in defining our larger pop culture.
Is she still a smart businesswoman? Absolutely. Am I complicit in a system of hero worship that has both helped fund her empire and given celebrities like her unprecedented political power? I reek of it, literally.
—Megan Farokhmanesh, culture reporter at The Verge
Saint Pablo T-shirt, Kanye West
Kanye West made me spend $100 on a long sleeve Saint Pablo tour T-shirt. At least now I have something to wear when I go to a barbecue at my MAGA hat-wearing uncle’s house.
—James Rainis, music publicist
Mansinthe absinthe, Marilyn Manson
My ex and I once split the cost of a bottle of Marilyn Manson’s absinthe. It’s called “Mansinthe,” and it costs $66.66. I don’t like absinthe. I don’t even like Marilyn Manson! Still unsure as to why I did it. I think I’m very suggestible, or something about the idea of owning a whole bottle of absinthe appealed to me. For the record, we did drink all of it, but I still regret it.
It tasted like watery licorice. I felt like an idiot every time we took out the bottle and realized just how much it cost, but the good news was that it wasn’t exactly enjoyable to drink and also didn’t really get you drunk, so no one ever wanted more than one glass of it, and the bottle lasted us for, like, six months. So an okay investment, I guess? This was in college, and I would rank it as probably the second-worst investment I ever made in college, right after buying a pet snake.
—Shay Collins, information specialist at Cornell
Undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina, Michael Jordan
I went to the wrong college. [Cost: $55,000 in student loans]
—James Dator, producer at SB Nation
— Aziz Ansari (@azizansari) January 17, 2012
Martinelli’s apple juice, Aziz Ansari
I started drinking Martinelli’s after I saw Aziz Ansari talking about how good it was [on Master of None]. A few months after, I realized, “Huh, this isn’t discernibly tastier than regular apple juice, a beverage I’d never purchase. Over the course of, like, three months [I probably spent] approximately $90. They’re, like, three bucks a pop and I drank it semi-regularly.
I feel a little silly because I could have been drinking cheap-ass Minute Maid apple juice the whole time or, better yet, going with a beverage that isn’t so rich in sugar. But it’s not a steep enough purchase that I’m full-on embarrassed, which isn’t a coincidence. I don’t think I’d buy anything really high-stakes based on celebrity persuasion. [Note: Congratulations!]
—Charles Bramesco, freelance writer
Asymmetrical bob, Victoria Beckham
I spent years and [lots of money] getting and maintaining the Victoria Beckham asymmetrical bob (you know the one) in middle school. For years, I lived in shame for having fallen prey to such an aggressively heinous fad and for having ruined five years’ worth of photos, but now I feel proud to have stanned one of our living icons in her earlier, tackier years. She also has one of the best celebrity memoirs, which I spent money on. Also, earlier this year I considered purchasing a watermelon cake, which she posted on her Instagram for her birthday. VB forever, one of our best celebrities for two decades strong.
—Tamar McCollom, publishing assistant
Oakley sunglasses, Tom Cruise
I 100 percent asked for Oakley sunglasses for Hanukkah [at age 11] because Tom Cruise wore them in Mission Impossible 2. I think they were, like, $80. They were really expensive for kids’ sunglasses. Then I realized I looked like a dumbass and basically never wore them.
—Seth Rosenthal, writer at SB Nation
I am not trying to embarrass my friends. I only copped to having bought the Lorde sneakers, but quite honestly, there are so many celebrities whose taste and opinions I have cared about deeply for all of my adult life that I can no longer see where I end and they begin. I can tell you some things I almost bought at the urging of famous people, because most of these almost-purchases still live in my Chrome bookmarks, for another day when I’m weaker and needier and have a lot more discretionary income.
—Calvin Klein Eternity perfume ($73) because Jake Gyllenhaal was announced as the face of the campaign in October 2017, and I spent one calendar year of my life writing a weekly newsletter about him at no one’s request and for no money or acclaim.
—Airfare to Atlanta ($500) to visit 2 Chainz’s Haunted Pink Trap House ($65) and buy a souvenir T-shirt on which 2 Chainz is styled as Freddy Krueger ($30), because I love Halloween, I love spectacle, I love Wes Craven, and I love this iconic photo of Lil Wayne having to stand on top of a couch to get up high enough to put 2 Chainz’s tuxedo jacket on him at his wedding. He’s so tall!
—Kim Kardashian’s coffee table book of selfies ($23) because someone on Twitter — who has a lot of followers and a handful of New Yorker bylines — said that if Kim were to photograph herself naked every day until she was 90 years old, it would “actually” be really important performance art.
—A smiley face manicure (approximately $50) from Los Angeles nail artist Britney Tokyo because Playboi Carti has it and it makes him look rich and whimsical.
I don’t need any of these things, but typing them out, I still want them. What I love about Seth’s Mission Impossible story is that it has exactly the same logic as all the other stories, except it took place when he was a child. Buying something because a celebrity says so is childish — a doofy decision-making process based on nothing except whim and delusion of grandeur and failure to have a solid opinion of one’s own. And it’s really fun!
It’s also — as I hope these anecdotes illustrate — very hard to predict, and brands should not try.