An Expert Weighs In

While I may fancy myself an expert on many things—Kermit the Frog, karaoke, the best places to find tall women’s clothing (for shame, H&M), the worst subway lines in NYC (G is for God-awful)—today we are lucky enough to have a big-time media expert’s perspective on celebrity endorsements.

Enter Mr. Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen, a media planning and buying agency that was spun out of the media group of Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners in 2001. Their clients include Armani Exchange, Victoria’s Secret, and Sesame Workshop.

And, girls, he’s worked with Justin Bieber.

(Yes, I know, OMG. OMG.)

Barry was kind enough to speak with Celebranded about his thoughts on famous folks, the importance of social media, and why he wants to partner with Lady Gaga.

Can you tell me a little bit about the process that goes into choosing celebrities for endorsements and developing a celebrity endorsement campaign?

There’s something called a Q Score, which measures the celebrity’s popularity. It evaluates a variety of things about appropriateness that brands or agencies will look at before going with a particular celebrity…I think now, interestingly enough, what you’re going to find is that celebrity social media exposure is going to inform their viability as an endorser. If I hire them, I’m going to expect them to talk about my product outside of, let’s just say, a print ad. So how many followers they have and how many fans they have is going to be a factor in selecting them.

That was actually going to be my next question: How has social media changed the nature of celebrity endorsements? People expect now that celebrities aren’t just appearing in a commercial, but that they’re engaging in some way with the consumer out there.

Exactly. We had worked with Armani Jeans to promote [their] new launch in this country, and they had already hired Megan Fox and Christiano Ronaldo to help promote it. They had done videos of the two, and so we helped them distribute those videos. We came up with an online experience that allowed those videos to live in a really exciting way, and both of those celebrities had big social followings. They were that much more attractive to us.

http://youtu.be/v0hfVJ0D8cc

There always seems to be a lot of debate over whether celebrity endorsements are worth it, whether people really buy into them, etc. What’s your take?

They’re actually becoming more important as media continues to get fragmented. It’s so hard to reach a lot of people all at one time. I think the right kind of spokesperson just helps you get noticed. It just helps with brand awareness. The difficulty with tying yourself to a celebrity is that you’re giving up some of your brand identity to that celebrity.

Especially if that celebrity does something that affects their image, à la Tiger Woods.

Exactly.

Are there any examples of celebrity endorsements that you’ve seen in the industry that you think really work in terms of conception, execution, and having the right match between brand and celebrity?

I remember the William Shatner and Priceline campaign. That was a rather famous one. The latest one is Ellen and JCPenney…I just think everybody loves Ellen. And that’s what a Q score will tell you—how loved these celebrities are. Jennifer Hudson and Weight Watchers, I think, is brilliant. Good for Weight Watchers.

Are there any celebrities whom you would love the opportunity to work with, for personal or professional reasons?

I think Lady Gaga would be fun for the same reasons that Justin [Bieber] is, because she stands for something and has such a great social following. That would be a really good one. I think Ashton Kutcher would probably be another good one, again, because he has that great social following.

 ***

And then I thanked Barry profusely (like, way profusely) and had a sudden desire to try to get my hands on a bottle of Someday

Charlie Sheen: Capitalizing on the Crazy

Photo by Angela George

As we enter yet another month in the year of the apocalypse—a month that brings with it the promise of daffodils and dewdrops, of coming in like a lion and out like a lamb—I know there’s one question that’s been on so many of your minds lately:

What’s Charlie Sheen been up to lately?

Well, friends, in case you were worried that he and his Adonis DNA had taken a permanent hiatus, I’m here to tell you that he’s back, and ready for round two of capitalizing on his craziness.

His new show, Anger Management (based on the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler), has just received a June 28 premiere date on FX; he recently announced that Ashton Kutcher sucks and then took it back; and he’s starring in two new ads, for Fiat and DirecTV, that give a not-so-subtle nod to the past year of his life.

In the words of Adweek, “Both are actually pretty damn good.”

Now, to fully appreciate Charlie Sheen’s latest foray into the advertising space, we must first take a quick journey back in time to exactly one year ago this week (yes, it’s been a year already)—when the actor’s tiger-blood-fueled goddess binges at Sober Valley Lodge first turned a train wreck into a marketer’s dream.

Photo via TwitPic

As you may recall, Sheen’s newfound powers of endorsement first emerged as his very public feud with Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre was coming to a head, and some sort of personal meltdown/rebirth/psychotic break was taking hold. He joined Twitter on March 1, 2011, setting a Guinness World Record by garnering 1 million followers in his first day alone. (He’s now up to 6.76 million.) Soon after, he posted a photo of himself and one of his special lady friends holding some beverages—much to the unexpected delight of Broguiere’s Farm Fresh Dairy, the local California brand of chocolate milk Sheen displayed for the camera.

“I’d like to shake his hand,” owner Ray Broguiere told CNN Money. “We’ve gotten some new business and a lot of phone calls. We even had a guy from India asking where he could buy the milk. It’s good advertisement.”

Not surprisingly, within days, Sheen signed up with online ad agency Ad.ly, and was soon receiving $50,000 to tweet about his search for a “#winning INTERN with #TigerBlood” via Internships.com. Almost 100,000 people clicked on the provided link within the first hour, and over 80,000 people from 180 countries actually applied for the position. (By the way, the guy he ultimately hired just took a new job with the Obama campaign.)

We haven’t seen as much of Crazy Charlie in the past few months, but with his new show on the horizon and a wise break from the constant media barrage of all things Sheen, he’s reemerging to the amusement/horror/bewilderment of the general public—and, I hate to admit, he’s actually doing it in a way that works.

With Fiat aggressively promoting its Fiat 500 Abarth as a symbol of bad-ass masculinity (as seen in this year’s Super Bowl ad with Romanian model Catrinel Menghia), who better to represent their vision than the man who wanted to create his own “porn family” and managed to turn “winning” into a bad-ass verb? (Who even knew parts of speech could be bad-ass?)

http://youtu.be/jjYxE2VD7VE

The DirecTV spot plays up Sheen’s eccentric lifestyle over the past year by insinuating that a run-in with the star would inevitably lead otherwise sane people to become pawns in Sheen’s bizarre exploits.

http://youtu.be/k2ZYIdmdx14

Of course, there are folks who find these new ads to be less than enjoyable, which I completely understand. I’m not quite sure what took place last year when everyone was waiting for Charlie Sheen’s internal organs to spontaneously combust from too much…everything, but it wasn’t pretty. It was sad and disturbing on many levels—including the very real level that people were applauding the life of a man on the edge and wanted a piece of the action themselves.

Crushable.com author Jenni Maier noted in her post “Remind Me Why We’re Okay with Charlie Sheen Being Famous” that seeing the actor’s Fiat commercial made her regret believing that Sheen deserved a second chance.

“His life’s one big joke,” she observes, “and he’s happy to laugh along. After all, laughing is a lot easier than apologizing.”

But in the end, the public is very forgiving of its celebrities. Part of the fascination with star-gazing is watching the rise and fall and triumphant return of generations of famous people. We get caught up in the excitement of a new talent’s one-in-a-million chance to live out the dream. We look on with a rabid curiosity as they let it all slip away. And we rejoice when they pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become the                      it-girl/guy/man-child once again.

Artwork by Alicia Dixon

Time will tell what’s in store for Charlie Sheen, but by all accounts, these latest ads will likely prove to be a hit and may set the stage for some sort of semi-sane comeback when his new show debuts over the summer. One thing’s for sure, though—his crazy-train antics will only hold water for so long. No one really expects him to morph into some kind of reformed bad boy—after all, his whole career is based on having an edge. But he will have to cultivate a newer bad boy image in the coming year—one devoid of tiger blood and Adonis DNA—if he wants to stay relevant.

And that, Mr. Sheen, is the real Torpedo of Truth.

Reeling and Dealing: Celebs Cash in on the Red Carpet

Photo © PopCultureGeek.com Some rights reserved.

I’m not gonna lie—I watch every blessed moment of the Oscars, from the opening montage to the “Wait, when did they die?” in memoriam reel to the feast of awkward celebrity banter and the inevitable interpretive dance/circus portion of the evening.

I love all the pomp and circumstance, even if there is more than a kernel of truth to host Billy Crystal’s wisecrack last night that “Nothing takes the sting out of these tough economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to each other.”

Or, you know, getting paid to wear amazing dresses and obscenely expensive jewelry.

Yes, the Oscars are actually a huge payday for celebrities and the brands that swathe them in fabric and strap 10,000-carat earrings onto their precious lobes. A recent article in the New York Post detailed the lengths designers will go to in order to dress the year’s hottest stars. Celebs rake in fees ($200,000 is apparently on the “low end”), paid trips to European fashion shows, and free clothes, while their stylists may receive vouchers for liposuction or plastic surgery to curry favor with their clients.

When the right match is made, however, it means huge exposure for the designer (especially an up-and-comer), and for the celebrity, the possibility of attaining fashion icon status.

Merle Ginsberg, senior writer at the Hollywood Reporter, notes that landing on the best-dressed list can lead to other endorsement deals, magazine covers, and even future film offers. “It can change people’s perceptions of an actress,” she says, “and it can have just as much impact as winning the trophy they’re nominated for.”

But while Hollywood glamour is as old as the movies, it turns out that the whole notion of a celebrity stylist is still relatively new—and with good reason. Before the turn of the century (a whole 12 years ago), things were a little bit simpler in La La Land. Back then, if a celebrity wore a God-awful frock to the Academy Awards, sure, it would be out there in cyberspace, mocked by what’s left of Joan Rivers, and talked about around the water cooler the next morning—but it wouldn’t be broadcast and torn to shreds on every conceivable form of media the moment she pops into view.

These days, within 0.34 microseconds of a star setting foot on the red carpet (yes, I’ve timed it), the public has already begun their brutally honest assessment of her attire via Facebook updates, short, biting tweets, and live blogs everywhere.

Of course, when a celebrity makes a splash at the Oscars, these same digital communications channels provide for millions of dollars in free advertising for both star and brand alike. Given the stakes, is anyone really surprised that Jessica Chastain didn’t just walk into Bloomingdale’s and pick out any old thing?

I have to say, after watching last night’s show, I’m actually a little disappointed that no one stood out as a clear “Was she drunk when she got dressed today?” contender. Sure, the aftermath following such an appearance might be a tad ugly for all concerned—but doesn’t that make the whole night just a little bit more interesting? Where’s Cher when you need her?

Oh, well.

To conclude my post, I will now do my own part in furthering these sky-high red carpet deals by presenting a non-fashionista’s brief appraisal of last night’s hits and misses—just because I want to:

Jessica Chastain (McQueen): One of the big hits of the night—not my style, but the black and gold is quite striking. Also, she gets points for being a redhead.

Gwyneth Paltrow (Tom Ford): I hate to admit it, but her ensemble rocks. (Although it has nothing to do with all the gluten she hasn’t been eating.)

Jennifer Lopez (Zuhair Murad): Meh. Not really into stripes so much. Also, it definitely looked like there was a nip-slip situation going on when she was presenting with Cameron Diaz.

Berenice Bejo (Elie Saab): I like the mint color and the sheer sleeves, but her hair kind of bothers me.

Milla Jovovich (Elie Saab): Classic Hollywood glamour—one of my faves. Also, she’s tall, so she, too, gets bonus points.

Shailene Woodley (Valentino): This just looks too much like something your great-grandmother would have been buried in.

Meryl Streep (Lanvin): Love.

Emma Stone (Giambattista Valli): I’m sorry, it’s Nicole Kidman all over again.

Viola Davis (Vera Wang): I want to like this more, but it reminds me of lettuce.

Sandra Bullock (Marchesa): A little too baggy on top. She’s worn better.

Melissa McCarthy (Marina Rinaldi): Girl, you’re hilarious—but I cannot get behind this dress. I’m not sure if it’s the neckline or what, but I’m just not feeling it.

Natalie Portman (Dior): Sorry, Natalie, not into polka dots, and it didn’t quite seem to fit up top. Also, your hair looked kind of greasy to me. Too much gel, methinks?

Michelle Williams (Louis Vuitton): I know this dress was another critical favorite, but I just keep thinking about those old-lady bathing suits with the big skirts at the waist.

Rooney Mara (Givenchy): I like the dress, but her bangs scare me ever so slightly.

Angelina Jolie (Versace): The whole leg thing (a meme sensation!) was a bit much. Also, my feelings on her arms mirror my feelings on Rooney Mara’s bangs.

Octavia Spencer (Tadashi Shoji): Simple, elegant, very flattering. Thumbs up.

Miss Piggy (Zac Posen): Have you ever seen a pig age so well?

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Giving You Gas?

Have you gone gluten-free?

All the cool kids are doing it.

Seriously, it’s, like, so trendy right now. Just ask Gwyneth Paltrow. She is one of a slew of celebrities—from Zooey Deschanel to Oprah Winfrey—who tout the benefits of gluten-free living.

Photo by Briana (Breezy) Baldwin

Some celebs, like Ms. Deschanel, have celiac disease, which causes sufferers to experience debilitating symptoms—from bloating to vomiting to seizures—when they consume gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye). In these types of cases, going gluten-free falls more into the “my life depends on it” category rather than your garden-variety “just for kicks” group.

On the flip side, we have A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow, who rave about going gluten-free as a way to achieve a healthier lifestyle, but have no actual problems with tolerating gluten.

Now, you may think to yourself, What’s the big problem with that? Wouldn’t we all be better off with less gluten? Isn’t it bad for me, just like processed foods, saturated fats, and believing George Clooney is the marrying kind?

Well, if you have celiac disease, sure.

But, according to a newly published editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine (and covered in layman’s terms in this recent Huffington Post article), if you don’t suffer from this condition, well—Gwyneth Paltrow might be giving you gas.

You see, doctors are a little concerned that with the gluten-free lifestyle receiving so much mainstream promotion from the likes of celebrity endorsers and the food industry, some people are starting to experience and self-diagnose health problems that may not actually exist. These folks often fall into a category of people who are currently deemed as having “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” meaning they have tested negative for celiac disease but still experience uncomfortable symptoms after eating food with gluten.

Now, this isn’t to say that such a condition doesn’t exist (in fact, the docs think it quite possibly does), but there haven’t been a lot of scientific studies that can really back up a diagnosis yet. There is a possibility that some sufferers might be experiencing “nocebo” effects (the opposite of positive “placebo” effects), which is something that has been documented before in people who believe they have a food sensitivity. Meanwhile, the prevalence of the condition seems to be reaching some rather unbelievable heights, with the editorial’s authors cautioning that the current “gluten preoccupation” could turn into a widespread belief that gluten is toxic for most people—which is not true.

“We must,” they say, “prevent a possible health problem from becoming a social health problem.”

Photo by Richard Yaussi

This brings us back to Ms. Paltrow and the other public faces of “healthy” gluten-free living. For starters, gluten-free is not synonymous with “healthy.” People who assume that removing gluten means removing carbs are sadly mistaken. A Time magazine article entitled “Bad-Mouthing Gluten” points out that many people with celiac disease actually see an increase in their body mass indexes when they go gluten-free, because the foods they are allowed to eat are higher in “surrogate” carbs and low in fiber.

But when folks see slender Gwyneth Paltrow making her rounds on the talk show circuit after praising gluten-free bakeries and cleanses on her blog, GOOP, this is certainly not the message they’re getting. They are more likely to be sitting there, mentally taking stock of their refrigerator, and thinking, “Wow, I feel like such a fat cow for all of the big, heaping piles of gluten I’ve been eating!”

Even celebrity nutritionist and gluten-free chef Christine Avanti admitted in a 2010 Daily Beast article, “People have come into my office and they say, ‘I don’t even have [gluten intolerance], but I want to do a gluten-free diet because certain celebrities do it and it makes them really thin.’”

There is also some backlash from people in the celiac community who feel that celebrities who make gluten-free living sound like the hip diet-du-jour—however good their intentions may be—actually diminish the overall perception of a serious disease, as blogger Gluten Dude notes in his post, “Dear Gwyneth…please shut up.”

So, to recap: Popular culture might be making us sick. Celebrities are not medical professionals. Gluten-free isn’t chic.

(And for a real-world take on living a gluten-free life—when it’s not just for kicks—you should check out Me Against the Wheat, another StratComm blogging production.)

Why Tina Fey’s Hair 30 Rocks My World

Happy Presidents’ Day, America! Is everyone enjoying their day off? That’s nice.

I’m at work.

But I’m not bitter. I came in today dressed as Mary Todd Lincoln, dressed as Martha Washington for Halloween. That’ll show them.

Tina Fey

Photo by Gage Skidmore

As an additional tribute to this most sacred of holidays, I would like to use today’s blog post to express my delight at a new commercial from Garnier Nutrisse starring our country’s favorite one-time vice presidential candidate impersonator, Tina Fey.

There’s one very specific thing I admire about Tina Fey, and it’s not her razor-sharp wit, substantial fame, or gobs of money. No, what I really dig about Tina is that she went from being the dorkiest of dorks to an unlikely comedic hero.

And she owns it—like Paris Hilton owns pint-sized pets.

She’s made no secret of the decidedly un-hip parts of her life—from bad hair and unkempt eyebrows to dateless high school nights and years of virginity that she couldn’t give away if she tried.

Today, of course, we all know her as a wise-cracking genius—someone who rose through the ranks of SNL’s notorious boys’ club of writers to achieve success both in front of and behind the camera. She’s smart, self-deprecating, and NBC’s gift to the 2008 presidential election.

When people think of Tina Fey, they tend to conjure up images of 30 Rock, former Alaskan governors, and maybe even a Mean Girl or two. But even though she has been known to wow the public from time to time by rocking show-stopping gowns on the red carpet, people don’t usually associate Tina Fey with physical beauty the way they do with Penélope Cruz, Beyoncé, or the rest of the long line of celebs who have been featured in beauty product endorsements.

And this is why I love Tina’s Garnier Nutrisse ad.

It’s refreshing to see this type of brand use a woman who is so comfortable in her own skin and radiates self-confidence for reasons other than movie-star good looks. It’s also nice to see that a funny woman with brains and a nerdy core can be celebrated as feminine—and in a way that fits with the Tina Fey we know (she emerges from her hair-coloring session in a voluminous fluffy skirt and Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, after all).

As a reformed nerd girl myself (who is still very much a nerd at heart…and sometimes in public), I rejoice in seeing this side of her—and in Garnier’s decision to make her the latest face (and mane) of their product. I think this approach stands a good chance of catching the eye of women who want to add a little oomph into their lives, but know they will never be as stylish as the Sarah Jessica Parkers of the world (and may very well believe that the Sarah Jessica Parkers of the world are too chic to actually use boxed hair color).

True, they may never be as famously successful as Tina Fey, either, but they can strive to look like her.

And she looks great.

The Celebrity Weight-Loss Wars

With each new year comes a flurry of weight-loss ads, usually featuring a celebrity who has shed the pounds thanks to Jenny Craig/Weight Watchers/Nutrisystem/the Cookie Diet/Low-Cal Lard, etc.

The message of these campaigns tends to echo the following sentiment:

“You may think that as a rich and famous person, I truly have it all. But I’m just like you—I struggle with my weight. This makes me human. But, I’m also a super-human, because, as you know, I’m rich and famous. Therefore, if this weight-loss program works for me, it can work for you too, sister friend.”

Of course, this is largely presented through subtext.

With 2012 well underway, we have all had a chance to marinate in the personal journeys of several celebrities who are eager to show off their new bods. Mariah Carey is drawing oohs and aahs for her post-pregnancy figure, courtesy of Jenny Craig. Charles Barkley is showing the boys that Weight Watchers isn’t just for chicks. Kim Kardashian is taking a pill that…God, I just don’t have any more brain cells to devote to her right now.

While it seems like one big metabolic media blitz out there, two campaigns have managed to cut through all the noise and grab my attention. Neither of these spokespeople is new to the game, but as their latest round of ads started filtering into my view, something struck me.

Photo by Adam Bielawski

First up, we have Jennifer Hudson. From day one of her career, the Oscar-winner and former American Idol contestant was known as “plus-sized,” and her struggles with weight were anything but personal. When she debuted a dramatic new look courtesy of Weight Watchers back in 2010, one couldn’t help but salute her with a hearty,           “You go, girl!”

There’s something about Jennifer Hudson that makes her relatable as an everywoman. She rose to fame in a talent competition (one that she lost), and her success is the perfect mixture of luck and undeniable talent—not Hollywood connections and deep pockets. She suffered a family tragedy, but found joy again in motherhood. She put on baby weight like everyone else.

When Jennifer, in her newest spot for Weight Watchers, sings, “I am you, you are me,” it resonates in a way that simply can’t be duplicated by the likes of, say, Carrie Fisher.

Or Marie Osmond.

Marie has been on Nutrisystem’s payroll for quite a while now, getting the word out to middle-aged women everywhere that the brand’s meal-based program is the answer to their weight-loss prayers. For a while, it actually seemed like a good fit. For women who grew up with Marie—many of whom were struggling with the same stresses of family life, work life, and slower metabolisms—Donny’s kid sister served as a reminder that growing older didn’t mean becoming any less fabulous. She looked great! They could, too!

And then came her latest commercial.

It starts off innocently enough. She’s just chilling at home in her bare feet, curled up in her favorite chair. (Note that we don’t see the size of her celebrity home—just a non-threatening corner.) She starts to say something about New Year’s resolutions and—

Oh my God, what happened to her face?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUu6Exj2lr8

Unfortunately, this is where the whole down-to-earth-celebrity-just-trying-to-diet-like-the-rest-of-us thing falls flat on its arse—right alongside any notion of beauty through health. It’s immediately apparent that Marie has drastically altered her visage. And with this move, she erases any credibility she had as the “I’m just like you” celebrity diet spokesperson.

As Marie casually tells her audience how Nutrisystem’s features let them live a normal life, they are reminded that Marie Osmond is not normal. They can see plain as the nose on her face that even though the program helped Marie look and feel better about herself, it couldn’t quite get her all the way there—she needed to drop thousands of dollars to do that. The average 40-something mother of two will never be able to afford to feel as fabulous as she does.

That’s kiiiind of a bad message, no?

Nutrisystem has recently begun a new deal with Janet Jackson, and not a moment too soon. She may not be an everywoman, but so far her campaign manages to mix the superstar with the human in a way that still makes her relatable. Maybe it’s her soft voice, her quiet admission of weight struggles, or knowing that even though she has money and fame, her life has been anything but perfect.

Regardless, it’s far better than Marie’s plastic-surgery parade. Janet—and Jennifer—you go, girl!

Felicity Huffman’s Romaine Revolution

A few weeks ago, I found myself feeling a little…blue. At first, I figured it was the cold(ish) weather or the lack of sunlight. Maybe I was in a post-holiday funk—the kind that settles in after the tree has been put away and you’ve eaten the last of your stocking stuffers (the edible ones, anyway).

After I really stopped to think about it, though, it dawned on me that I had it all wrong. I wasn’t upset about the weather or the season or the lack of chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas. The truth was:

My salad was not living up to its potential.

That’s why I was beside myself with relief when I learned that Dole was rolling out a new salad campaign this month starring Felicity Huffman.  And let me tell you, Felicity is pumped about salads. I mean, she’s literally giggling over her leafy greens like a school girl in love. And do you know why?

Because they have “Salad’tude.”

You see, Dole’s campaign isn’t just about balanced diets and bags of lettuce—it’s about joining in the “salad celebration.” It’s about “themes of wholesome pampering and togetherness.” It’s about “pizzazz.”

And salad parties.

Yes, Felicity wants us all to have salad parties (presumably to foster wholesome pampering and togetherness). Although, I have to say, I don’t know how much fun Felicity’s friends are having at her party, because they can’t seem to get a word in edgewise.

You know, I bet she doesn’t even know those people. I bet they’re merely pawns in her salad agenda.

Aside from that, I actually like Dole’s Salad’tude idea. I think using my next birthday party as a vehicle for friendship, lettuce, and laughter is a bit of a stretch, but I’m down with the whole salad-as-culinary-inspiration angle. I always feel a little bit healthier when I can make a meal out of my salad (until I drench it in blue cheese dressing, of course, but I digress).

Dole’s salad website is actually pretty nifty, as far as salad goes, with recipes, a salad circle community (foster the love, people), and an interactive guide that lets you discover your ideal Dole salad blend.

Best of all, you can enter to win a trip to Monterey, CA, where you and four friends will dine with Felicity Huffman. And eat salad.

Lots and lots of salad.

If she brings William H. Macy along, I just might consider it.

P.S. My new autobiography, Friendship, Lettuce, and Laughter: My Life After Scurvy, will be available as an e-book this October.

Just for the Taste of It: Remembering Whitney Houston

I miss Whitney.

Like so many fellow children of the 1980s, I raced to YouTube after learning of Whitney Houston’s passing on Saturday to relive the moments from her glory days. That soaring voice. That giant hair. The colors. The clothes. The pop.

The fun.

I miss when Whitney was on top of the world—a powerhouse with raw talent untarnished by years of drug abuse and erratic public behavior.

I miss the Whitney that came before Being Bobby Brown and “crack is whack.”

You know those chills you get when you watch someone perform in their element—when you know they are exactly where they’re supposed to be? Call it destiny, if you like. Fate. The aligning of the planets. A divine plan.

Whatever it was, Whitney had it. So it’s no surprise that Diet Coke tapped the songstress to promote its brand back in 1986. The soft drink, which debuted in 1982, was still relatively young, as was Whitney’s superstar career. Her unparalleled vocals and fresh—and safe—image were a perfect match for Coca-Cola’s hit product. Here was a woman with confidence, beauty, and fame singing about and drinking a beverage that would help her keep her celebrity figure (No sugar! Less than one calorie!)—but that didn’t even matter, because she was drinking it just for the TASTE of it! It was that cool! Just like her.

Whitney appeared in a few Diet Coke ads over the next few years, as well as spots for AT&T and Sanyo, but she hadn’t appeared in endorsements in well over a decade. While there are certainly any number of reasons for this absence, it’s unlikely her increasingly troubled persona would have been considered anything but a liability to brands. (Given her public struggles with drugs, a Whitney Houston “Coke” endorsement in her later years would have been inappropriate, to say the least.)

And so, as we reflect on the untimely passing of another entertainment icon, I choose to remember the Whitney of Diet Coke. The Whitney of MTV’s up-and-coming years. The Whitney with a giant bow in her hair, gleefully asking a funhouse full of questionable dancers, “How will I know?” (Love can be deceiving, Whitney.)

Thanks for the memories, Ms. Houston. Rest in peace.

Celebranded, You Say?

Hello!

What up, blogosphere?!

OMG George Clooney LOL BRB TTYL DKNY!

Greetings, celebrity gossipmonger/communications professional/person in search of Kim Kardashian pics! (Or, more likely—Hi, Mom.)

One way or another, you’ve tripped onto this blog, so I welcome you with open arms to my little chunk of cyberspace. I hope we have a lot to talk about.

Me? I’m here for two reasons:

1. I’m currently a student in Columbia University’s Strategic Communications master’s program (a.k.a. “StratComm”). As part of a class in digital communications, we have been tasked with making our mark on the blogosphere, with (almost) free reign to delve into a subject area of our choice—provided it hopefully has something to do communications, technology, the digital space, etc. (Or, as our astute profs cautioned, “no ‘what my cat threw up this morning’ blogs.” Roger that.)

2. I’ve never blogged before. I don’t think anyone truly cares what I ate for breakfast (unless it was a truly epic breakfast—with bacon), so I’ve never felt the urge to wax on about such things online. But as the world of social media continues to grow in leaps and bounds, I find it’s time to train a bit harder for this marathon. I want to be well prepared to go the distance professionally and personally as digital technology becomes even more ingrained in our culture and business dealings.

So, being a People-reading, Oscars-loving, unabashed TMZ-follower, I figured what better way to tackle this challenge than with a spin on one of my favorite topics—celebrity. And so, I welcome you to Celebranded: A rough-and-tumble journey into the world of celebrity endorsements.

As for YOU:

Does the sight of a Cosby sweater still make you yearn for Jell-O Pudding Pops? Does using your Gillette razor in the post-Tiger era make you feel a little less…wholesome? Do you feel just a little bit better knowing that Katy Perry once had acne, too?

Admit it, you wish Fabio still publicly shunned cholesterol, don’t you?

Well, my friend, I can’t believe it’s not butter, either—so let’s delve into this world together.

From Super Bowl commercials to viral videos to sponsored celebrity tweets, today’s megastars seem to be staring back at us from just about every surface. What does it all mean?

I’m here to find out.