Are brands the new celebrity weeklies? A tweet announcing the news and first pic of the birth of pop singer Kevin Jonas' daughter came not from People or OK! Magazine but a nonmedia source altogether: the detergent maker Dreft.
The Jonas Brothers singer and his wife Danielle teamed up with the Procter & Gamble brand to reveal exclusive content on their baby's arrival that was delivered via Dreft's Facebook and Twitter handles.
Increasingly, brands are using social media platforms and bypassing traditional media to connect with potential consumers. Twitter is being a willing enabler as it tries to sell more ads on the network.
But this stunt was particularly noteworthy because the brand was distributing editorial content—in this case, a celebrity's personal milestone—which used to be the sole domain of the media outlet. It speaks to the ongoing challenges facing celebrity weeklies, already facing soft newsstand sales and robust online competition.
"The idea that you would have a sponsored birth isn't new," said Ted Murphy, CEO and founder of Izea, a company that connects influential bloggers and celebrities to brands. "It's just typically done by media outlets. We're moving to something that's much more of a sponsored model for everything. I think you're going to see more of these symbiotic relationships where you have the brand looking to gain exposure to the demographic that follows and has an affinity for [the celebrity]."
It's easy to see why celebrities might bypass a media outlet for a brand; apart from the financial advantages, working with a brand could afford them more control over their image.
"It's probably something we're going to see more of as celebrities decide to take their news into their own hands and deciding how they want to break the news about themselves and their lives," said Bonnie Fuller, editor of HollywoodLife.com. "You don't have the market you did a couple years ago for celebrity baby pictures. Newsstand sales have dropped. Publications are tightening their budgets. And I think there are so many celebrities getting involved with social media and enjoying communicating with their own fans in their own way."
A Jonas Brothers representative wouldn't discuss the financial nature of the deal but said that Jonas has been thinking about ways he can work with brands to disseminate news. "It's part of the thinking that we don't have to count on traditional media," the rep said.
If that's true, should celebrity magazines be concerned about having to fight brands (who often are their own advertisers) for news?
Mike Steele, editor of Wenner Media's Us Weekly, said he isn't worried about brands becoming a new set of rivals for news just yet. "I don't know that every celebrity wants to have their live events sponsored," he said.
As for the campaign itself, Jonas could have run afoul of FTC guidelines. Murphy pointed out that Jonas' own tweets endorsing Dreft didn't disclose his sponsorship agreement with the laundry detergent, per FTC rules.
— kevin jonas (@kevinjonas) February 1, 2014
A Jonas Brothers rep responded that "everything he's done was in line with regulations." Dreft's six tweets on the day of the birth got more than 43,000 retweets, according to P&G.