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How to make people and their products celebrities

How does puffery about Sarah Palin become valuable airspace? How are Palin and Poh Ling Yeow linked by their desire for media presence?

Consider what process may have occurred that caused Australians to collectively recognise “Po” as a reference to a TV chef and not a Teletubbie, and the potential commercial value of that shift.

We have often written about the use of law to make and keep products and people celebrities. It’s the story of how to identify, build and own a trend.

Identification of a trend is the first step. The trend may be real or manufactured. Palin was plucked from relative obscurity to what seemed to be immediate prominence. Dressed and coiffed to project an image. Polished with the services of PR experts and public affairs coaches and later talent agents, ghostwriters, publicists and charity coordinators. Given dramatisation of her life story, edited storylines, and strategic highlighting of elements to stimulate attention. All this to build her credibility and form a relationship with the target American audience.

Poh was selected for the first series of the Australian MasterChef reality television program. Reality shows manufacture fame. For audiences expecting smooth and polished TV personalities, reality TV produces them, but pretends it’s not.

There was something about Poh with which the television audience connected. Palin stands for today’s wonder woman and Poh stands for a person realising her dream.

sarah_palin_book_coverMedia presence builds trends. Palin had more publicity than money can buy in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. Media switched on to her, she switched to media. She published Going Rogue: An American Life, her memoir ghostwritten by Lynn Vincent, receiving an advance in the millions. She then accepted a paid position with Fox News.

Like Palin, Poh is reported to be using a common ladder to fame, image building with books and television. Her Wikipedia profile states: "She has signed with the ABC for a cooking series (Poh's Kitchen) and a two-book publishing deal with ABC Books." For more on this ladder read the book: High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand by Irving Rein, Philip Kotler, Michael Hamlin and Hartin Stoller (McGraw Hill, New York, 1997).

On the net today, a simple recipe for noodles with a dash of chilli sauce becomes “Po’s Rocket Noodles”. On Facebook, she’s “Po Masterchef”. This is Po’s branding at work, now dropping the "h" to simplify the spelling of her first name. Don’t be surprised if she files trade mark applications in due course for brands.

Intellectual property and commercial law is used to raise and own celebrities. The laws at work include trade mark, domain names, copyright, trade practices and contracts. Additionally, in the U.S. there are the laws of publicity rights and brand dilution. Collectively they help control and own things law either protects or recognises as property.

Law protects against misleading representations, eg those who claim an association they don’t have with Poh. Law recognises property rights in a myriad of things – trade marks, recipes and other written materials, videos, and designs.

Ideas are not protected by copyright law. This is a basic premise of copyright law. If ideas are like airspace, then valuable airspace is packaged by the combination of laws mentioned above. Celebrities then trade packaged airspace.

Attributing celebrity values to products and people is a modern industrial process. It is built with hype, spin and buzz, all seeking to build consumer habits. Law can be applied to build in support. The greater the control over these ingredients, the more likely it is that celebrity status and net wealth will be built.


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