The Importance of Celebritization, Part I

When I joined CardRunners in April of 2007 I recognized our company had a dilemma; although our content producers represented dozens of the smartest minds in poker, none of them were “famous,” or TV poker celebrities. Instead, our content authors were predominantly college kids or hard working young adults who had turned their card smarts into millions of dollars in profit. But without the famous and recognizable faces, it was difficult to secure the big business development partnerships that could increase our distribution and help our company grow.

My solution was to attack the status quo – and market our content producers as representing a “relatable fantasy experience.” I argued that recreational poker players couldn’t connect with old school road/casino gamblers turned TV poker celebs. But CardRunners poker pros offered an authentic aspirational experience – college kids, former high school teachers, high school athletes, etc – who had learned the game quickly and made big money. This was the thesis that drove our partnerships with Full Tilt Poker, World Series of Poker, Poker After Dark, The Golden Nugget and other big names that should have never talked to us in the first place.

When you consider many of the great connectivity platforms of our generation – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, for example – you’ll see that they also leverage a “relatable fantasy experience” for many of the viral loops that drive engagement.

On LinkedIn, our status is a reflection of our connections. Being accepted by a contact with a greater degree of status than you achieves more than show you their e-mail address. It creates a permanent record that a higher status second party has confirmed their comfort level and approval of you. It is a powerful psychological tool. I would be shocked if the “Who’s Viewed my Profile” isn’t the most obsessively checked page in professional networking.

Twitter attempts to pull similar levels in driving an aspirational experience. The platform is highly democratic in that any user can send a message to any other user. A 12 year old kid in Iowa can send a message to @JLo (and sometimes she responds or re-tweets). “Favoriting” offers celebrities a minimal commitment tool to generate that sense of fulfillment and excitement amongst their fans.

The motivating force on many connectivity platforms is this sense of aspiration. And as the internet moves us further towards the democratization of everything, there is a unique opportunity to create celebrity and aspiration in nearly every professional services vertical or hobby.

In part two, I’ll discuss how some of our investments are doing a phenomenal job manufacturing this sense of “celebrity,” and why these vertical specific “celebrities” matter more to a business than actual Hollywood celebs.

About the author

Ezra Galston
Ezra Galston

Consumer focused hustling @Chicago Ventures, Young Entrepreneur @Foundation Capital, Class 18 @Kauffman Fellow, and Chicago Booth MBA. Former professional poker player, with 4 years experience doing marketing/biz dev in the online gaming industry. Launched a "poker hedge fund" in 2011, a record label in College, and produced a festival screened short film in 2006.

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