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Harry Styles’ “Pleasing” and the Authenticity of Celebrity Brands

Harry Styles’ “Pleasing” and the Authenticity of Celebrity Brands

Is it just me, or does it feel like every person in the music industry is starting a lifestyle brand now?

Last month, singer Harry Styles launched his long awaited brand, Pleasing, which Dazed magazine described as “his shape-shifting umbrella company that will see him take the leap from musician to mogul.”

Within recent years, Styles has been heralded as one of the most stylish men in the world; last November, Styles became the first man to appear on the cover of Vogue. Somewhat controversially, he has been applauded for his gender-neutral fashion statements including appearing in a gown in Vogue. Similar to artists like Prince and David Bowie, Styles has made his fashion integral to his star power. His fashion sense has influenced fans most of all, with countless fans dedicating weeks during lockdown to recreating a cardigan he wore last year. Styles’ fashion has made its way to the masses too – you can thank him for the pearl necklace trend, for example. 

Within recent years, there has been a significant change in celebrity culture; celebrities have been able to market themselves as brands and sell products under their own name. This shift is significant, and there has been a distinct branching off of celebrity brands from the popular celebrity endorsement.

According to a study titled ‘The moderating role of celebrity worship on attitudes toward celebrity brand extensions’ by Christine M. Kowalczyk and Marla B. Royne, “celebrities are becoming their own enterprises, forming their own multimillion-dollar corporations to control their personas and introducing products, or celebrity brand extensions, into the marketplace.” 

Kowalczyk and Royne examine the success of celebrity brands through “perceived fit” which is how closely the products the celebrity is selling aligns with their personal brand. 

“Consumers expect congruency between celebrity endorsers and the products they endorse, and the success of the endorsement is contingent on this perceived congruency,” they write. Essentially, the product that a celebrity is selling has to somehow align with their persona.

“I don’t think that putting someone’s face on something sells a bad product,” Styles told Dazed. “The product has to be good, and I think our product is good.”

For Styles, having established himself as a force in the fashion industry and breaking beauty standards for men has set the stage for success with his lifestyle brand. 

Styles has been known for wearing colorful manicures over the past few years, and his brand, Pleasing, is selling Styles’ own nail polish formula. The first launch of Pleasing (the brand will release products and expand the line in batches) contained four colors of polish, retailing for $20 each or $65 for a set. 

“It’s starting with nail polish, because that was kind of the birth of what it was for,” Styles told Dazed. “Me seeing a colour on a flower or a wallpaper or something and thinking, ‘Oh, I wanna put that on my nails’. It was a fun little project, but during the pandemic, and when we eventually named it Pleasing, it felt like it was so much more than nail polish.”

A central element to successfully marketing a celebrity brand is by establishing a sense of authenticity, which Kennedy, Baxter and Kulczynski examine in the study “Promoting authenticity through celebrity brands.” This notion of authenticity is similar to Kowalczyk and Royne’s idea of “perceived fit” as they both examine the importance of trustworthiness and credibility when it comes to selling products. 

“Celebrity authenticity is based upon the perception that the celebrity behaves in a manner that is consistent with their true self,” Kennedy et al’s study explains. “Authentic individuals are intrinsically motivated and undertake a project for inherent satisfaction, whereas inauthentic individuals are extrinsically motivated by factors such as a reward.”

In his recent interview with Dazed magazine, Styles clearly establishes his motivations for creating the brand. 

“I also think that what [Pleasing] can become is so much more than just products you can buy,” said Styles to Dazed. “I think it’s about giving, and giving back. I am blessed to have fans who are so supportive of me, who believe in freedom and who have created this safe space for each other. Pleasing is really for them. That feeling of community is kind of what we would like Pleasing to [reflect].”

It is difficult to entirely trust a celebrity’s motivations for starting a lifestyle brand, especially after beauty brands launched people like Kylie Jenner and Rihanna into billionaire status. Kennedy et al argue that in order to promote an authentic brand, a celebrity’s investment has to be personal and they cannot be driven by monetary gain. 

According to an article by Allure, it is often difficult to evaluate how much celebrities actually are invested in their brands. Many celebrities work with third party companies that actually formulate products while they maintain creative oversight. Even Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, one of the most successful and highly regarded celebrity brands on the market, has a parent company LVMH. 

It’s unclear how much oversight and investment Styles has in his brand, though in a post on the Pleasing Instagram account he is named the company’s “founder.” According to Allure, celebrities are more eager than ever to be lauded as founders of companies, given the success of figures like Elon Musk.

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Styles is not the only celebrity to move into the world of beauty brands. Last month, singer Ariana Grande debuted a makeup line called R.E.M. Beauty, which she told Seventeen she had been developing for two years. Singer and actress Selena Gomez also launched a massively successful brand, Rare Beauty. Similarly to Styles’ brand, Gomez’s makeup line is meant to emphasize self worth and intrinsic beauty. 

“I think Rare Beauty can be more than a beauty brand,” Gomez said in the brand’s promotional video. “I want us all to stop comparing ourselves to each other and start embracing our uniqueness. You’re not defined by a photo, a like, or a comment. Rare Beauty isn’t about how other people see you. It’s about how you see yourself.”

In the video which Gomez is quoted above, she is shown trying on and testing makeup, surrounded by joyous colleagues sharing laughter. This depiction of Gomez is integral to the brand’s development and marketing highlights Kennedy et al’s notions of authenticity to garner success for celebrity brands. 

In addition to selling makeup, Gomez’s brand is tied with her foundation, Rare Impact Fund, which will “address the gaps in mental health services for underserved communities,” according to Forbes. Rare Beauty also donates 1% of sales toward Gomez’s fund. Throughout the past few years, Gomez has been transparent about her struggles with chronic illness and mental health. Because of this, Gomez was able to establish herself as an authentic and invested contributor to her brand, which has likely influenced its success.

Styles’ Pleasing has dedicated itself to creating products sustainably, as product listings on the website contain paragraph-long “sustainability details.” In addition, Pleasing’s first product launch was done in collaboration with the nonprofit Nest, according to their website. Like Gomez’s Rare Beauty, Styles and his team have tried to establish Pleasing as an authentic and intrinsically motivated brand. Styles said to Dazed that the company is a “humanistic” beauty brand, dedicated to transparency and growth. 

Within the last few years, the launch of celebrity brands has been integral in evaluating the notion of celebrity authenticity. The degree to which a celebrity is perceived as authentic is central to successfully selling a product, according to Kennedy et al. However, Kowalczyk and Moore’s study indicated that higher levels of dedication to a celebrity led fans to be more skeptical of their brands, believing that they were being taken advantage of. 

For Styles, it’s a bit early to tell whether he has been successful in establishing a brand that will last. However, given his fanbase’s dedication to taking inspiration from his fashion, fans will likely find Pleasing an authentic brand that they perceive to be a positive fit with his personality.