Why's this a big deal? Celebs, usually the ones holding products and smiling for the camera, are starting to realize that they've got the power to influence the products they've love. And leading the direction of tech is not only sweet in the ego department: It's got more potential to rake in the dough than a short-term commercial campaign.
But, to look forward, we must look back. And now, a short history of celebrity involvement in our beloved tech space.
U2 for Apple
In the Fall of 2004, in the height of iPod mania and U2's impending new album, Apple set the tone for tech and celebrity teamwork when it teamed up with U2 to release a special black iPod with a red clicky-wheel.
Another version of the U2-iPod came out in June 2006, this time in all-black, as the iPod's innards improved to hold more songs. They even released a cross-promotional vid!
Later that year, U2 linked Apple up with a more celebrities (Oprah!) to get more serious with the PRODUCT (RED) campaign, draping iPods in red in the name of AIDS awareness.
Though the U2/Apple relationship has gone bust, these efforts did not go unnoticed! Tech companies jumped on the bandwagon to team up with even more bright stars.
Gwen Stefani for Hewlett-Packard
Hewlett-Packard, maker of home printers, laptops and desktop computers, went all-out in the mid 00's with a lot of heavy-hitter celebrity endorsements. They started in 2006 with their "Hands" campaign, with commercials showing the moving hands in front of a celebrity torso with inspirations and thoughts floating in front of them. Remember this one from Serena?
Blogger Ocean of Knowledge has a a lot more where that came from.
But HP went stronger and bigger with their "What Do You Have to Say?" campaign in '07, signing Gwen Stefani for a mini-site for pre-teens and a few commercials to go along with it. It's unclear whether Gwen was involved in any of the product direction, but her commercial paints a nice picture of HP's products in her life.
Doesn't this one remind you of the "Source Code" trailer?
Maria Sharapova for Canon
Tennis phenom Maria Sharapova teamed up with Canon to promote their Powershot camera. Initially, her endorsements reinforced her reputation as a smoking-hot super athlete, but they eventually evolved to reflect more of Maria's styles ... like her diamond-encrusted camera, duh!
Commercials focused on her doggie, Dolce, happened somewhere in there, baffling men everywhere.
Beats by Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre (who needs no introduction), who had focused on behind-the-scenes production with fellow musicians in 00's, produced his own line of products called Beats by Dr. Dre in 2008. You may recognize the triangular earbuds from Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" video, on sale at Amazon for $100. But, hey, sources say celebrity endorsements for headphones is a big success, so maybe those Amazon ratings aren't as telling as the sales figures are.
Peyton Manning, Justin Timberlake, & More for Sony
Peyton Manning! Justin Timberlake! In a series of commercials and mini-sites, celebrity "specialists" speak to the caliber of Sony's products.
Sony's Experts campaign still online, and it's the only place I've seen where Amy Sedaris can answer your tech questions. Probably the single best implementation of FAQs I've ever seen.
Lady Gaga for Sony
Lady Gaga was pulled on as Polaroid's Creative Director, and a year later, she gracefully demo'd and explained a glamorous array of Gaga-inspired products! Who other than a celebrity would design sunglasses designed to be worn in a club?
Polaroid also unveiled their wireless printer to work with some mobile devices, and, notably, the sunglasses. The real question is WHY HAVEN'T ANY SUNGLASS-CAMERA-WITH-PRINTER CLUBS CROPPED UP IN NYC? Probably because they're not available for purchase until later this year. Whatever. Line up those permits now, guys.
Ashton Kutcher for Twitter, Flipboard, Foursquare, Path, Skype, and now, airbnb
Jenna Wortham at the NYTimes wrote yesterday about Ashton Kutcher's influence and investment in a number of tech startups, including Foursquare, Path and Flipboard. Coming from the first Twitter user to have more than a million followers, this hoopla is well deserved! He's making it clear that celebrities aren't just the poster children that stand next to a product and smile. They're using the products actively, and shape the roadmap for its larger adoption. Hell, every time Ashton tweeted, Twitter practically buckled. They've since improved their product to support mega-celebs like Ashton, Shaq, Oprah, President Obama and every other famous person now on Twitter.
Not only is this good for his image, they're great for his man-purse. @aplusk invested in Skype in 2009 and it's value and userbase has grown incredibly since then. And Ashton isn't doing this alone: He's working with venture capitalist firms with industry experts who find their relationship beneficial.
Ashton's latest interest is airbnb, a startup that connects homeowners and renters with spare rooms with out-of-towners seeking a place to crash (but not in a creepy way). Think Craigslist vacation rentals with a little more regulation. Their founders were even gutsy enough to go homeless to solely live off of the site's listings, so it seems prankster Ashton has found a tech soulmate.
What's next? Oprah's got some free time -- why doesn't she try her hand at some startups? President Obama could throw a little more of his weight into the direction of open-source government projects, huh? Well, one can only hope.