Social media platforms proved to be a powerful tool for celebrities across the world to engage directly with their fans, dictate their own narrative and establish themselves as brands. Over the past few years a new layer of social media has emerged, enabling these celebrities and influencers to monetise their engagement with their fans by selling personalised video messages.
Known as celebrity shoutout platforms, they operate like a marketplace for the famous, where fans can book a celebrity for either personal or business use and request a personalised video message from them. The model initially appeared in the US with the launch of Cameo in 2017, which raised $100 million in its Series C round in March this year, taking its total amount raised to $165 million. Closer to the Middle East, several similar platforms have emerged including Starzly, and Halahi in the UAE, Nejmo, and Minly in Egypt, Lebanon’s Oulu and UK-based Yela as well as Sweden’s Memmo.me which are also targeting the Middle East region.
“In the past couple of years more creators and stars have adopted the digital and online presence, not only to supplement their presence in the media, but also as a cornerstone of their personal brand online and monetising their online presence,” says Mohamed El-Shinnawy, founder and CEO of Minly which raised $3.6 million Seed funding in June.
Key to the success of this model is personalisation. Personalisation has, over the past decade, featured as a core strategy for brands across the world. From the likes of Ferrero enabling customers to print their own names on a jar of Nutella to Nike allowing the customisation of its trainers, personalisation has become a key marketing tool for 89 per cent of digital businesses and brands. Social media has enabled famous individuals to operate more like a brand rather than a celebrity and these shoutout platforms are a way to personalise their “product” or engagement.
And it is a model that seems to work. Cameo sold $100 million worth of personalised videos in 2020, and welcomed more than 10,000 new celebrities to its platform last year, who set their own price for the videos or live personal video calls. Prices can range from as little as $1 for lesser known celebrities to several hundred dollars. Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef is listed on Cameo for $50, while the most expensive on Cameo is heavyweight boxer Floyd Mayweather who sells his shoutouts for $15,000. According to Cameo CEO and co-founder Steven Galanis, some celebrities earn at least $100,000 every month on the platform.
New influencer marketing
Most users will purchase these videos as gifts to send to others, but all of these platforms also allow businesses to also engage with the celebrities. Typically, the prices are higher for business engagements and provides the companies a piece of intellectual property that is usually licensed for a month and can be disseminated across multiple social media platforms, rather than paying for a single post on Instagram for example.
“It provides both influencers and advertisers with the proper platform for offers and requests,” says Badr Kachibal, co-founder and CEO of Starzly. “It’s like an online mall that displays many services with various prices, if you find out that a specific product is out of your budget, you will definitely find an alternative within your budget, hence, shoutout platforms are better than normal social media outlets; since they gather all the influencers in one place.”
These platforms claim to offer businesses content that is more engaging and of course, personalised.
“Users are sick of the normal social media where they get bombarded by advertisements left and right, which dilutes their experience, unlike the genuine and exciting experience they get when they use our platform,” says El-Shinnawy.
But whether they will change the current dynamics of influencer marketing is unlikely according to El-Shinnawy
“I don't foresee that they are going to change the current dynamic of the normal social media market. However, these platforms are in a very good place to add a new element for the content creators to monetise their reach and engagement with their audiences,” he says.
Last July, the Chinese social media giant TikTok, which surpasses a billion users this year, piloted its own shoutout feature allowing its users to request and pay for personalised videos from their favourite creators, using an in-app currency. So far, the feature appears to be available in only a few countries.
When asked if there are plans to activate the new feature in the Mena region, TikTok declined to comment, saying if there is, this plan will not be in the foreseeable future.
Having TikTok in the market will definitely affect the existing shoutout platforms given its huge reach around the world, but founders downplayed the effect of the competition.
“That would be a positive change,” says Badr. “At least they will spend more cash on the awareness side, which means more audience for all the industry. We are looking forward to what they will bring to the market.”
Minly’s El-Shinnawy also thinks TikTok’s presence in the shoutout market will represent an added advantage.
“Having TikTok as a player in the shoutout market isn’t a threat, the Mena market can absorb a lot of players, it is a nascent industry and having a new competitor will heat up the challenge,” he says.
For now, the main competition for the region’s players is themselves and the global platforms that are extending their reach to the Middle East. Cameo, which counts several Middle East-based stars on its platform, announced plans to acquire Represent, a marketing and merchandise company for celebrities who can set up their own online store fronts. The acquisition will enable Cameo to offer merchandising alongside the shoutout videos in a move that will provide the platform and its celebrities more revenue streams.
“We have a very young, active, engaged social media population and they are passionate to interact with their favourite stars, this is definitely all poised to push the growth of shoutout platforms. There's a lot of appetite for this kind of genuine and authentic experience that really connects the fans with their favourite celebrities,” says El-Shinnawy.