Fame and Fortune, Leading and Lagging Indicators in the Digital Age

One of my favorite advertising truisms is “Money follows eyeballs”. I can’t exactly attribute it, but I believe these graphs below show it concisely. Digital time spent passed TV many years ago and digital advertising spending is just starting to pass TV in 2017 (there are conflicting reports). I think that its safe to say that eyeballs tend to lead dollar flows, and not the other way around.

Source: Mary Meeker Internet Trends 2019

Why? Well with every new form of engagement, there is a testing period of how sustainable it is, how to advertise, what’s the medium’s lasting power, and then slowly advertisers flood in. You can argue whether one cohort or medium is more valuable than another or other semantics, but I think that broadly the truism stands. Ad spending has to follow the oxygen that is attention, and without attention money never follows.

Why do I mention this advertising truism? Well I think with this framework in mind we can do some real “analysis” on influencers, social trends and the internet.

The Changing Fame of the Internet

But first I have to talk about the changing nature of fame aka eyeballs or attention. The internet has made it so that anyone, at any time, doing anything, can become famous. Saved two kids from an incoming car crash on cctv? Boom r/dadreflexes welcomes you as their god. Are you an Arizona wildcats fan and said the word stop to a cameraman? She lives on in eternity at r/TheStopGirl. These micro moments have high relevance and low durability, but they do persist. And for the people who know the meme you’re referencing, that person or context can be a big deal.

Compare that to the previous monoculture – largely defined by TV, Movies, and Radio. All media that have multiple gatekeepers and escalators where the ultimate metric of success was reach. That is, get the approved content to the top of various content platforms and boom you’re famous. I would argue that the internet is the opposite, its all about finding the perfect fit for your perfect community, and if you found that fit your community will love you and then disperse the content outwards onto the platforms they take part in. I believe that on the internet, the most important metric of success is relevance to your core in-group. One is top down, the other is bottoms up.

In a bottoms up view of the world, we now have microcelebrity, which in the past was a completely useless currency. How that changes going forward, well that’s the change in internet fortune.

The Changing Fortune of the Internet

As late as 2013-2015 I would argue that the path to fortune from fame on the internet is just an accelerated version of how monoculture / the current system surfaces talent. Let’s take Shawn Mendes, a breakout cover artist on the now dead Vine. After enough circulation he was discovered, signed, made an album and hit the top of the charts. That is a co-opting of how things used to be.

Meanwhile we have George Miller, aka Joji, aka filthyfrank. Miller’s past lies in his dark humor YouTube channel, filthyfrank. He began focusing on his new music project Joji in 2017, starting with launching songs on the 88rising YouTube channel. His niche but hardcore following has slowly followed him and promoted him, and in 2018 he’s started to become relevant in larger non-subculture context.

I think this is the core concept of “1000 true fans” at its best – and in the future the path to fortune on the internet is being armed by the likes of Shopify, Patreon, YouTube and others. The true direct to consumer revolution is not in commodity mattresses, it is the direct storytelling and connection between fans and idols. The changing fortune of the internet is quicker feedback loops between the fame and the fortune, armed by platforms online that makes this more sustainable. The future couldn’t be brighter in my estimation for these platforms.

Fame and Fortune Case Study: Jeffree Star

So now that we have discussed Fame and Fortune, I want to say that I think of these as leading and lagging. Fame usually is leading, with a large group of fans supporting someone but often after the initial burst to fame they don’t really know how to monetize this correctly. Through human ingenuity they will find a way to monetize. For certain people they will have their breakout viral moment, several “almost as high highs”, and then their time at peak relevance is over.

Meanwhile fortune is pretty much selling out. We all see it. Artists are accused as “selling out” – and for creators that have one hit wonders and cannot successfully reinvent themselves, the monetary gain is always after the fame. And like their fame it tends to fade slowly over time. A sign of a weak and dying creator is more sponsorships, less content, rehashing old content and throwbacks. Creating a podcast where you leverage your current following to get famous people to come on, and then use social proof to keep it afloat is a sign (I’m looking at you h3h3productions). While every creator must adapt, when its outside of their original core competency, its “over”.

Anyways besides me espousing let’s play trend spotting! You have to do a bit of work and I recommend reading my piece on S-Curves to help understand better, but I hope that I can show you peak relevance and “fame” clearly leads fortune, and you can use this pattern to find emerging trends consistently.

And the best case study I can find of this so far is Jeffree Star and his breakout 2018-2019. While hopefully you know of the staggering Dawson x Star conspiracy sale on November 1st 2019, what’s crazy is that Star’s true breakout moment was over a year in advance. Shane Dawson’s 40-minute-long documentary on August 1st 2018 and follow-up series amassed over ~150 million views, and you can see the step jump in subscribers below. That is “fame” and it was obvious for anyone following along on YouTube.

The Fortune moment was over a year later, and while there was a burst of activity around that time frame, it looks like normal weeks for both Jeffree Star in terms of weekly subscribers added and video views. Imagine what it would of looked like if they could of done it at the peak.

Meanwhile Shopify crashed that day with over 60 million dollars of hardware set aside for the launch, and the entire collection sold out in minutes. According to @web Jeffree Star and Shane Dawson did 54 million dollars of sales in 6 minutes. That’s quite the internet fortune if you ask me.

The most interesting thing to me is that it was clear that something would happen after that internet moment of fame for Jeffree Star. That kind of fame as a leading indicator always ends up as something big. With the ability to sell merch (or makeup in this case) as the best way to monetize it, it’s no surprise that it ended up as such a big fortune. That time period between peak fame and peak fortune? I call that the gap.

The Gap: The Most Important Trend Watching Window

The gap is pretty much the time from the peak internet relevance to peak monetization. It’s lucky of us to have such a clear and distinct case study with Jeffree Star, but I believe that this still broadly applies.

It’s simple. Find an emerging force in culture, watch it closely figure out what the second order effects are later. For example, one second order impact is that Jeffree Star approved of a putty primer by ELF, and that new launch probably helped ELF beat 4Q18/1Q19 revenue expectations. Just watching his fame and figuring out the second order effects later is the job of the watcher. There are many more examples but that’s your job to figure / find them out. 😊

The sad thing is this gap is going to close faster, and the subsequent trendspotting window will be quicker. With contract manufacturing, Shopify, and direct response marketing, the tools have never been quicker to capitalize on your moment of fame. Luckily for us in the internet age we are going to see more and more of online culture trickle up to the mainstream.

Maybe rephrasing Soros When I see bubbles, I rush in to buy”, is now “When I see a trend, I rush in to vibe”. What internet attention blackholes am I watching right now? Tiktok 👀