How Cameo is taking on Facebook and TikTok in the race to connect brands with stars
Not every brand can afford a celebrity, let alone 20 of them, to appear in an ad campaign, but Cameo, with a roster of 35,000 on-demand public personalities for hire, is positioning itself as a resource for marketers.
The celebrity-fueled messaging platform has been working with brands like Portillo’s, the Chicago restaurant chain, and automaker Infiniti, to help connect them to a roster of stars. This is part of its new Cameo for Business program, which brings its roster of B-List talent that have avid followers to advertisements and other internal brand communications.
Chicago-based Cameo is expanding into business-to-celebrity transactions based on the same premise that founded the company, making it simpler to contract stars online. This is the right time for Cameo to grow the business, too, since it raised $100 million in March at a valuation of $1 billion. Meanwhile, deep-pocketed rivals like Facebook and TikTok are starting to develop products that copy Cameo’s core use case. Also, marketers were starting to reach out to Cameo celebrities on their own for corporate gigs, which helped motivate the company to create a more official channel to facilitate those transactions, says Marty Pesis, managing director of Cameo for Business.
“This all did happen very organically, some early adopters, some really innovative thinkers early on, were creating this use case,” Pesis says. “We’ve had a lot of marketers think about this early on.”
Portillo's was one of the first brands to try Cameo for Business in May with the launch of its chicken sandwich. The restaurant is an institution in Chicago, but it is a regional chain and does not have the same marketing budget as national chains competing in the chicken sandwich wars. While, KFC was working with TikTok celebrity grandma Lili Hayes to hype its sandwich, Portillo’s went to Cameo to pay for 20 custom videos. (As a side note, Hayes also has a Cameo account where she can send personal messages to fans of her TikTok videos.)
Portillo’s came up with a marketing plan to ask celebrities through Cameo to try to pronounce “giardiniera,” the signature pepper that spices its chicken sandwich (It’s commonly pronounced jar-din-air-ah).
“We came up with the hook of, ‘giardiniera, no matter how you say it, it’s good,’ and the only one that could do that for us was Cameo,” says Nick Scarpino, senior VP, marketing and off-premise dining, Portillo's.
Portillo’s hired Cameo celebs, including Brian Baumgartner and Kate Flannery from “The Office.” Also appearing in the ads were Chicago Bears legend Mike Singletary, Tom Felton of “Harry Potter,” sports world’s Erin Andrews, pop star Lance Bass, Cedric The Entertainer, and the "Jersey Shore's" Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi.
“Portillo’s is not a big spender on advertising,” Scarpino says. “We could not have done this without this service, we would not have gone out and contracted with 20 different celebrities.”
Celebrities set their own rates on Cameo and they can charge more for promotional videos compared to personalized videos sent to fans. Cameos for personal use can range from as little as $1 to thousands of dollars. For example, Baumgartner charges $195 for a personal Cameo.
Scarpino says that the celebrities charged about three to four times the personal rates for the corporate Cameo videos. But the contracts, arranged by Cameo, gave Portillo’s a 90-day license to distribute the videos anywhere, Scarpino says. Portillo’s posted them to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. Portillo’s also paid to promote the videos with YouTube and Facebook ads, and the campaign is still going as more videos come in.
“We’ve seen that organic views on these Cameo-powered videos are twice as much as our typical videos,” Scarpino says. “And we’ve seen that the amount of engagement that we have, just comments, likes and shares, is three times bigger than our typical posts.”
Cameo takes 25% of the fees from the personal videos, but the company has not said what percentage it will get from the various revenue streams it could create through Cameo for Business. The work with brands is more complex than simply reaching out to a celebrity through a direct message. Cameo is building a whole marketing team that coordinates with the brands; Cameo negotiates the terms of the licensing on the videos, such as how long a brand can distribute them. Cameo also reviews the videos for quality control, according to Scarpino.
Cameo was a pioneer when it was founded in 2016, connecting all types of celebrities, from reality TV stars to retired sitcom actors to middling TikTok influencers, with fans through personalized videos for a fee. It was a novel twist on how influencers monetized their celebrity status online, outside of doing brand deals on apps like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Larger platforms took notice of the trend, and last year Facebook built a way for fans to pay celebrities for video calls, while TikTok is testing a Cameo rival called Shoutouts.
“This all really leads up to access and access to celebrities,” says Marty Pesis, managing director of Cameo for Business. “And for us that means doing it in a very affordable way, doing it very efficiently from a time perspective, being very quick about it, and just having a large selection [of celebrities.]”
Infiniti Americas is using Cameo for a new marketing push around its 2022 QX60 luxury SUV. The automaker tapped Olympian Gabby Douglas, sportscaster Erin Andrews, actor Dule Hill, "What Not To Wear's" Clinton Kelly, and "Supernatural" star Misha Collins, through Cameo. The celebrities will be available to create personalized videos for customers who submit questions about the new car through Infiniti’s website.
The promotional videos will be personalized to whomever sends the question, so people get a free Cameo for their own use, although it will be Infiniti related. Infiniti also gets to use the videos on its website, where they can provide information to car shoppers.
“We’re certainly using these celebrities to pique the interest of our target consumer,” says Phil O’Connor, director of marketing at Infiniti Americas. “But the celebrities themselves will also be delivering product information through the lens of Cameo.”