Like cats, Kanye West tweets and gratuitous clickbait lists, the Internet has an enduring love affair with long-haired tween heart throbs.
Whether the web’s collective fascination is due the dulcet tones of Justin Bieber or the inimitable boyish good looks of One Direction – or, more accurately as I suspect, the fact that the Internet is largely run by 12-16 year old girls – the fact remains that this is a brand that proves time and time again to be a success. In 2000 years, we’ve seen the tween idol archetype morph from flaxen-haired leader of the Christian people who put the ‘AD’ in ladykiller, to the Hansen trio of 1992 that Mm-bopped their way into our hearts, and really, not much has changed.
However, the latest incarnation, #AlexFromTarget , is changing things. Alex LaBeouf was, until last Wednesday afternoon, an average 16-year-old human male from Dallas, Texas. Alex was nothing more than a cashier at Target – until the Twitter machine caught wind of his uncanny resemblance to a One Direction member and swallowed him whole. When a teen girl uploaded a photo of Alex and the ‘AlexFromTarget’ hashtag, the Twittersphere went into meltdown, seeing some 2.2 million tweets about the topic, and raising Alex’s Twitter follower count from 144 to over 720,000 in several hours. As is the way of Internet stardom, within a matter of days Alex has received considerable media attention and a coveted guest spot on the Ellen DeGeneres show, looking just as dumbfounded as the rest of us as to what quite happened on the afternoon of November 5th.
Alex, now a bona fide global celebrity, has Twitter to thank for the fact that “Alex From Target” has now been searched on Google more times than “Justin Bieber”. The question must therefore be begged: is AlexFromTarget the first Twitter-made celebrity? And if so, what does this all mean?
It’s no secret that Gen Y has an insatiable fetish for popularising talentless, mundane people, and driving their meteoric rise to stardom with memes (see: the Ridiculously Photogenic Runner, Anton Dodson, and Bad Luck Brian). Fuelled by the example set by the Hilton-Kardashian dynasty, we dream of one day seeing our names up in lights for – well, nothing – and foist our hopes upon the everyman to show that the dream is still possible at any time.
The ramifications for brands are widespread, with celebrity culture undergoing a paradigm shift from the traditionally aggressive push strategy. The days of a glamorous Hollywood 20-something pushing the latest snake oil are over, replaced by crowdsourced celebrities that the people have thrust into the spotlight – often without notice.
With Internet culture continuing along its current trajectory, the idea of Grumpy Cat-endorsed cat chow or Chloe from Disneyland fronting Chanel No 5 doesn’t seem quite so farfetched – and, if all goes to plan, Target may have just found itself the brand ambassador it never knew it wanted.
Jack Cornwell is a Research Assistant at BCM