A Field Guide to Celebrity Creative Directors

Companies are enlisting high-profile collaborators to act as brand ambassadors. A breakdown of what, if anything, that fancy CD title really means
Illustration by Sean McCabe; Source: Bloomberg, Getty Images

BlackBerry + Alicia Keys
The collaboration: In January, Keys was named global creative director for the struggling Canadian tech brand.
Why her? The pairing at first seemed odd, but many tech observers have pointed to Keys’s huge online following as a selling point.
What she does: Keys quickly attracted attention when she tweeted from an iPhone. (She claimed hacking.) Since then she’s been spotted with the BlackBerry Z10. Her latest world tour is sponsored by the brand, and she’ll be engaging fans as part of BlackBerry’s Keep Moving Project, for which she’ll use her Z10 to create a music video for each city she visits.
Does it make sense? Not really. Keys has more than 17 million followers on Instagram, but the photo-sharing service is not available on BlackBerrys. “If I were a superstar, I might look around, think about what’s happened to BlackBerry, and say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” says Al Lieberman, a marketing professor at NYU and co-author of The Entertainment Marketing Revolution.
Reebok + Swizz Beatz
The collaboration: Beatz became creative director of Reebok Classics in February 2011.
Why him? The producer and rapper is a fixture in the sneakerhead world and an art collector. He’s especially keen on Jean-Michel Basquiat—and Reebok’s had a relationship with Basquiat’s estate for several years.
What he does: “Swizz had a huge influence in bringing back signature styles he thought were right for the market,” says Todd Krinsky, vice president of Classics and Entertainment at Reebok. He recently helped relaunch the Kamikaze shoe. Beatz consults on product design, particularly with the Basquiat collection of high-tops (starting at $110).
Does it make sense? Yes. The Kamikaze shoe sold out within 10 minutes. Sales at Reebok are up 60 percent since the collaboration started. “At the end of the day, any creative director is judged by the work—and look what he’s producing,” says veteran creative director Brian Collins, chairman of design firm Collins. “The sneakers are great, and he understands the role design plays in culture.”
Diet Coke + Marc Jacobs
The collaboration: Last month, Jacobs was named creative director for 2013, the soda’s 30th anniversary year.
Why him? It was his turn. Diet Coke has worked with a string of acclaimed fashion designers, including Karl Lagerfeld in 2011 and Jean Paul Gaultier in 2012.
What he does: Jacobs told Women’s Wear Daily that he’ll contribute to the design of three cans, three bottles, and three ad campaigns (shot by photographer and music video director Stéphane Sednaoui), each referencing iconic looks associated with a decade in fashion. Jacobs himself has already appeared, shirtless, in a few ads.
Does it make sense? Sure. Jacobs “understands how to operate as a creative, and he’s done it with a remarkable track record,” Collins says. “It seems to me to fit the perfect profile for Diet Coke. It’s more feminine and sophisticated. I think it’s smart.”
Intel + Will.i.am
The collaboration: In January 2011, Will was named Intel’s director of creative innovation.
Why him? He used the company’s chips to create many of the Black Eyed Peas’ hits and has said of Intel, “Before I met you guys, I was collaborating with you guys.”
What he does: For the past two years, Will’s had an ongoing conversation with Intel engineers about where he sees technology advancing. Intel marketing partner Johan Jervoe calls Will’s work “co-creation of our road map and of new technology.” Jervoe estimates that Will has spent about 40 to 60 days over the past two years working for Intel. He even has an employee badge.
Does it make sense? Yes. More than 5 million people have visited/tweeted/interacted with the Intel Will.i.am Web page. Jervoe calls Will “someone who could actually bring something to the company’s table but also felt the company could bring something to his table.” Says Lieberman: “They make a comfortable marriage—you definitely know why he’s working with them.”
Polaroid + Lady Gaga
The collaboration: In May 2010, Polaroid named Gaga—fresh off global pop hits such as Paparazzi and Bad Romance—as creative director for “a specialty line of Polaroid Imaging products” called Grey Label.
Why her? The singer (or “visionary” in her words) called the partnership the next logical step in her Haus of Gaga pan-arts endeavors, which include clothes and other visual projects.
What she does: In early 2011 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las  Vegas, Gaga unveiled three new products: the GL30 instant digital camera, the GL10 mobile printer, and futuristic GL20 camera glasses.
Does it make sense? Nope. The camera glasses and instant camera never came out; the printer went on sale in June 2011 for $170, and six months later it cost $100. Although Lieberman points to Gaga’s “strong orientation toward technology,” Collins notes that “those wacky sunglasses never appeared,” and he remains skeptical of the partnership’s long-term prospects.
Bud Light Platinum + Justin Timberlake
The collaboration: Last month, Timberlake was named creative director of the newish beer brand.
Why him? “Justin is an iconic guy,” says Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing at Anheuser-Busch. “He delivers that smart, put-together twentysomething who likes his music, gets culture, and knows trends—for us, a very important consumer.”
What he does: To date, one ad, coordinated with the release of his new single, Suit & Tie. Timberlake came up with the concept—a girl and guy getting ready to go out together. Chibe calls the partnership “an open-ended conversation” in which Timberlake will advise the brand on the direction of its advertising and promotion.
Does it make sense? So far, so good. “I think they hit a home run here,” says Lieberman. “Ladies love him; guys see him as one of the guys. He’s a robust entertainer. And it’s plausible that he’d actually go to a bar and order a Bud Light Platinum.”