The 14 Most Shocking Celebrity Brands of All Time Prove Branding Is ALL About Relating to Your Audience
They seem to have it all—fame, looks, and plenty of money. But with so many celebrity brands launching, you might wonder whether they have any business sense.
As it turns out, many of them do.
Each year, more celebrity brands appear out of nowhere. And some of them are, well, super odd and unexpected. But as long as you know how to build a raving audience, you can sell anything.
Here are some celebrity brands—both past and current—that made headlines in a major way:
#14 Pharrell Williams: Qream with a Q Liquor
While most people know Pharrell Williams for making them feel Happy, the singer is also a well-respected entrepreneur. In 2011, he launched Qream with a Q, a liquor developed for a more feminine demographic. Pharrell felt the alcoholic beverage market was missing this prime target. Even though companies featured beautiful ladies in their ads, they didn't create beverages that appealed to women specifically. Qream would fill that void.
Pharrell once stated that popular liquors were synonymous with lighter fluid. And he knew his female audience deserved something that tasted as good as it looked. Qream launched with two flavors: Strawberry Créme and Peach Créme. He felt the creaminess and lightness of the liquor would strike a chord with women everywhere.
But the success of the high-end spirit was short-lived. In 2013, Pharrell filed a lawsuit against Diageo, the drink's distributor. He claimed Diageo promoted Qream as a club drink instead of a "high-end, leisure-class" beverage. Production came to a halt, and you can no longer purchase Qream anywhere.
Although Qream didn't have the success Pharrell hoped for, he is still a very active entrepreneur. He's the owner of several celebrity brands, including Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM. Pharrell made a lot of his money from music, but most of his wealth comes from his business ventures. He has an estimated net worth of $200 million.
#13 Danny DeVito: Danny DeVito's Limoncello
At 60 proof, limoncello isn't for the weak, a lesson Danny DeVito learned the hard way. The comedic actor appeared on The View after downing one too many limoncello shots with George Clooney the previous evening. During the interview, he stumbled on the stage and slurred his words. His jokes were also more colorful than usual (and definitely not morning show approved). How much did the actor drink? In his own words, "I knew it was the last seven limoncellos that was going to get me."
Instead of letting this embarrassing moment tarnish his reputation, Danny decided to capitalize on it. He launched Danny DeVito's Limoncello in 2007. Only the best Sorrento lemons would suffice for this most intoxicating of celebrity brands. Danny found a distillery in Italy to source and bottle his creation. He even designed a scratch-'n'-sniff label. Then he wrote an unforgettable theme song:
Danny DeVito's Limoncello,
It's a taste delight from this famous fellow.
It's so very nice, perfect served cold on ice,
The finest summer drink from Italy.
While no one knows how much Danny earned from his limoncello business, this brand did garner a lot of attention from his target audience—diehard Danny DeVito fans. Bottles remained in stock at various liquor stores through 2020 before vanishing into thin air. Appearing drunk on television didn't stifle his career at all. Danny has a net worth of at least $80 million.
#12 Whoopi Goldberg: Whoopi & Maya
Although Whoopi Goldberg famously farts all the time, the actress is more worried about menstrual pain than flatulence. Nearly 80% of women experience period pain, and many prefer all-natural treatments over traditional pain relievers. In 2016, Whoopi teamed up with Maya Elisabeth, a medicinal marijuana expert, and created a line of THC-infused products to reduce period cramps.
Whoopi & Maya launched various medicinal cannabis products, including edibles, topical creams, bath soaks, and tinctures. The brand designed each product with women in mind. Whoopi claimed the products wouldn't get users high. Instead, they would just get rid of discomfort. "Smoking a joint is fine, but most people can't smoke a joint and go to work," she explained to Vanity Fair.
After its first year, consumers could purchase Whoopi & Maya products in over 300 dispensaries. It quickly became one of the fastest-growing cannabis brands in the industry. However, navigating the legalities of medical marijuana became overbearing. Disagreements between Whoopi and Maya escalated. In January 2020, Whoopi resigned, and like many celebrity brands, the company closed its doors for good.
#11 Mark Wahlberg: Wahlburgers
Mark Wahlberg's life took a legendary singer-to-actor path. His brother, Donnie, was a member of the New Kids on the Block. Mark followed in his footsteps, releasing his debut album with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch in 1991. However, he really made it big as a Hollywood actor, starring in many critically acclaimed films, such as The Basketball Diaries and The Italian Job. But this success wasn't enough. He wanted to give birth to a food baby. In 2011, the actor founded Wahlburgers, a casual dining burger joint. He owns it with his brothers, Donnie and Paul.
While it's not odd for the average Joe to open a greasy burger restaurant, it was a strange business venture for Mark. He's known for his chiseled body and killer abs—not your typical spokesperson for a fatty burger. (But imagining Marky Mark flipping hot, juicy burgers over an open flame isn't a bad thing either.) Further, restaurants are tricky to get off the ground. Most fail within the first five years.
Mark wanted to make sure Wahlburgers didn't meet the same demise as so many other restaurants and celebrity brands. He had one thing going for him most restaurant owners don't—star status. In 2014, A&E launched a reality television series named after the restaurants. Wahlburgers ran for ten seasons and further boosted the restaurant's success. Today, there are 49 locations in the US. And if you want to own a franchise, you better have a net worth of at least $5 million.
#10 Susan Sarandon: SPiN
What do you imagine when you think of Susan Sarandon? Maybe you recall one of her many award-winning films, like The Client, Thelma & Louise, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Perhaps her name makes you think of protesting against wars or fighting for civil rights. But Susan is more than merely an actor and activist. She's also a ping pong enthusiast. And she turned her love of the game into an international ping-pong brand—SPiN.
Sarandon fell in love with ping pong after attending a tennis table party hosted by Franck Raharinosy. Attendees came up with the crazy idea to get good enough at ping pong to make it to the Olympics. In 2009, Susan, Franck, and Jonathan Bricklin (Susan's then-boyfriend) founded SPiN.
SPiN isn't your usual table tennis facility. Instead, it's a social ping-pong club and lounge. SPiN incorporates the game with fresh food, a full-service bar, and plenty of loud players. It's a hangout for adults looking for a place to relax. While Susan and her co-founders never actually qualified for the Olympic table tennis team, they did stir up excitement for ping pong.
In 2019, ten years after SPiN's grand opening, the company celebrated over 10-million ping pong balls served. There are now 10 locations throughout the US and Canada. The success of SPiN isn't too surprising to ping pong fans, however. The lounges are not only a fun place to hang out, but they also offer regular tournaments and private lessons for serious players. Today, Susan has an estimated net worth of $60 million, and a good chunk of that comes from SPiN.
#9 Nelly: Pimp Juice
No one blinked an eye when Nelly released "Pimp Juice" on his debut album Nellyville. The lyrics were crude but not unexpected. However, when the hip-hop artist decided to turn his rap into a stimulating drink of the same name, eyebrows more than raised. Pimp Juice launched in 2003. Marketed as "Hip-Hop's #1 Energy Drink," the beverage had one target audience in mind—rap fans.
Pimp Juice contained similar ingredients to other popular energy drinks on the market, including the daily recommended intake of B vitamins. A blend of apple and guarana berry juice gave the beverage a neon green glow. Drinkers often used Pimp Juice as a mixer with vodka or rum. It became a staple at many clubs and bars.
While Pimp Juice was a huge success initially, like many celebrity brands, it wasn't without criticism. Many women's organizations felt the name was derogatory towards females. Other groups claimed it perpetuated demeaning African-American stereotypes. But Nelly and his followers felt differently.
When people called for a boycott of Pimp Juice, Nelly supporters became vocal. In response to the criticism, Ralph Watkins, a sociology professor at Augusta State University in Georgia, told the Voice of America, "You know, 'pimp juice' to this generation means having power, having something that attracts folks to you. It's about being good-looking."
Regardless of the protests, Pimp Juice became a top seller in the beverage industry. Nelly fans couldn't buy it fast enough. Pimp Juice sold over one million cans only three months after its initial launch. By 2006, you could buy it globally. The drink is no longer available in the US, but you can still purchase it from Germany online.
#8 Dolly Parton: Dollywood
Dolly Parton may be the Queen of Country, but she also has a reputation for working 9 to 5 as the co-owner of Dollywood. In 1986, She bought a stake in the theme park, then known as Silver Dollar City. Herschend Enterprises decided to rename the park in her honor for the season. Although it was a temporary change initially, the name Dollywood stuck for good.
As co-owner, Dolly wanted to give back to the Sevier County community. It became her mission to bring as many jobs to the area as possible. And her plan worked. Dollywood is now the number one employer in the county, with over 3,000 workers on the payroll. Even when the park had to furlough employees due to COVID, they kept workers on the healthcare plan and covered 100% of their premiums. Dollywood plans to bring back all its employees as soon as possible.
When Dolly purchased Dollywood, investors told her it was a risky idea. They encouraged her not to go through with it. Today, however, it's one of the top amusement parks in the world. Dollywood hosts more than three million visitors each year.
#7 Bethenny Frankel: Skinnygirl
A giant margarita at a local Mexican food restaurant will add about 300-500 calories to your daily intake. This is how Bethenny Frankel, star of Real Housewives of New York, came up with the idea for the tastiest of celebrity brands at the bar, Skinnygirl Cocktails. "Everyone wants a margarita, and nobody wants to feel guilty about it," Bethenny stated to Inc. in a tell-all interview.
Skinnygirl Cocktails isn't your average liquor brand. Instead, it's a movement to create low-calorie, guilt-free cocktails for today's body-conscious consumers. She launched the brand in 2011 with a prepackaged margarita. However, success didn't come easy.
When the idea for Skinnygirl first popped in Bethenny's head, she shopped it around the big liquor companies. They didn't take her seriously. Some didn't even show up to the meetings. While all the male celebrity brands got deals, Bethenny just got closed doors. Instead of walking away for good, however, she decided to do it on her own.
Bethenny partnered with David Kanbar, a veteran in the liquor industry. Together, they manufactured, designed, and bottled her creation. In less than six months, it was on shelves at major retailers. And it took off like crazy. They could barely keep up with the demand. Women (and men) everywhere couldn't get enough of Skinnygirl's low-calorie alcoholic beverages.
In 2011, Bethenny sold Skinnygirl Cocktails to Beam Global for $100 million. But she made sure to retain the rights to the Skinnygirl name. She now uses the brand name to promote a variety of products, from apparel to salad dressings. Bethenny Frankel has an estimated net worth of $70 million.
#6 Ryan Reynolds: Aviation Gin
Known for his role in the Deadpool franchise and extremely sarcastic tweets towards his wife, Ryan Reynolds is one of Hollywood's biggest names. But his onscreen success and enviable love life weren't enough to satisfy this Canadian heartthrob. In an attempt to quench his thirst, he bought a stake in Aviation Gin in 2018. At the time, the small-batch gin company only sold around 18,000 cases per year.
Ryan didn't disclose how much of the company he owned, but he did start promoting it like mad. He uploaded multiple Aviation Gin commercials to his personal YouTube channel. And in true Ryan fashion, he made himself the main feature. The spots appealed to the target audience—young adults with an intellectual, easy-going, dry sense of humor.
Did the calculated risk pay off? Big time. Just two years after becoming co-owner, Ryan sold this, one of the fastest-growing celebrity brands, to Diageo for a reported $610 million. And he wrote a tongue-in-cheek apology to George Clooney after signing the paperwork. "My lawyers just explained how long it takes to achieve an 'earn out'... so... turns out I'm not as George Clooney as I thought. I'll indeed be needing your help in the coming months and years. Thanks in advance!"
#5 Jessica Simpson: Dessert Beauty
Jessica Simpson is a true icon of the early 2000s. Most fans remember her "dumb blonde" moment on MTV's Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica when she didn't know if tuna was chicken or fish. Well, it turns out that Jessica is more than the ditsy character she portrayed on television. She's also a pretty smart businesswoman, which she proved when she launched her own celebrity brand, Dessert Beauty.
Simply throwing her name on the products wouldn't guarantee success. Jessica knew she had to do something innovative to make her brand stand out in the competitive beauty industry. What made Jessica's beauty brand a bit weird? She decided to make every product in her line completely edible. That's right—you could eat every Dessert Beauty lip gloss, body shimmer, lotion, and perfume.
When Dessert Beauty launched in 2004, it was the first "kissable and taste-able" beauty brand. Some of the brand's most popular products were "Powdered Sugar Deliciously Kissable Body Shimmer" and "Whipped Body Cream with Candy Sprinkles." Jessica promoted Dessert Beauty at live events, letting then-husband Nick Lachey lick the products off her body.
Unfortunately, you can't get a taste of Dessert Beauty anymore. The brand stopped production in 2006. But that short-lived entrepreneurial success didn't stop Jessica. That same year, she launched the Jessica Simpson Collection, a fashion line for women and juniors. Today, it's one of the most successful celebrity clothing brands. The Jessica Simpson Collection earns $1 billion annually in retail sales.
#4 Rihanna: Savage X Fenty
While Rihanna grew her audience as a hip-hop artist, she's made most of her fortune as an entrepreneur. In 2018, she launched her lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty. And in a very Gen-Z style, she promoted the entire event to her devoted fans on social media.
Rihanna started Savage X Fenty after noticing a lack of inclusion in the lingerie industry. Consumers could either look like Victoria's Secret angels or ultra-modest Sears catalog models. No one featured curvy, voluptuous, or even average bodies. And people of color were hardly represented. Rihanna decided to create a sexy lingerie line to celebrate all bodies. Savage X Fenty is nothing like your mother's underwear.
While Rihanna's celebrity status helped boost the brand's launch, it was her dedication to inclusivity that made it a success. Savage X Fenty carries a wide range of sizes, from XS to 3X. It also features seven shades of "nude," ensuring consumers can find lingerie that blends in with their skin tone. Instead of insisting women look like "supermodels," the brand encourages body acceptance.
Savage X Fenty hit a $1 billion valuation last year and is on track to become the lingerie market leader by 2025. And it's not Rihanna's only brand. She's also Fenty Beauty's owner, which is one of the most profitable celebrity beauty brands. Rihanna's business deals make her the wealthiest female musician in the world.
#3 Jaden Smith: JUST Water
Jaden Smith grew up in the public eye. With the help of his parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden became both a musician and actor before reaching double digits. But that didn't keep him from dabbling in other ventures. While surfing around a bunch of floating plastic trash, the idea for JUST Water popped in Jaden's head. He was only ten at the time.
That's right, Jaden wanted to reinvent water. Many critics thought the concept was weird and unnecessary. After all, water is a natural commodity. It's everywhere. And reusable water bottles are already readily available to consumers. But as Will Smith told the Associated Press, "This was a company born out of a child's love for the ocean."
Jaden didn't let the naysayers get in his way. He worked diligently to get JUST Water into consumers' hands, and it needed to be better for the environment. The container for JUST Water is unlike anything else on the market. The carton is mostly paper, and the cap is sugarcane. He knew this sustainable packaging would appeal to his target audience—young people hoping to save the planet.
In 2019, just four years after launch, the company earned a $100 million valuation—not too shabby for a company that sells just water.
#2 George Clooney: Casamigos Tequila
Until Amal entered the picture, George Clooney was America's most eligible (and hard-to-get) bachelor. And this handsome fellow has more going for him than his masculine jaw, witty personality, and shockingly decent Flobee haircut. He's also a pretty shrewd businessman. In 2013, he proved his entrepreneurial worth when he co-founded Casamigos Tequila with his buddy, Rande Gerber.
The idea for Casamigos Tequila first manifested by accident during a trip to Mexico. Each night, the two would drink tequila at local bars. But not every shot tasted good. Some tequilas burnt going down, and others left them feeling hungover. George asked Rande, "Why don't we create one that's perfect for us?"
It took almost two years for George and Rande to come up with the right recipe. They shared their concoction with family and friends at their homes in Casamigos, which appropriately translates to "house of friends." It became so popular that the duo kept ordering more bottles. Eventually, the distributor told them they needed to get a license. The rest of the story is tequila history.
Casamigos Tequila wasn't only popular with George's friends. It quickly gained global appeal after launching in 2013 and became one of the most successful celebrity brands. The brand's top audience was the average person looking for affordable, smooth tequila. After becoming a multimillion-dollar empire, the company caught the attention of Diageo. The well-known beverage company purchased Casamigos Tequila in 2017 for $1 billion.
#1 Gwyneth Paltrow: Goop
Gwyneth Paltrow isn't your typical Hollywood blonde actress. She's also a savvy businesswoman. Even the characters she portrays are complex and intellectual. It's no wonder her brand, goop, is pretty much a mirror image.
Goop is a lifestyle site designed to "start hard conversations, crack open taboos, and look for connection and resonance everywhere." And while this may seem like the ideal hangout for spiritual advisors and MENSA members, goop also has a reputation for selling absurdities not found elsewhere. Vagina candles, anyone?
No, your eyes didn't deceive you. Goop's most notorious product is the $75 "This Smells Like My Vagina" candle. The notes—like any vagina owner will tell you—include geranium, citrusy bergamot, and cedar absolutes. (But seriously, if your vagina produces a different aroma, you're probably normal.)
When goop launched the vagina candle, it sold out within hours. It created a lot of buzz from both typical goop shoppers and a newer, curious audience. People had to smell it for themselves. And you have to admit the candle would make a great conversation piece during a lifeless dinner party.
Vaginas not your thing? Perhaps the less committal "This Smells Like My Prenup" candle is more up your alley. Over the years, goop has featured a seemingly endless array of other off-the-wall products, including vampire repellant spray, a dual-purpose vibrator necklace, and a pet jellyfish tank.
And these weird products sell. Gwyneth knows what her audience wants and isn't afraid to deliver—even if she gets a ton of questionable press in the process. She serves women looking to better themselves. As of 2018, goop is worth over $250 million.
Not a Celebrity? No Problem!
Launching a popular brand may seem like a breeze for the rich and famous, especially when you add in billion-dollar businesses like Kylie Jenner built. but you don't need celebrity status to make it big. Capitalism makes it possible for ANYONE to build a successful 7-, 8-, or even 9-figure brand. Don't believe us? Take a look at these facts:
- A couple of college dropouts named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple in a garage.
- Jeff Bezos launched Amazon as a simple online bookstore.
- Larry Page and Sergey Brin began Google as a research project for Stanford University.
- Sam Walton didn't even open the first Walmart store until he was 44.
So no, you don't need a movie career or a hit single to launch the brand of your dreams. You can make just as much (if not more) than these celebrity brands. All you need is innovation and a desire to serve your audience.
Ready to take the first step? We’ve put our best free content together for you right here. You might be surprised to know how many entrepreneurs have launched businesses using these resources - businesses well on their way to the million-dollar mark. Will you be next?