From the beach, where the paparazzi were standing, it looked like any other gathering of beautiful people.
But this was no ordinary multimillion-dollar mansion party. This was covert celebrity marketing in action.
The Polaroid Beach House, on a stretch of Malibu coastline known as Billionaire’s Beach, has been the site of some of the hottest celebrity parties of the summer. Lindsay Lohan celebrated her 20th birthday there, and she was back two days later for a huge Fourth of July bash that drew Hollywood scenesters Nick Cannon, Kelly Slater, Jesse Metcalfe and Jeremy Piven. Lohan returned a third time last Saturday for a soiree — a lobster feast with fresh crustaceans flown in from Maine — where she joined Paris and Nicky Hilton, Kevin Connolly and Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon.
So where does the marketing come in?
Hollywood’s hottest lounged on furniture from Restoration Hardware, protected their skin with sunscreen from Dermalogica and, after a quick dip in the Pacific, showered and shampooed with Alterna products. (The company’s top stylist was even on hand to give celebrity tresses a quick touchup.) They dried off with fluffy towels provided by Amazon.com and kicked back in comfy sweats from Victoria’s Secret Pink.
The party house is all about product placement.
EXPERIENCING THE BRAND
For the guests, Saturday was just a pampering day at the beach. There were no brand-touting signs in sight, no posed publicity photos, no giant bags of swag. If they liked what they saw, sat on or swam in, more info was provided. If not, no worries.
Unlike the “gifting houses” that surround film festivals and awards shows — where stars pose for promotional pictures to collect their freebies — the Polaroid Beach House offers guests a low-key way to “experience” the brands, says Jay Marose of CityPublicity, one of two PR firms behind the party house.
The idea is perfect for celebrities who have come to expect lots of freebies, says Jeff Greenfield, executive Vice President of 1st Approach, a Boston-based agency that specializes in getting brands into films and television.
“It’s part of the typical backstage experience,” Greenfield says. “You could say the $100,000 Oscar bag has made its way to birthday parties.”
Marose and Valerie Michaels, founder of CityPublicity, came up with the idea after one of Michaels’ friends made his about-to-be-sold beachfront estate available. A team of interior designers outfitted the five-bedroom house in magazine-worthy style, with high-end beachy furniture and high-tech electronic accessories.
Then Michaels and Marose and partner Fingerprint Communications invited celebrities to use the space as a personal party locale. Stars don’t pay a dime for the access — or anything.
PERKS EQUAL BUSINESS
Lohan was the first to sign on. Her birthday party resulted in a private shopping tour at Restoration Hardware and a personalized batch of Alterna hair care, Michaels says. Life & Style magazine is featuring a promotion to “win Lindsay’s beach-house booty” — including, of course, products from house sponsors.
Even the paparazzi are part of the equation. They lurk on the beach hoping to snap celebrity photos, so Marose provides them with a list of the house’s guests and sponsors.
If celebrities are photographed with a product, that can be worth millions to a brand, Greenfield says. But Mary-Lou Galician, a media critic and author of “Product Placement in the Mass Media,” says consumers can spot a covert ad.
“To me it sounds like yet another sad attempt to tell the consumer how stupid these brands think we are,” she says. “I’d be terrified to think about Restoration Hardware and Paris Hilton, frankly. It’s a little mind-boggling and a little scary.”
Future festivities at the beach house include Piven’s 41st birthday party, a charity luncheon hosted by Elizabeth Hurley, a volleyball shindig with Molly Sims and a “celebrity moms’ playdate” with Cameron Manheim, Mariska Hargitay, Brooke Shields and Joely Fisher, Michaels says.
The party ends at Polaroid Beach House on August 6 after six weeks. But Michaels and Marose hope to repeat, and extend, the effort next summer.
“As far as marketing goes, our world is evolving,” Michaels says. “This is definitely part of the turn of the tide.”
asap contributor Sandy Cohen, who covers entertainment for AP in Los Angeles, is available to attend your Malibu beach party. Just don’t tell the paparazzi.