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CAN CELEBRITY MUSCLE WORK IN LOCAL E-COMMERCE?

Some years ago I was asked if online shopping would take off in South Africa. I said I saw no reason why it wouldn’t. Today, we have several successful online retailers, Spree.co.za being one of them, but I’m interested to see how their latest endeavour – a collaboration with a celebrity, to sell menswear nogal – will work out. Can a celebrity’s influence be converted to actual sales – or at least a spike in clicks – for a South African online retailer?

I doubt our friends at Spree will give us the numbers at the end of it all, but let me give you my view on why I think this one collaboration, in particular, could work for Spree.

You’ve probably heard or read about it by now, so I’m not going to treat this as if it’s news, but just in case you are one of THOSE people: Maps Maponyane and Spree.co.za have just launched a limited edition range of summer essentials, as selected by the actor, socialite and widely recognised ‘man-of-style’.

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A lot of people will call Maps a style icon, but I tend to steer clear from such big words, not because I don’t think the dude’s got swag, but because as a term it is just so overused, that I think it has lost meaning. What I do find admirable about Maps is his short, but meteoric rise to influence.

In 2013, when Maps was named GQ’s Best Dressed Man, I had never heard of dude. I’d only seen him around at socials in Jozi, but the then GQ associate editor Simphiwe Mpye announced at the event that Maps had, just a year before, told him that his aim was to be on that list. I don’t know if his aim was to be at the top of the list, but look, it happened, and from then onwards, it seemed his star wouldn’t be fading any time soon (I guess this is why people would kill to be on that list, innit?)

Let’s fast forward to today where Maps has over 90K Twitter followers, and even more on Instagram (155K) – there’s no doubt that he is indeed one of the most recognisable faces in South African media and entertainment.

His movie Tell Me Sweet Something – also starring the gorgeous Nomzamo Mbatha – was declared a box office success by the National Film and Video Foundation. And I quote: “Tell Me Sweet Something debuted at number five at the South African Box Office, competing against popular international films, The SouthPaw and Fantastic Four. The film was released on 45 screens, earning R843 589 (in the first week). In its second week the film grossed R646 241, an achievement for a local romcom, accumulating a total of R1 646 085. This success encouraged exhibitors to increase the number of cinemas to 47.”

Fine, the film is no Afrikaans romcom. Those babies pull in bigger numbers, but it is definitely a feat for a local film, and I cannot discount Maps’s pull here. Which brings me to the point:

South African media and entertainment is not what it used to be and I’m pretty sure stars like Maps are aware of their own influence. Clearly the brands are. Says Spree’s Fashion Director Chris Viljoen: “We are excited to have Maps as our first menswear collaborator on a unique privately developed label. Recognised as an influential and fashionable South African man, his brand lies closely with where we are taking the Spree Menswear department in 2016.”

Few South African celebrities can be so easily associated with style. I know, I know, many a magazine, blog and newspaper constantly call people ‘icons’ and all that, but babes, let’s just be real: most of the time, one is left with eyes bulging when such statements are made. With Maps, the title seems to fit. He is not the most adventurous of dressers, but what he does works, and he often looks effortlessly impeccable.

This is the first such collab by Spree, and I can’t wait to see, in a small e-commerce market like our own (and with few recognisable male celebrities I would most certainly call stylish), how this plays out with future collabs. It is then that one can conclude if the appeal of celebrity is enough to make people feel okay with the idea of punching their credit card details into cyberspace.

[Please do note that this is simple commentary and no in-depth investigation into local e-commerce has been done. There are therefore no conclusions drawn on whether celebrity endorsements have been a failure or success in the past]

By Sandiso Ngubane

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