Changing the Ad Game

Imagine a shake up in the way social media traditionally plays a role in advertising content to consumers. While Instagram and Facebook have utilized intensive targeting methods to reach specific consumers, in the end the ads are the same. They consist of perfectly airbrushed models displaying their merchandise in perfectly manicured photos with maybe a big ticket celebrity endorser to get the public’s attention. These endorsers can simply be giants of hollywood, sheer titans of celebrity that are instantly recognizable or they can be niche personalities who fit the bill for the brand that they represent, think Lebron James and Nike. Now, if I haven’t lost you yet, stay with me because this traditional method of brand sponsorship is changing, and it is due to a company that is rethinking how celebrity endorsers are matched with a brand. What’s even more impressive is that they are doing so in a way that manages to not just be more cost effective but also less disingenuous than the usually very expensive and unrealistic ads by the likes of Dunkin, Polo, Apple and Ray Ban.


Enter Spotted, a Boston social media ad company that acts nothing like the traditional advertising, PR, or marketing agency. Spotted has taken a long look at the ad industry and done something that our class should be very proud of, they realized that 1) advertising is becoming inextricably tied to social media platforms as consumers constantly get more content that is curated just for them and 2) that an advertising company can and should embrace digital as the new future of the industry and not just an appendage of an advertising organization. Spotted’s primary service offering is the pairing of brands and celebrities without the need to invest in formal photo shoots and lengthy contracts.

The concept began with an observation, celebrities have thousands of pictures taken of them by paparazzi daily when they are just going about their off set lives. Now, these pictures are NOT your idealized celebrity images; they are just their normal selves rocking their favorite off-duty clothes, visiting their favorite off-duty places and doing their favorite off-duty things. Spotted took note of this and noticed that the celebs quite often were wearing a brand that they had no connection with directly (by contract endorsement) and that they were loyal to the brand of their own accord. These regularly circulated pictures offered a major missed opportunity; first, celebrities are constantly providing passive endorsement in the form of paparazzi photos and are not being compensated, and second, that these brands which are being represented have no way to directly leverage these images.  


Spotted jumps into the middle of the two parties, celebrity endorsers and brands who can leverage their photos, and then connects the two in order to maximize the value that a brand can receive from a specific endorser. Spotted collects and sifts through thousands of images, searching for the pictures that prominently display a brand and once they’ve compiled a substantial amount of source photos, they can start to connect brands with celebrities along a wide variety of dimensions such as status (A list, B list celebs), regional celebrities, or just generally prominent personas.

Now before the booing starts, I hear you; you’re going “So what does this mean? Isn’t it just another way for companies to peddle their products to us?!?” The short answer is yes but it’s not the whole story, because with Spotted, companies have the opportunity to pair with celebrities without having to dangle obscene gobs of money in front of them, and celebrities get to finally benefit from their lives being constantly monitored for public scrutiny. Not to mention that the pictures Spotted sources are of a celebrity endorsing the brand in a way that doesn’t shout “COMMERCIAL!” This could range from Robert Pattinson walking around with a Dunkin coffee cup (see below) or Justin Timberlake wearing a pair of Jordans. If Spotted’s algorithm can pick out a brand of clothing, they are just two contacts away from connecting a celebrity with a brand which can then put the image into circulation as part of an ad campaign both quickly and cost effectively. Oh, and let’s not forget that celebrities who have their likeness taken by the paparazzi have rights over their likeness so the sketchy photographers can be cut out as middle men; this way some of the most annoying, seedy members of the population are being crowdsourced in order to benefit those who they inconvenience day in and day out.


From a business standpoint this reimagining of the traditional digital advertising method offers companies a more concrete way of gauging the return on invested capital for money spent on celebrity endorsements which can be extremely hit or miss, and most crucially, it proves that innovations are still ripe in the digital business sphere. Spotted hasn’t reinvented the wheel here, they just learned how to quantify the value of a celebrity endorsement by only having to pay celebrities one picture at a time and their success has proven that this is a metric people will pay for…makes you wonder how many other parts of social media/crowdsourcing aren’t being effectively tapped yet and where there’s even more room for innovation.  


  1. jennypenafiel11 · ·

    This is a really interesting concept! It is easy to notice when celebrities are purposefully trying to influence us with their pristine pictures showing off a brand but I never really thought about how much they can unintentionally influence us with their personal preferences and how paparazzi play a role in uncovering those preferences. I would definitely like to read more about how celebrities are receiving this idea. Is there any backlash from celebrities who might feel that their lives are being even further invaded? I bring this up because we all realize how much some celebrities focus on creating a very specific image of themselves with perfect pictures, so to have pictures for which they didn’t prepare or edit be a potential ad might be an automatic no for some. Will the success of Spotted depend on the continued reactions of celebrities to the idea?

  2. kennedy__bc · ·

    This company blew my mind, its so simply yet so innovative! Like @jennypenafiel11 said I think the future of the company relies largely on the task of getting the word out to celebrities and explaining the concept to them. Also, I wonder how the paparazzi will react to this usage of their photos. Will they attempt to strike against Spotted so they can’t make money off their work? Personally, I believe as Spotted grows that is a challenge they will have to face.

  3. mpduplesmba · ·

    I would be interested to learn more about how Spotted’s business model conflicts with the FTC’s rules regarding the need for celebrities to clearly disclose when they are promoting a product they were given for free or are paid to endorse. My understanding is that with Spotted the celebrity doesn’t intend to endorse a product, but they are connected with brands and paid after-the-fact. So will the celebrity somehow need to make a retroactive disclosure? This could be another case where the law is just too far behind technology.

  4. I do think this idea is an interesting one. I do wonder if it could ever move out of being a niche player (of course, I’ve been plenty wrong in the past). Celebrities want to exercise careful control of their brand, and this company potentially circulates plenty of unflattering pictures. Could even backfire. We’ll see. Interesting find, though!

  5. Lucy Wilson · ·

    Too jump off of Jenny’s comment, it will also be interesting to see how brands receive this type of service. Similar to celebrities, surely they, too, have specific images they want to curate. Being associated with a celebrity with a certain type or negative reputation has the potential to hurt their brand. The majority of times, this is a factor that drives how many brands select their spokespersons and representatives. Then, again, if brands have the ability to control which photos are posted on a celebrity-to-celebrity basis, they could keep this in check.

  6. addisonBC2018 · ·

    I’ve never heard of this company before, but I’m so glad you brought it to my attention! I’m ashamed to say as a celebrity gossip enthusiast I’ve seen more paparazzi photos then I care to admit, but I would be very interested to see them used in ad campaigns. A lot of various fashion brands have use “paparazzi inspired” ad campaigns, so its interesting that an agency can come in and effectively accomplish the same thing at a lower cost and less effort. I would love to see some examples of their work!

  7. bc_eagle1 · ·

    Like the concept. To me though, I would question this tactic as a true benefit to rising celebrities. Internally we all want to be noticed and we have big egos. I don’t think the paparazzi “harassment” is necessarily a bad thing for a lot of them.

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