Cameo is Unashamedly Exploitative


Cameo, launched in 2017, has soared to new heights since the start of the pandemic. According to data from Apptopia, the popular app has had a 134% increase in app downloads since January 2020. With over 30,000 celebrities involved  it is easy to see why. To put that in comparison, the popular game streaming service Twitch only had a 61% increase in app downloads. 

Lindsey Lohan and Caitlin Jenner are even among those selling personal video messages on the platform. It is the new church of celebrity culture, because without a desperation for constant personal relevance, what is celebrity? 

The app promises to “make impossible fan connections possible” by enabling celebrities to send personalised video messages to fans — at often laughable prices. 

Carole Baskin, who was catapulted into a bizarre frenzy of ‘fame’ and conspiracy theories when Tiger King broke Netflix records in March, is currently charging a costly £224.25 per 2 or 3 minute pre-recorded video message. According to Cameo, celebrities set their own price tags; this is where the app stands out. Celebrities can no longer blame external sources like venues or ticket providers because the control lies with them or their management. 

When I was fourteen, my birthday present was a pre-concert meet and greet upgrade with my all-time favourite band. I was so enamoured at the time that I didn’t worry about how much my mum had just spent to give me five minutes in my teenage paradise. As children, our lives are often so intertwined with the existence of a book, a franchise or a band that money can become no object in some childlike privilege. 

The stars of Harry Potter, for example, have been in this world of idolising teenagers and nostalgic adults for long enough to know that huge fans would happily spend the money to bask in a magical universe that still remains so important to them. 

Since the first book was published 23 years ago, Harry Potter has had a unique, nonpareil fame across the globe. 2020 brought a new Harry Potter phenomenon to the most downloaded app of 2020, TikTok. Last year, the app became home to a trend which rocketed to popularity in this corner of the internet. 

‘DracoTok’ came first. The hashtag got more and more love as fans rekindled their adoration for the books and films in a year so unmagical. It now boasts a total of 14.2 billion views. It thrust the man himself – well, the actor Tom Felton – into TikTok’s world of intense internet fame and popularity. Instead of ignoring this growing obsession, Felton jumped into the unknown and embraced it by kick-starting competitions and posting reactions. With DracoTok came video after video showcasing the series loved by so many. #HarryPotter currently stands at an impressive 46.9 billion views. 

Tom Felton, giving one of his £449.25 birthday messages

On an app with a core market of 13-24 year olds, the cast’s younger fanbase just got a lot bigger. This is where Cameo comes in. With increased popularity comes increased price tags, at least according to Tom Felton’s Cameo page. TikToks from August last year show off fans’ Cameo messages from the actor bought for a mere £4.99. Now, a message costs £41.24 and a pre-recorded video, lasting a mere 90 seconds, is priced at an extortionate £449.25! Despite the price increase, the Cameo requests aren’t stopping and neither are the TikToks inspiring others to spend the same ridiculous amount of money. 

The videos are sweet and in an often elusive cast, Tom Felton is undoubtedly the most involved with fans. However, charging nearly £500 for a video that lasts less than two minutes whilst knowing how young the majority of your fanbase are is not heartless, but is most certainly immoral.

With a younger audience on TikTok comes easily influenced viewers. It is capitalisation of the most pure love a child can have: magic, stories and castles.

Back in March, Amanda Hess for the New York Times said celebrity culture was burning. But, I would disagree. With the rise of TikTok and Cameo, celebrity culture is simply evolving and becoming a lot more shamelessly profitable. With The Office (US) star Brian Baumgartner topping Cameo’s charts with over $1 million worth of bookings last year, it is set to only get worse. 

Words by Jessica Sharkey

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