Ever wonder what model BlackBerry Barack Obama uses, or where Reese Witherspoon gets her hair done?
Check out what may be a near-perfect mash-up of celebrity obsession, rabid consumerism, and web 2.0 functionality: Coolspotters.
Launched on Wednesday, the site helps you identify — and eventually to buy — virtually any product featured in your favorite shows and movies or used by a celebrity.
"What Coolspotters is, is an association engine," explains Eric Kirsten, a cofounder of the company that started the site. "You can create profiles and associate nearly anything in pop culture."
Here's how it works: Users can create (or edit) a profile page for any celebrity, movie, product, or brand of their choosing — sort of like Wikipedia, but for pop culture. But Coolspotters takes the information indexing one step further by creating pages for the intersection of two profile pages, called "spots."
For example, a Lotus Elise is featured in Iron Man, so that becomes a spot. If Mandy Moore is photographed with a Prius, that's a spot, too.
While the beta version of Coolspotters doesn't include links to buying products, a big "buy me" button will soon appear on profile pages, directing users to one or more online retailers.
For brands as well as consumers, it is a breakthrough in the way celebrities can be associated with products.
"Promotionally it is a really innovative tool," says Marc Gobe, president of branding think tank Emotional Branding. " You have a photo of a celebrity carrying an iPod in their real life and it's a lot better than a paid endorsement. It brings a lot of authenticity and truth to the thing. It's reality branding."
There are magazines that bridge entertainment and shopping, but as a wiki, or a collaborative website, Coolspotters is different. Its users, not editors, make the connections, potentially allowing the site to be an instant, up-to-the-minute snapshot of consumers' tastes.
Of course, cataloging the fashion and product choices of the rich and famous is not the same as inspiring a purchase. The fact that Steve Jobs wears 501 jeans would probably not set off a stampede to the Levi's store. But seeing that the cool phone that James Bond used in Casino Royale is a Sony Ericsson M600. Now that's a hot product that someone just has to have.
Like anything wiki, Coolspotters depends on the credibility of its users.
"If the information is not correct and it's frivolous no one will continue to visit the site," Gobe of Emotional Branding says. "That's going to be the basis for success."
Given the difficulty of identifying products from pictures (are those Earnest Sewn or AG jeans that Kate Hudson is wearing?), there's a potential danger in the site devolving into overconfident users posting inaccurate information.
But the site's cofounders, Aaron LaBerge and Kirsten, aren't worried.
"We see the arguing back and forth is a good thing," says LaBerge.
"We're not trying to be the reference encyclopedia for everything factual," adds Kirsten. "This is about people's best guess. Seeing things that are wrong inspire people to go change it."
Association between product and celebrity has long been recognized as a powerful driver of buying decisions. Time Inc. has had tremendous success with In Style magazine, started in 1995, which shares a principle similar to Coolspotters: provide readers with product details for trends modeled by America's favorite celebrities.
Portfolio.com's parent company, Condé Nast, took the idea a step further with Lucky magazine, called a "magologue" — the product offerings of a catalogue with the editorial influence of a magazine.
Transporporting the concept to the web removes the last purchasing hurdle —at a computer, readers can become buyers with just a point and click.
SeenOn.com is another example. It was created by a web startup in partnership with most major television media companies and provides exhaustive product and purchasing information for items featured in a long roster of television shows and movies.
Coolspotters was created by Fanzter, a company founded last summer by LaBerge, a former senior vice president of technology and product development at ESPN and Kirsten, a former vice president of business development at AT&T Broadband.
"I oversaw fantasy gaming at ESPN and saw how well that worked," said LaBerge. "It led me to think about taking that social aspect of the 'new web' and applying it to a different space."
Fantzer raised $2 million from the venture capital firms Second Avenue Partners and Curious Office along with several others.
In terms of ultimately turning a profit, Coolspotters has tremendous potential.
The site encourages users to rate and connect themselves to profiles and spots, allowing the site to build up a deep database of your tastes and preferences and serve ads intelligently.
The e-commerce functionality will provide a second revenue stream, as Coolspotters will get a cut of sales they refer to online retailers.
And while all the site is currently free, LaBerge and Kirsten see future potential for some premium, subscription-based content.