Over the past decade, celebrity interest and investment in technology companies has grown significantly. But not all celebrity investments are created alike. Some investors, like Ashton Kutcher, have prioritized VC activities. Some have invested casually without being overly involved. Others have used their sizeable platforms to market their portfolio with varying degrees of success.
A little more than a year has passed since Ryan Reynolds bought a majority stake in Mint Mobile, a deal that has already had a dramatic impact on the MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator).
The four-year-old company has seen tremendous growth, increasing sales by almost 50,000% over the past three years. However, the D2C cellular operator had its busiest days due to Reynolds' marketing initiatives and announcements.
There's been a long history of celebrities engaging with brands, either as brand ambassadors or creative directors, with little value other than the first wave of the press.
Lenovo hired Ashton Kutcher as product engineer to develop the Yoga 2 tablet, which you are likely all reading this post on. Alicia Keys was hired as BlackBerry's Global Creative Director, which felt even more complicated as a partnership than Lady Gaga's role as Polaroid's creative director. That's not to say that these publicity stunts (mostly) have to harm the brands or products, but they likely didn't help much and likely cost a fortune.
And then there is the actual financial investments in areas where celebrities have a deep understanding of the industry and which still don't get to "alpha".
Even Jay-Z went out of his way to make a music streaming service successful. Justin Bieber never really launched a selfie app. Even Justin Timberlake couldn't bring MySpace back to life. Reynolds apparently has an even heavier lift here. It's hard to imagine that any phrase in English would be any less sexy than "virtual network operator".
Reynolds told TechCrunch that he viewed celebrity investments as something of a "handicap" prior to acquiring Mint.
"I just kind of saw most celebrities doing very, very well," he explains. “We generally crouch or chase after or invest in luxury and sophisticated items and projects. Then George and I had a conversation about a year and a half ago, maybe longer, about what if we turned the other way? What if what if he got involved in something that was very practical and just forgot the sexy, ambitious stuff? "
Mint isn't Reynolds' first entrepreneurial venture. He bought a controlling stake in Portland-based Aviation Gin in 2018, which was recently sold for $ 610 million. Alongside George Dewey, he co-founded the marketing agency Maximum Effort, which has had its own impact in recent years.
Maximum Effort was formed to promote the actor's first Deadpool movie. Reynolds and Dewey had come up with several low-budget spots to get people excited about an R-rated comic book. The bid seems to have worked. The film grossed $ 783.1 million at the box office – a record for an R-rated film that ran until Joker's release in 2019.
Maximum Effort (and Reynolds) were also behind the viral Aviation Gin ad, which made fun of the manipulative Peloton ad that aired over the holidays last year. The same actress who portrayed a woman who appears to have been tortured by her Christmas present from a peloton sits in shock at a bar with her friends sipping a martini.
The original ad on YouTube, without media distribution, got more than 7 million hits. Reynolds calls it "Fast-Vertising".
"We can respond," he told TechCrunch. “We can recognize the cultural landscape in real time and play with it and react to it in real time. There is no red tape as it is all about signing the permit. In a way, it's unfair in that vein because it takes most large companies weeks and weeks or months to get a permit. Our budgets are tight and dirty, quick and cheap. "
He explained that this type of real-time marketing is only possible because he owns Maximum Effort (and in some cases the client business), but because there is no bureaucracy to overcome when a great idea comes up.
Reynolds brought this marketing acumen to Mint Mobile on a large scale. Last year, Reynolds posted a full-page ad in the New York Times during the Super Bowl, stating that the decision to spend $ 125,000 on a print ad instead of more than $ 5 million on a Super Bowl commercial would benefit the prepaid Allow providers to pass the savings on to consumers.
In October, Reynolds turned Mint's 5G launch to another lighthearted location. He brought the head of mobile tech to explain what 5G actually is and after hearing the technical explanation he happily said, "We may never know so we'll just give it away for free."
Mint also posted a vacation ad a few weeks ago warning of the wireless promo season when major wireless carriers may be trying to lure customers into expensive contracts with new devices. Reynolds stands dry over a bear trap and says, "At Mint Mobile, we don't hate you."
Reynolds has nearly 17 million Twitter followers and more than 36 million Instagram followers. He uses both platforms to promote his various brands without alienating his followers. Additionally, he doesn't solely advertise his brands on social media, but instead adds his own funny personal comment or gives his followers a glimpse into his marriage to Blake Lively, which we can all agree on to be #relationshipgoals.
Mint Mobile only works with T-Mobile to provide services. Unlike some other MVNOs, Mint Mobile uses a direct-to-consumer model that does away with the physical footprint. Plans start at $ 15 / month and end at $ 30 / month. CMO Aron North says Reynolds' ownership and commitment are "absolutely critical" to Mint Mobile.
"Ryan is a plus-plus celebrity and he's very funny, entertaining, and engaging," said North. “Its reach has given us a much larger platform to speak on. I would say it is absolutely critical to our success and growth. "
We asked Reynolds if he had any specific plans for further technology investments or if there were trends he was keeping an eye on. He stated that his motivations were not purely capitalist.
"I really focus on community and bringing people together," Reynolds said. "We think it's super cool to bring people together, especially in a world that is very divisive. Even in our marketing we try to find ways to experience great cultural moments without polarizing people, without dividing people without saying anything that one thing is wrong. "
On one of the company's most notable spots recently, Reynolds hired legendary comedian Rick Moranis to help. It was a formidable coup given the actor's apparent withdrawal from the public eye, who turned down two separate reboots of the Ghostbusters film.
"It's funny what happens if you just ask," says Reynolds. “I explained that people really miss him and his achievements and energy. And he, for whatever reason, said yes, and the next thing I know, six days later, in 15, 20 minutes we were out there and shot our place. "
Of course, it has not escaped the Internet that two well-known Canadian actors stood in a field selling a wireless service for the US only.
"I would love to see (Mint) in Canada," says Reynolds. "There's a big three here that's hard to crack. I'm not pretending to know the telecommunications business well enough to say why, how, or how the way forward would be. I'm basically seeing a tsunami of feedback from Canada, asking why we can't have this. I think it's sexy. It's pragmatic and sexy. That's why I got involved. "