How to Fake Fame
By Aaron Broverman
At least three studies going back to 2007 show that all kids want to be famous when they grow up, but what those kids don’t know (and what one man discovered) is that there’s no great barrier to being famous — or having that feeling at least. All you need are a few specific elements and you could fake fame right now and use it to potentially elevate any brand, persona, entity or product you want.
Brett Cohen knows a thing or two about fame. Called “The best thing since Howard Stern” by listeners, he hosted the podcast World Talk Live between 2007 and 2011. At its height, it had over one million listeners per episode and Cohen was booking guests like QuestLove, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. This, combined with an internship at TMZ, helped him understand how the celebrity machine works – so much so that he thought it would be funny to pretend to be a celebrity.
“I basically came up with this formula of an entourage I thought would work to kind of get heads turning and people would think I was famous because of the energy I carried and my appearance, but really I’m the same guy that I was when I woke up in the morning, which is – not a celebrity.”
So on July 27, 2012, the 21-year-old college student popped his collar, puffed his chest out and took a walk through Times Square with the bodyguards, photographers and assistants in tow that he recruited through Craigslist. Prior to his appearance below the 49th Street Marquee at NBC Studios, his entourage made sure to tell passersby that a “big star” was about to make an appearance. It never seemed to matter that no one knew who he was.
After all, he had all the accoutrements of any big celebrity and those bodyguards really seemed to know what they were doing. Besides, his people weren’t letting anyone know who he was, so of course the best option for any reasonable human being was to take a picture with him and let their Facebook friends and Twitter followers figure it out later. That’s exactly what happened and pretty soon complete strangers were independently insisting that Brett Cohen was the bomb in Spider-Man and that they heard his last three singles on the radio.
Soon, Cohen couldn’t go anywhere without personal protection. He was being mobbed wherever he went. The whole thing was posted on YouTube and went viral in a matter of minutes. Plus, with the world media picking it up, Cohen actually got some real fame from his fake fame.
“I put the video out and I was getting calls non-stop the next day – it was insanity.”
It may have started as a prank, but as a marketing professional Cohen knows that various elements of his stunt could work for brands looking to cause a stir. In fact, there have already been plenty of copycats approaching him for help, but none get quite the results of his original.
“They’re probably going off what they think the formula is by watching my video and they don’t know what really went into it,” says Cohen. “There was a lot of planning and little things we did to get people going.”
And for the first time, he’s going to reveal them all here, so that maybe your brand can capitalize on celebrity without actually hiring one.
Know Your Route
On the video, Brett Cohen’s walk through Times Square may have seemed aimless, but everything was meticulously choreographed and planned.
“We purposely walked out of the same exit at 30 Rock that celebrities come out of when they leave The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or something like that,” says Cohen. “That’s how I made my grand exit to the street. We had a map of where we were walking, so we had a guideline of what we wanted to do.”
Keep Your Entourage Antagonistic
Not only did Cohen carry himself with the same air of confidence he saw celebrities have while reviewing TMZ’s raw footage during his internship, he also made sure that the members of his entourage were competing with each other, adding some extra authenticity.
“A lot of it was the attitude and demeanour that went into it too,” he says.
“That part was different for every component. Not only did I have a sense of confidence and entitlement, but the bodyguards needed to be protective and the cameramen had to be aggressive. I wanted the paparazzi and the bodyguards to be very much against each other, so we could all create an overall energy that legitimized the whole thing.”
Act as if
No one in Cohen’s entourage told the public who he was or what he’d been in; they did that all on their own. The cameramen did help them along though with questions like, “What was it like taking a picture with Brett?”
“They then had to justify why they immediately took a picture with me,” says Cohen.
By asking such questions, Cohen’s cameramen implied that they knew who he was, so obviously the public should too. Besides no one likes to admit that they’re not in the know when put on the spot.
“We never said I was a singer, an actor, a movie star, or any of that,” says Cohen. “One of the things that I really made a point of was telling my crew that if people asked them who I was, the crew could give them my real name, but if they were asked what I do, they’d give a non-answer. It had to be up to the people who I was because at the end of the day, I was just myself in better clothes.”
So Cohen’s advice is if your brand is going to do anything like this at all, they have to act as if it’s already legit before the cameras start rolling and people start showing up to take pictures.
“If you want people to believe in what you’re doing, you must operate as though you believe it yourself. The litmus test for what I did was, ‘Would I, Brett Cohen, fall for this? And at the time, the answer was, ‘I think I would.’”
Check out Brett Cohen’s original video here.