Last night in Los Angeles, Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo announced its newest employee: Ashton Kutcher. The actor, Twitter mainstay, and tech investor won’t be a spokesperson, but rather a product engineer.
From a stage in Google’s Youtube live stream space, Lenovo chief marketing officer, David Roman introduced Kutcher, calling him “someone who is passionate about innovation, someone who is ready to challenge the status quo, someone who understands technology, embraces new ideas fearlessly, and is personally committed to coming up with a better way of doing things.”
From the official announcement: “Kutcher will work with the company’s engineering teams around the world to develop and market the Yoga line of tablets by providing input and decision-making into design, specifications, software and usage scenarios…challenging assumptions, bringing new perspective and contributing his technical expertise to Yoga Tablet and other devices.”
So, what exactly is Kutcher’s “technical expertise”? He did study biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, but dropped out. He also starred as Apple’s iconic founder in the film Jobs. But perhaps more relevant is that Kutcher has become a savvy player in the world of tech startups where he’s invested some $100 million into companies like Airbnb, Foursquare, and Spotify.
This is hardly the first such partnership wherein a celebrity ostensibly serves as a design collaborator, rather than a simple product endorser.
On Monday, Microsoft made the announcement that celebrity British television presenter Jonathan Ross will be an executive producer for Microsoft’s Xbox One. Microsoft expects the entertainer and lifelong gamer to provide unique insight into game audiences.
Historically, however, these pairings have produced mixed results.
Previously, Lady Gaga’s appointment as a creative director with Polaroid gave birth to a novel, but lukewarmly received, inkless photo printer. She also lent her name to a pair of video sunglasses currently stuck in development hell. Early this year, Blackberry named Alicia Keyes Global Creative Director and in 2012 will.i.am was hired as Intel’s director of creative innovation. So far, Keyes and will.i.am have produced more special events and vague ideas than market ready products.
It’s likely that these moves are less about capitalizing on celebrity brands to create products (U2 iPod, anyone?) and more about making a splash and leveraging the deep social networks that stars like Kutcher and Ross command.