Earlier this month, a cute teenage boy who happened to work at Target became a literal overnight internet sensation when an anonymous shopper snapped a picture of him in the checkout lane and posted it to Tumblr. That photo was then tweeted by thousands of young women along with the hashtag “AlexFromTarget.”
Alex — whose full name is Alex Lee — was launched into a spotlight that has landed him hundreds of thousands of new Twitter followers, adoration from his own company and even a visit to the Ellen show. Which made us wonder: What’s the best way to turn unexpected fame into a pretty penny?
Before we dive into Alex’s options for monetizing his mass popularity, let’s take a quick look at how he became famous enough to warrant his own hashtag.
How #AlexFromTarget Became Massively Popular
According to Small Business Trends, a marketing firm called Breakr tried to take credit for the #AlexFromTarget phenomenon, releasing a statement that claimed it was a marketing stunt on behalf of Target. But there’s limited proof the viral sensation was part of a conscious marketing campaign, reports BuzzFeed. The website says some people involved claim to have never even heard of the company.
“It’s more likely that Lee’s popularity is the work of dedicated fangirl Twitter users like @NiallWifiPizzas and @5SOSBeliefs,” Small Business Trends says. “These Twitter accounts have large followings and passionately promote boy bands like One Direction and Five Seconds of Summer. (Lee’s resemblance to members of these bands all with boyish good looks and perfectly quaffed hair [sic], has been mentioned more than once.)”
As #AlexFromTarget rides out his 15 minutes of fame (and also experiences the downsides of becoming a celebrity), he’s in a prime position to capitalize and make some serious cash — way more than the minimum wage he’s likely pulling at Target. Here are a few of the ways he could use his newfound fame to pad his bank account.
Grow and Monetize a YouTube Channel
Brandon Wirtz, CEO of BlackWaterOps, an SEO and public relations firm, has spent most of the last decade making a living off YouTube videos. He suggested that if Target has an affiliate program — which allows bloggers and anyone who shares YouTube videos to earn commission by selling products for companies — Alex could set up a YouTube channel reviewing products that Target offers for sale on Black Friday.
However, Wirtz believes Alex’s best bet is to leave Target altogether, assuming Target doesn’t have a non-compete like some companies (like Jimmy John’s) where you can’t work for another similar retailer within a certain distance for a certain amount of time. Wired recently featured Marques Brownlee, who at just 20 years old has built a “YouTube Product Review Empire.” While Alex is only 16, he already has more mainstream followers and is a bigger household name than Brownlee. If Alex were to start reviewing products today, Wirtz believes he could build a financially successful YouTube channel in a short amount of time by using affiliate programs.
How exactly would that work? As Wirtz explains, you don’t make affiliate commission only on items you reviewed that your viewer clicked. While your video might be about a $1,000 television, which might give you 6% commission (or about $60), that user could end up buying a $10,000 home theater system. Because of the way affiliate programs work, you get a commission on anything the user buys after clicking on your link. That means one viewer could end up generating you $600!
If Alex jumped ship from Target to simply reviewing products from Amazon, and capitalized on the Black Friday frenzy by reviewing the top 30 items people are looking for this holiday season, Wirtz believes Alex could easily amass 1 million views per video. That would earn him around $15,000 per video using affiliate links — and approximately $450,000 by the end of the month.
Appearance and Speaking Fees
Back in 2012, another similar viral internet sensation was born overnight when Bryan Bundesen posted a picture of his sister’s cat on Reddit. The cat, named Tardar Sauce, had a form of feline dwarfism that caused a perpetual frown, making it look grumpy. The Reddit community immediately made it into a viral meme, which became known as “Grumpy Cat.”
Bryan then filmed the cat, and within 36 hours the video had over million views. With such a fast-growing and rabid fanbase — not unlike Alex’s — the Bundesens knew they had to cash in quick. Since then, the cat’s owner, Bryan’s sister, Tabatha, has been raking in six-figure appearance fees according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, especially at trade shows and other pop culture events. She brings the grumpy cat with her in a bag that looks like a purse, the Review Journal reports.
Alex could easily replicate the “Grumpy Cat” phenomenon if he acts just as quickly, but he would likely need some help. According to the Review Journal, the Bundesens hired a manager and launched a Grumpy Cat website. Alex would be smart to do the same if he wants to be able to command high-figured appearance fees.
Social Media Sponsorships
Almost every teenage girl agrees: Alex is cute. They are dying to see more of him, which is why now is the perfect opportunity for Alex to use his social media to post — what else? — more pictures of #AlexFromTarget!
Keeping his social media followers engaged and continuing to grow his social channels could help Alex earn corporate sponsorship opportunities, and those have dollar signs attached. Social media superstars and celebrities often get paid thousands of dollars by big companies for just one tweet or Instagram post. In fact, we’re willing to bet Alex could land a sponsorship like this now, if he hasn’t been offered some already. By leveraging his looks and his moment in the spotlight, Alex could easily make a few thousand dollars every day just by continuing to be active on social media.
While his 15 minutes of fame may slowly taper off, #AlexFromTarget has a unique opportunity to cash in on his devoted fan base. A quick pivot from cashier to YouTube superstar could turn this teenager from a schoolgirl crush into a multi-millionaire, and in pretty quick order. He certainly has a lot of options — and we look forward to seeing how he acts on them.
Your Turn: What do you think makes the most sense for Alex if he wants to monetize his unexpected fame?
Kelly Clay is a freelance writer and editor from Seattle. Her work has previously appeared in Forbes, VentureBeat and WearableWorldNews. Find her on Twitter at @kellyhclay.