Celebrities and Brand Management: The 1% Factor

March 13 2013

After showing up two hours late to a concert at the massive O2 Arena in London last week, Justin Beiber arrived on stage to face boos and harsh criticism from his young fans--many of whom were upset because they were going to be forced to stay out late (past their bedtimes) in order to see his whole show. That same week, Justin was caught on video threatening and yelling profanities at the paparazzi. He also fainted at another concert, and then cancelled an upcoming show on his international tour. Now it seems like we're all just waiting for him to follow along behind many other troubled pop stars, and mysteriously check into rehab for 'exhaustion.'

So is this the beginning of the end of Justin Beiber's career? Probably not. 

In general, I would say that brand mismanagement hurts your brand equity. But for celebrities, this is (yet another) indulgence, or off-brand management, that would not work for brands at large. Because Hollywood loves a comeback story, celebrities can mismanage their brand in a profound way -- the public and the entertainment business is okay with it, because we are as interested in seeing stars come back as we are seeing them fail. Take Robert Downey Jr., for example. Hollywood, the media, and the public have all embraced the handsome, reformed drug addict turned Oscar nominee back in the fold as a respectable and credible actor and box office draw.

So, who then is the other 1%? They are the stars who go beyond the pale, like Mel Gibson. When Mel Gibson said that the Holocaust never existed, he effectively shut the door on his Hollywood career, particularly in an industry where many of the key players are Jewish. The public and the industry were offended, and could not disassociate themselves fast enough. It was not simply self-destructive behavior. It was aggressive and wrong-headed, destruction turned outward rather inward, unlike many stars who crash and burn personally only to return to Hollywood success. Was the public upset when Hugh Grant was caught with a prostitute? Yes. But we forgave the charming Brit, and all rushed to see him in Notting Hill with Julia Roberts.

Ultimately, I'm not worried about Justin Beiber. His young, adoring fans will forgive him. Eventually he will stop acting out, and have another act in his career. Keep in mind, though, that the entertainment industry plays by its own rules. The scenarios I’ve described are not acceptable for brands at large, where it’s essential to be endlessly vigilant about every point, communication and way they intersect with the public and their investors. Can you say “BP”?

          Image via justinbiebermusic.com

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The Sporting Life

November 23 2011

                                                                                                                    Joseph Altuzarra. Spring 2012     

One thing that really interests me is how effective magazine publicity can be in building brand notoriety, and I mean this in a truly positive way. Take the case of this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner, Joseph Altuzarra. Championed by Vogue editor Lauren Santo-Domingo (who we worked with on a big branding project for her full-price, couture flash sale site, Moda Operandi), Altuzarra has received serious coverage, support and love notes in the pages of the magazine.

No doubt, his forward-thinking, comfortable design sensibility is in tune with today’s busy gal. But there are also plenty of other worthy young designers (for example, the struggling ones on the FashionStake site) who are not getting the same level of free publicity, celebrity attention, income or awards.

Altuzarra walked away from the evening with $300,000 to put towards his business, as well as CFDA brand and business mentoring. So think about this when you are thinking about how you are building your career. Historically, shooting editorial was a surefire way to garner free publicity and buzz about your pictures. Today, maybe less so, as editorial jobs are not always so adventurous. But many of my agency clients are firmly committed to using strong editorial as a way of moving their photographers towards lucrative ad jobs.

Ponder that, young-uns.

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