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  • Celebrity Branding Case Studies: Kanye West, Serena Williams & Joe Wilson

    I just got back from New York City and today is my 26th birthday.  I was going to blog about my time spent in New York, but I think I’ll save that for another day.  I would have also blogged about my accomplishments to date and some future projects that you’ll be hearing about soon.  Instead of these two posts, I would like to tackle some celebrity incidents that have appeared in the news recently and share some branding lessons.  The three I would like to discuss are Kanye West at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA’s), Serena Williams at the U.S. Open, and then Joe Wilson during Obama’s health care speech.  I don’t watch TV, so I missed out on each of these three events, but was filled in by stories shared on social networks and friends who spoke about it.

    In each case, a celebrity has stepped out of line and has brought negative attention to their brand. Some say that all press is good press, but I guarantee that a lot of people have lost respect for these stars and are not fans anymore.  In fact, I bet many people will cheer against them.  When it comes to your personal brand, you want to try and get as much positive exposure as possible.  When you become more and more well known, the stakes are higher and everything you do will be exposed to a greater audience.  In this case, the entire world heard about these three stories and they spread through many different forms of media very rapidly.

    1.  Kanye Westkanyebillboard

    If you haven’t seen the VMA’s from last night yet, then you still probably heard about this whole Kanye incident. During Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for “Best Female Video,” Kanye grabbed the microphone and gave a shout out to Beyonce, who was one of the other nominees for the award.  He said that Beyonce had the best video of the year and the crowd was not happy.  In fact, I heard that his publicist is no longer working with him and that he might be banned from future events of this nature.  From the social media side, there were over 5,000 tweets when the incident first occurred, and then suddenly over 50,000!  Taylor Swift fans on Twitter started the hash tag and trending topic “#teamtaylor” to support her.

    If you examine this more closely, you’ll notice that Kanye is one of the producers for Jay-Z’s new album, Blueprint 3, which is coming out soon.  This media “spark” might be a huge promotion for it.  Of course Kanye, Beyonce and Jay-Z are all friends and work with each other, so there may be something sketchy going on here.  The results are clear: a People Magazine poll stated that 77% of people would pay money to see Kanye shut his mouth till New Years and another poll from TV Guide stated that 84% of people felt that it wasn’t staged.  It was obvious that Kanye was either drunk, on drugs or all the above.

    2.  Serena Williams

    Serena was defending her U.S. Open title in a match against Kim Clijsters, got into a verbal fight with the line judge.  Serena disputed a foot fault and supposedly she said that she would killer her.  This resulted in a penalization of one point, which ended up costing her the match.  Previously, she was given a violation for smashing her racquet.  Obviously Serena needs anger management classes or a shrink.  The results were that she was fined $10,000, which probably isn’t a lot to her.  The video below has been viewed almost one million times since it was uploaded!

    3.  Joe Wilson

    Joe Wilson is the South Carolina Republican congressman, who is now famous for screaming “You lie!” to President Obama during his healthcare speech to Congress last Wednesday.  Now the liberals and conservatives are up in arms wanting apologies.  This incident might have been a planned attack because the results were that Wilson and his Democratic opponent, Rob Miller, raised over $1.5 million dollars.  Punishments for this type of interruption can range from censure through a resolution or expulsion.

    Brand analysis

    All three of these celebrities have had their Google search results sprayed with poor headlines. What you’ll notice when you do a search for their name is that stories from major news outlets will appear towards the top, which is the first impression a viewer will get of their brands. Another trend for celebrities is that their Wikipedia page, which ranks high in search engines, will get blasted with their bad press as well, which creates a more powerful and consistent effect.

    Google Celebrities

    What you can learn from these mistakes

    1. Don’t do things just to get attention.
    2. Focus on building your brand in a positive light because you’ll have more rewards later and less stress.
    3. Think about the people who are already associated with your brand.  When you mess up, they look bad.  This can be the company you work for, your parents, friends, teachers, etc.
    4. Even if you mess up, try your best to remedy it as soon as you possibly can, otherwise social media will take over and word will spread faster than you can imagine.
    5. Branding is a long term process, so even if you attract a lot of attention with a stunt, your brand will get hurt in the future, based on what you do today.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in news, People, Personal Branding, Success Strategies
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    11 comments on “Celebrity Branding Case Studies: Kanye West, Serena Williams & Joe Wilson
    1. avatar
      David Onoue says:

      Great post and great advice. I think both Serena and Kanye didn’t remedy their situations well. I remember Serena saying “I don’t know what I said…” And Kanye should have made a public apology immediately after the show. This just goes to show that thinking before your post and thinking before you act are equally important in today’s society as these things can go viral fast.

    2. avatar
      Carian says:

      This is excellent. Thank you for posting this useful information and great comparisons.

    3. avatar

      Hi Dan,

      Great brand analysis. I would suggest to take three celebrity branding studies but showing their positive image. We focus a lot on negative.


    4. avatar
      Matt says:

      You’re way off here, Dan. Each of these celebrities benefited from their exposure here. For Congressman Wilson, he has over a million more dollars in his campaign coffers and he can turn the Democrats’ furor into righteous indignation and say they are just trying to divert attention from the healthcare debate. The negative impact was only in the very short term. (Had you ever even heard of him before the speech?)

      For Serena Williams, you aptly pointed out that many of her supporters will be rooting against her now. This may be true, but they will still be tuning in and buying tickets so they can actively root against her. She will not lose much beyond the immediate penalties levied against her. Much like John McEnroe before her, most fans will see this only as a testament to her passion for the game.

      Kanye West is a bit different and he may suffer somewhat in the near and longterm, but he has a history of this behavior. It fits into his image very well. While he may lose some fans, they will come back. Kanye is successful because he is very good at what he does. While this outburst will garner negative press, it will also keep him in the news – an important feat given his last album’s relative failure. The last thing an artist like Kanye needs right now is to drop out of the mainstream.

    5. avatar
      yinka olaito says:

      Dan, apprecaite this brand analysis. It is an eye opener to everyone whose brand is alreday up there. A little, careless misbehavior can tarnish years of hard work if not properly managed. It is obvious that Kanye behavior will be construed even if he has honest ground to do that.-which I doubt. I stand to be corrected. He portrayed himself ad a bad loser and someone who do not have respect for constructive oponion /judgement. For Serena, this is the first time I saw her in this mode and I do hope she manages that ‘anger’ well otherwise it will affect her solid image she has around the world.
      Joe Wilson should learn to tolerate other’s opinions and respect the office of The American president even though we are in a democracy.. This is a good job Dan
      @Mohammed, great advice but I do think Dan was just trying to analyse a hot topic. I am not holding brief for him though.

    6. avatar

      “It was obvious that Kanye was either drunk, on drugs or all the above.”

      “Obviously Serena needs anger management classes or a shrink.”

      Dan, this post has a couple nuggets of good info, and I agree with the general message, and that we should all try to learn from these celebrities’ mistakes, but you “obviously” don’t have the authority to make statements like those above.

      I agree that both celebrities acted out in negative ways, and I think they both damaged their brands, but you’ve just created a brand for yourself that implies, “Dan Schawbel jumps to generalizations,” and “Dan Schawbel thinks he’s a doctor.” This kind of branding is appropriate for someone like Perez Hilton, who people expect to make wild unqualified statements and criticisms–not for someone who purports to be THE personal branding maven. I actually agree with your opinion of the two celebrities, but I think you should have kept your personal views quiet–It’s just not compliant with your brand. The post is stronger without those statements!

    7. avatar
      Sara Canaday says:

      How could we ignore the explosion of poor judgement and intolerable behavior we witnessed this week. The trait that was lacking in these individuals, whether momentarily or in general, was Impule Control. I’m amazed that politicians, celebrities, and executives consistently underestimate the importance of their emotional intelligence, or in this case, their lack thereof.

    8. avatar
      Jason says:

      thanks for the case study – I share your views on Kanye’s performance, but i think that this event (as long as it wasnt staged) also provided an opportunity for a celebrity to show her beliefs
      Beyonce was a class act in this, a strong woman that doesnt need a man to fight her battles. Letting Taylor Swift complete her acceptance speech was the right thing to do.

    9. avatar

      Serana Williams and Kenye West Demonstrate the Need for Anger Management
      America is exploding with public displays of person-directed anger in sports, entertainment and politics. While anger is a normal human emotion, the displays of verbal aggression and anger by West, Williams and Rep. Wilson represents unhealthy anger which destroys interpersonal relationships as well as the reputation of the perpetrator.

      There are six situations in which anger is unacceptable in a civil society:
      1). When it is too intense.
      2). When it occurs too frequently.
      3). When it lasts too long.
      4). When it leads to person-directed aggression or violence.
      5). When it destroys interpersonal relationships.
      6). When it has health implications.

      Anger is one of the most misunderstood and overused of human emotions. Anger is not a planned action – it’s a reaction to an inner emotion. Anger is energy. It serves a purpose by giving people the drive and determination to cope with difficult situations we find ourselves in. Anger helps discharge tension. If handled well, anger can help resolve conflict and improve relationships with others. Anger is an easy emotion to show; everyone gets angry.

      George Anderson

    10. avatar

      Kanye has been led to believe, and has accepted from previous situations that his brand of disaproval is acceptable. He is a bully, and needs to work on himself. The racial slurs just do not help his obvious issues. Serena was wrong, and regardless of brand we all get angry and behave poorly at some point. Not excusing the behavior, but when you get so much negativity even from commentators, and unfair calls against you, it’s easy to lose it sometimes. As an athlete I know that firsthand. Lost a race to a person who didn’t even finish. Had to get angry to get my prize. The congressman was simply disrespectful, spiteful, and unethical. He has other forum to voice his opinion, but would not have the audience or get the money. Regardless of democracy and freedom of speech, it does not give one the right to infringe on others’ riht to free speech, or to hurt someone with our words. The response to his poor behavior is a sad testament to our political, emotional,and mental psyche in this country. Health care reform has nothing to do with the constitution.

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