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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Britney, Anna and Branding

So I'm having a perfectly wonderful Sunday lunch and the phone rings. It's a reporter from the New York Daily News. The big news flash is that Britney Spears has shaved her head. Holy cow, this is big. Never mind that over a hundred more innocent Iraqi citizens have become human jigsaw puzzles thanks to yet another crazed homicide bomber. Or that massacres still occur daily in Darfur. No, the big story in the good old USA is that Britney has gone G.I. Jane and buzzed off her locks.

Phew. For a moment there, I was beginning to think that the nation was going to veer off course and not solve the paternity of our latest celebrity corpse, Anna Nicole Smith. Fortunately, the Britney story only lasted a few days. Within a reasonable amount of time, we were back to the really important issues. Like whether Anna's kid was really fathered by yet another corpse -- her somewhat fossilized oil man husband.

No matter to the reporter. We had a great chat, because hers was the only interview in which even a semi-reasonable question was put forth: Was Britney going to lose her sponsors over this? What's the real message of her mental melt-down?

I'm glad she asked. Because the real point of this story isn't about hair. Or corpses. Or America's incessant morbid interests in all the wrong stories. The real point is why American business -- otherwise so incredibly risk-averse -- continues to trust their brands to human celebrities.

What has TrimSpa learned from Anna Nicole that they couldn't have learned from Michael Jackson, O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant or, this week at least, Britney Spears?

The answer is simple: They don't think. You can tell, because if they did think about it, they'd come up with the reasons why the very last person you'd ever want to entrust with your brand is an attention whore. The worst person in the world you can tie in with is a celebrity, because these people are not only approval addicts, they're among the most mentally unstable attention addicts.

Put it this way: If you were to pit your own brand against a Hollywood halfwit whose entire purpose in life is to garner as much attention and approval as humanly possible, who do you think would come out the winner? Can't you just see the actors elbowing their way in front of the camera? And yet, even as they steal all that valuable media time from the products and services they pitch, actors continue to win sweet endorsement deals that rarely, if ever, pay out for the sponsors.

Think I'm wrong, do ya? Fine. Why did the Gap insist on driving down sales with Sarah Jessica Parker? And what was Chrysler thinking when they signed Celine Dion to hawk cars? And both of them got paid millions for campaigns that lasted about an hour. I've seen fruit flies live longer.

Let's get just a little more personal about it. How would you feel if the star you to whom you were paying millions of dollars to push your brand, suddenly were caught in the headlines accused of sacking out with underage boys? How about your weight loss queen waking up dead in a hotel room? Or your perfumed rock star undergoing a nervous breakdown in public?

How does American business -- among the most risk-averse managers in the world -- continue to pursue spokespeople with the mental and emotional stability of Jello to promote and associate with their brands? That's like letting Michael Jackson babysit your kid.

Personally, I have no axe to grind with someone shaving their head. But if Britney wanted to Yul Brynner look, why not stay home and have a party in private, out of camera view? I'll tell you why: Because even when they're completely wacked out, totally gone and around the bend, celebrity attention whores still can't get enough attention. Better to get attention while you're spiraling out of control than no attention at all, I suppose.

Everyone is so busy analyzing Britney's mental state. As usual, they're looking in the wrong place. The real mental problems aren't with the celebrities. The real mental problems are with the corporate managers who hire them.

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