It has been a well established cultural observation that an artist is only truly appreciated posthumously. Once gone from the mortal plane, an artist cannot alter his or her trajectory, cannot interrupt the near microscopic analysis of their genius, character and particularly, their flaws.
Amy Winehouse died at the young of 27 in her London home this weekend. She was a very talented woman with penchant for drama and addiction. She is now a member of what is being called the “Forever 27 Club”, a collection of musical artists who died at the same age and whose celebrity has only increased over the years. Books and movies have been dedicated to the members of this club. Analysis of their cultural significance, their untapped genius and peddling of their “unfinished masterpieces” have become a cottage industry.
So what does that have to do with marketing? Well, everything actually. Marketing isn’t purely a business function. Over the course of the last year, I have blogged many times about our own personal brands, be it as artists like Amy Winehouse, businessmen like Rupert Murdoch or as ordinary citizens of the world. We represent ourselves to the world with both our reputation and our personal brand.
Rupert Murdoch is a great example of reputation and brand not reflecting each other until very recently. Murdoch is the powerful CEO of News Corp, which owns newspapers like the now defunct News of the World and television stations like Fox News. The conservatively inclined Murdoch has always been branded as being strong willed and politically mind but his personal reputation was far less flattering, particularly with those politicians and celebrities that Murdoch supposedly pressured and influenced. Here in the US, influence peddling is not a crime in the same way it is in the EU. Lobbying, a function of our governmental system that is solely designed to influence through various “morally ambiguous” means, is illegal in countries like France. Coming back to Murdoch, he was recently questioned before British Parliament when it was brought to light that the now defunct News of the World had actually hacked the phones and voice mails of over 4,000 people, including but no limited to, politicians, celebrities, private citizens, fallen British soldiers, 9/11 victims and the cell phone of a young murder victim. This last case was a particularly egregious breach as messages deleted giving false hope to the victims family when she had already been killed.
Now, in addition to being questioned by Parliament, Murdoch is faced with a branding crisis. News Corp is in the cross hairs of regulators that are making it increasingly difficult for Murdoch grow his empire. Regardless of his involvement in the scandal, he set a climate of permissibility around activities that were clearly immoral and not journalistic. Should Murdoch’s personal brand as a media tycoon and conservative supporter be sullied by the actions of a few at his company? The perils of being the figure head of his company virtually demand it. The failures in his chain of command, which is what we are meant to believe, are still his responsibility, something he has steadfastly refused to acknowledge. As manager of his own brand and that of his company, he is responsible.
And what about Amy Winehouse? Will her brand improve because she can no longer be found stumbling out of clubs or rehab centers? It saddens me to say that yes, I believe it will. Like Janis Joplin before her, her music, her voice and her songwriting will be the only inputs left to speak for her. The tragedies of her personal life and the demons of her addiction will be white washed away to leave room for banal speculation. She won’t be there to influence her brand anymore. At the time of her death, Amy Winehouse had just cancelled a European comeback tour because a drunk and drugged out performance in Belgrade. A poor epitaph for one so talented, though a fitting one for one so tormented.
As for Murdoch, he still has time to alter the course of his brand and likely will (because he’s smart enough to know its important). Personally, I would like to see him take responsibility for the arrogance and viciousness of these acts and to take actual measures to correct them. Both improving his personal reputation and his brand.
The perils of branding is that you don’t have control over it all the time. As marketers, we need to lose this idea that we can somehow make people feel something that is not authentic, feeding them falsehood in any fashion is only to create a situation that not be remedied. As people, our personal brand’s are much the same. We must be sure to construct a brand that reflects the best of ourselves but leaves room for our humanity as well.
- Caroline Reilly