Publicity is publicity is publicity; laughing all the way to the bank

Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is suing Abercrombie and Fitch for $4 million!  Read the article here.

Frankly, I hope he wins!  But aside from my personal opinion on that, there are important lessons to be learned about marketing and public relations from this story.

Most obviously, we’re reminded that marketing and public relations are ever-evolving fields. This is just a confirmation of a fact we already know, of course. They’re creative sciences. But this whole story has introduced a new concept: the “reverse endorsement.”

Certainly companies get a lot of attention by terminating endorsement deals when a celebrity misbehaves, but I’m not sure anyone had dreamed up the idea of a “reverse endorsement” offer — much less actually executed one — before A&F offered to pay Sitch *not* to wear their clothes on the show Jersey Shore. (Would love to hear if someone had!)

It’s brilliant!  But why? How could asking someone *not* to wear your clothes possibly translate into sales?

Well, the answer may lie in another lesson we’re getting here about the nature of publicity.  It’s fundamentally exactly the same as asking him *to* endorse their clothes.

While it’s not necessarily true that “no publicity is bad publicity,” it is certainly true that negative publicity is still publicity — and infamy is still a variety of fame.  And, infamy can be translated into cash almost as readily as fame. Very clear examples of people who have leveraged their infamy and laughed all the way to the bank are the members of that kooky trifecta from pre-recession 2008 — Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Everyone hated those girls. Everyone complained about how irritating it was that they were famous just for being famous, that they were talentless and/or crazy, and were wildly overexposed — and not just in the sense of media saturation.  But regardless of why, everyone was talking about them. 

And now Paris is at the center of a multi-armed international business. Britney calmed down and made a comeback, even if she is a shadow of her former self and, well, poor Lindsay is still in the news and overexposed. She may not be the best example of success borne of infamy.

But we see the same infamy factor at work here with The Situation. Sure, he’s a tremendous douchebag.  But that is his schtick!  That’s why you know his name! And he already has piles of cash riding on his continued infamy — from product endorsements to personal appearances, not to mention his original vehicle, MTV’s Jersey Shore. And as the above article about the lawsuit mentions, it’s pretty clear that A&F was also trying to capitalize on that infamy and the fact that millions of people know who he is … because he irritates the living daylights out of them en masse.

And this brings me to a corollary of the above laws that we can all use in our daily lives, and especially in our social networks.  If you really despise something and want to see it disappear from public consciousness, don’t mention it to anybody. Mentions pique curiosity — probably even more efficiently when they swim in vitriol than when they float in glowing adulation.  If you hate Twilight, or Shake Weights, or country crossover acts, the last think you should do is bitch about them.  When you say their names you give it power. (and you might want to evaluate why you care so much, actually.) I’m telling you, the only way to kill a meme is to ignore it. Or co-opt it and transform it into something else.

And I suspect everyone knows this, deep down somewhere.  Certainly A&F knew that they weren’t actually trying to distance themselves from The Situation — they were invoking him, and hoping to increase positive perceptions of their brand by jumping on the anti-Sitch bandwagon. And since they stand to profit, I think he should get paid for the use of his name and brand. So pay up, A&F!

And if you want The Situation to go away…shhh.  Don’t say his name. If you say it three times in a row he comes to your town and signs bottles of vodka!



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