Nothing wrong with a brand behaving badly when his name is Charlie Sheen.

June 11, 2010

bad and loving it…

I don’t like Charlie Sheen. I never have and I probably never will. And I’m guessing he’s okay with that. Actually, I’m not guessing. I’m certain of it. Because Charlie Sheen has built a masterful brand for himself based on being unequivocally un-likeable, playing “cocky screw-ups with a dark side.”

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Jennifer Armstrong wonders and answers why Sheen, for all his uncouth and downright harmful behavior (to himself and others), manages not only to be “scandal-proof” but “TV’s highest-paid actor on a No. 1 sitcom.”

The answer is obvious but none-the-less fascinating, especially in light of other fallen celebrities who are struggling to get up. Can you say Tiger Woods? A long time ago, Armstrong points out, Sheen made a decision to take on roles that favor his natural tendencies as a white, male, American fuck-up. Unlike Woods, who aspired to be the great American role model, Sheen wisely chose characters that suited him: a skirt-chasing mayor on Spin City and jerk womanizer on Two and a Half Men. Fittingly, both these characters are named Charlie.

In advertising parlance we label this brand authenticity. By being a dirty, rotten scoundrel, the brand, Charlie Sheen is staying true to himself. His brand equity grows with each malfeasance.

Therefore, when Charlie is outed as Heidi Fleiss’ best customer or, worse yet, goes fight club on his soon-to-be ex-wife Brooke Mueller (on Christmas Day no less), his vast array of fans merely chalk it up to bad behavior. If anything, his men behaving badly routine has become an expectation of his public, like when rock stars do drugs, get busted, over and over and over again. We still buy the music. We still watch the shows.

Fact is, when cultivated properly, dark sides make for enduring and lucrative brands. Charlie Sheen is a perfect example. He’ll probably go to jail this summer but you’ll be watching him in the fall.

Thankfully, bad guys can become good guys and stay popular as well. And not just in pro wrestling. Robert Downey Jr. did it. And penchant for smoking dope aside, so did Snoop Dog.

There is no lesson here, no moral to this story. Good and not so good are fraternal, existing side by side, gleefully and lucratively in Hollywood, on Madison Avenue and in real life.

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8 Responses to “Nothing wrong with a brand behaving badly when his name is Charlie Sheen.”

  1. Madison said

    I think there is close to zero emotional involvement when it comes to the public’s relationship with Charlie. People just do not care who he is THUS whatever he does it won’t change their opinion of him/trust they put in BECAUSE there is NOTHING to be affected by his behavor…

    The viewing audience’s indifference goes as far as not perceiving him to be a bad character we love to hate e.g. Spencer and Heidi or Rush L.

    What I find fascinating is the ‘dislike’ that some feel to people who, like Charlie, are quite brand consistent AND YET somehow they touch the exposed nerve in the public: most notable examples: Sarah Palin (or Snooki, who I always call Sarah Palin of pop culture) .

    I think it is rooted in the fact that hating/being outraged about Paris or TIger gives a viewer a chance to self-identify/promote his/her values to the world: ‘Look how much smarter I AM than Personality X ‘ – you cannot say that in case w/Charlie…

    It also has to be said that I’d LOVE to have Charlie’s agent manage MY career….

    • SRP said

      Once again, you’ve demonstrated keen analysis of a situation. Charlie Sheen does not deserve it!
      Keep coming back!

  2. owen said

    yeah, sometimes it just seems that if one is in the public eye, one is accepted. serial killers in their orange jumpsuits are given fifteen minutes on 60 minutes – and as we watch, we see a psychopath become a spokesperson for serial killers. maybe one could say once a brand becomes a brand it is “on the shelf.” and once something is “on the shelf,” it’s OK. it may not be my brand today but, because it’s on the shelf, one day, someday, it could be. once an individual crosses over to become a public figure, “nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.”

  3. jim schmidt said

    people really aren’t brands, are they? that’s kind of a depressing thought. we are far more complex than something like mcdonald’s or kraft.

    • SRP said

      my God, Jim. People think they are brands for sure, each one sending out messages via their wardrobe, affiliations, accomplishments, defeats, Facebook profiles, Twitter, Flicker and the rest. It’s crazy, sad but all too real.

  4. jim schmidt said

    stef, real people don’t do that stuff. ad people do. actors do. you’re talking mostly about narcissists who crave attention. commoditizing humans like laundry detergent is the very thing people such as marlon brando, john lennon bill hicks, and david foster wallace fought against. you can say lennon had a brand if you want to simplify his life through your lens, but what was it–heroin addict, beatle, father, peacenik, musician? it gets hard to “brand” complex people.

  5. I do not know if people can really be brands, but I think if people e.g. actors, directors, writers etc. have a product then they NEED to promote that product. That Kevin Costner saying from “Field of Dreams” is only partly true: “if you build it they will come.” Instead, the saying needs to be: “if you build it then promote it, promote it, promote it.” Otherwise, you will get lost in the crowd.

    In my opinion, Charlie Sheen is someone who knows how to turn a bad boy image into something noteworthy. What do people talk about – things that are normal, average, common, or something that is controversial? Charlie continues to be controversial in to his 50s and that is what people want to talk about (sex, cheating, scandal). Plus, Sheen has talent, which does not hurt publicity.

    My .02:)


    PS: The two things people like to talk about most are: 1) themselves and 2) other people!

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