I’ve Drunk the Tiger Blood Before
Just when you thought the blogosphere was at maximum capacity for another Charlie Sheen point of view, I’m throwing my own tiger blood into the fray. Truth is, having created partnerships for brands with a host of celebrities and athletes over the years, I am fascinated with Mr. Sheen and equally fascinated with America’s fascination with the story. But I’m hardly surprised.
You see, I’ve seen this script before. In fact, I helped write it at the time. Just a few years ago, as chief of marketing and PR at a national retail chain, we hit marketing gold by creating a low-cost, high-quality sneaker for the masses with NBA bad boy Stephon Marbury. Then a member of the NY Knicks, Steph had (most of) the ingredients you want in a celeb partner: he worked/lived in the media capital of the world, he drew press like moths to a flame, and – having grown up in a family that couldn’t afford to buy him “Jordans” all the time – he had an authentic story to tell about why the world needed a cool-yet-inexpensive sneaker. (Ours, which Steph wore on-court during NBA games, cost just $14.) Yeah, we could’ve gone with a safer choice. But Steph brought an authentic message to the table…that was key. In fact, it was so important that we overlooked the negatives. And there were quite a few. He was unpredictable. He was at war with his coach. And he was prone to outlandish TV interviews that were analyzed by on-air psychologists. (Sound familiar?)
The result of our partnership was nothing short of incredible. With a campaign fueled exclusively by social media and PR, the Starbury brand became one of the biggest marketing stories of the year, and arguably changed the sneaker business forever. Within weeks of a launch that saw thousands of customers wait hours in line just for a pair of $14 kicks, virtually every major sneaker company introduced their own entry-level offerings in our category.
Suffice to say, Charlie Sheen’s exploits bring back a lot of memories for me. They also remind me of a few valuable lessons. First, celebrity sells every time, especially when you have to rely on earned media to spread your word. Second, celebrity sells better when their message is authentic. And as we’re seeing, it doesn’t matter whether the message is sad or noble. If it’s real, we’ll pay attention.