Wednesday, June 03, 2009

When Fame Bites

Is your brand ready for fame? Fame in all its incarnations: from glory to gory? When you put yourself out there you may think that a little fame is exactly what you're seeking. But as fast as your personal brand and reputation can be built up, it can all come crashing down.

I'm thinking about this as the headlines swoop by for "real" people caught in the reality of a 24/7 news cycle. You've probably been reading about them. Jon. Kate (and their Plus 8). Nadya Suleman, now forever known as Octomom. Susan Boyle - the Scottish singing sensation and internet darling. Their backgrounds are different, but the cycles are frighteningly similar.

For Jon and Kate Gosselin, it took a couple of years to ramp up their notoriety. It started with a special on Discovery Health when their twin daughters were about four and their sextuplets (3 boys and 3 girls) were about 18 months old, and then short season episodes until TLC took over the show as ratings climbed. Expanded seasons of their TLC reality show, book tours and appearances on Oprah, Dr. Phil, the morning news shows followed until the huge promotable event (could it really be just last August?) of their renewed wedding vows at a resort in Hawaii. Less than six months later, we have nonstop coverage of alleged infidelity, child labor law complaints and rumors of divorce. There's a saying that no publicity is bad publicity, but this family might differ.

For Nadya Suleman, it started with a medical miracle: eight babies surviving birth in a California hospital. A story like this is usually slam dunk positive news. But the tide turned quickly, when it was revealed the single mom had six other young children, no job and no real place to live. Now there are reports that Suleman has signed a contract for a reality show. Oh, and there's an Octomom Vs. Kate Gosselin gossip fight. When did we first hear about Nadya Suleman? Just six months ago. January 2009.

When it comes to Susan Boyle, the cycle turned even more quickly. Her amazing audition for Britain's Got Talent became an instant hit on YouTube. (Yes, I'm linking you there because it's still one of the best videos ever.) How's April 11th strike you? Weeks later, backlash because she got the tiniest of makeovers. And then she was caught on camera cursing paparazzi, and there was even doubt that she'd be able to perform on the final show. But she did, bravely, and came in second -- with class. That was Saturday night, May 30th. Now we're hearing she may have learning disabilities after being admitted to a clinic for exhaustion. That was Sunday, May 31st. Just seven weeks ago, the only people who knew Susan Boyle were her neighbors and friends in Scotland. Seven weeks.

You may think these examples don't apply to your business or your spokesperson because you don't represent a reality show. But the speed of the Internet coupled with the word of mouth amplification we're seeing through social media could make you an overnight sensation -- of the good or bad kind.

Remember Motrin Moms? How about the KFC grilled chicken coupon? Burger King's Facebook "unfriending" campaign? These campaigns hit sour notes within days.

Fame usually comes with positive connotations. When it takes a wrong turn, you're headed straight for notoriety.

Have you had a brush with fame or notoriety? How did you handle it?

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