This hasn’t been a good week for the celebrity product hawking industry. First there was Michael Phelps and the case of the bubbling bong. Now the brand called Chris Brown is under fire after allegations that the suave R&B singer Chris Brown left bruises on his girlfriend pop singer Rihanna Sunday night before the Grammys.
Advertising Age has just reported Brown’s first endorsement fall-out from an alleged crime that makes Phelps look like a choir boy in comparison: Wrigley suspended its TV ad starring Brown and his top-10 hit song “Forever.” Said the company in a statement, “We have made the decision to suspend the current advertising featuring Brown and any related marketing communications until the matter is resolved.”
Right now I imagine adman Steve Stoute is probably frantically pacing his Midtown penthouse office. Last year the former record exec (now founder of Interpublic’s Translation Advertising, whose partner is Jay-Z) brokered the deal between Brown and the gum company to finance Brown’s “Forever” song, which is covertly embedded with Doublemint slogans (“double your pleasure, double your fun” Brown sensually croons).
When I met with Stoute last year he made it clear he saw himself pioneering a new model between brands and bands. However when the musical bait and switch was revealed last summer (there’s really a corporation behind this song!), the strategy backfired: many saw the deal as a deceptively lame attempt by a company trying to co-opt culture and an artist selling out.
Now, of course, the strategy has really backfired. Wrigleys will probably go into hibernation mode, recovering from the shock of making such a bad bet on a personality. Between Brown and Phelps, brand managers across Madison Avenue are being reminded that even glossy celebs–who in marketing are typically regarded as expensive, but safe and efficient–are probably more dicey now than throwing their budgets into some Alternate Reality Game.
As for Stoute, who Business Week deemed the “McKinsey of Pop Culture,” if he can find any solace in this, he’s probably just thanking his lucky stars he didn’t convince any of his other clients to hire Christian Bale as their poster boy. Now that would have been one crappy week.