19 May 2006

The burden of being a brand

It’s not easy being a brand. A brand carries a lot of responsibility. Since so much of branding is about creating emotions in the hearts and minds of consumers, being a brand can really become a burden. Particularly so, if the brand happens to be a person.

That’s right, brands are not always goods or services. Or even ideas. Brands can be people too. Like, for instance, a Madonna or a Britney Spears. Whereas Madonna had to create and re-create herself over the years to remain the brand she is – a pop icon and a diva, in spite of being a 47-year-old material-girl mom – to steal the hearts of teenagers as well as adults, Britney Spears seems to be having trouble managing her brand. Sales of her albums have fallen drastically and her songs are no longer on the top of the charts.

But it has not always been like this for Britney. Her debut album ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ went straight to number one position in 1998 and sold 27 million copies worldwide. Her next album ‘Oops!... I Did It Again’, released in 2000, did just as well, selling another 20 million. She has many music awards to her name, and nominations galore. She has written many of her songs, co-written two books along with her mother, starred in movies, become a restaurateur. In 2003, Forbes magazine called her ‘the most powerful celebrity in the world’. VH1 named her ‘Woman of the Century’.

In 2002, Britney’s name was the most-searched-for of all the entertainers on the Internet. And on 19 February 2001, Encyclopaedia Britannica was forced to shut down its website when more than 17 million people logged on to see the first picture of Britney Spears’ pierced bellybutton which Britiannica.com had published. I had received a news commentary on this the next day, and have reproduced it here as it makes interesting reading. Sorry I can’t remember the source of the article now, but I used to be a subscriber of Britannica.com, so perhaps...

A navel idea

The naked midriff of pop princess Britney Spears managed to cause a major web jam for a whole month after record numbers of users attempted to download an image of the singer’s pierced belly button.

In a bid to make itself more attractive to the young and trendy generation, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online ran a feature on “the semiotics of Britney Spears’s belly button” which was meant to “explore how the cultural significance of belly buttons has changed over time by focusing on Britney as a cultural icon.”

But once news got round that the article was accompanied by a picture of the star’s navel, more than 17 million people attempted to log on to the site over the last month to download a copy of the photo, eventually locking up the site’s web servers.

The Britannica article described Britney’s belly button as “not strictly sexual, but, like Spears herself, not that innocent either.” It added later that the pierced navel is “a heated boundary between baby and babe.”

Duh? And you thought…..

Britney Spears had a fair amount of success thereafter with the release of several albums, tours and performances, brand sponsorships and endorsements (Tommy Hilfiger, Pepsi, Mattel and AOL to name a few), launch of fragrances (‘Curious’, ‘Fantasy’ and ‘In Control’ from Elizabeth Arden), affairs, engagements, marriages and motherhood. And, of course, through her official website
www.britneyspears.com. But nothing topped the charts like it did before. She no longer sold millions of copies of music.

Once a teen pop idol (according to MTV, Britney Spears was the driving force behind the return of teen pop music), a sex symbol (a unique combination of teen, sex and virginity), and a media star (regardless of what she was or wasn’t doing), Britney Spears is now suspended in her career at the age of 25 – around the same age that Madonna achieved her fame in the early eighties. Can she re-create herself as Madonna did?

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