February 04, 2014

Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber: One Should Be Your Branding Role Model

by Stites & Harbison, PLLC


[caption id="attachment_1308" align="alignright" width="240"]

Justin Bieber Mugshot Front1
This is not an example of good management of a brand that markets its services to children.[/caption]

It is not uncommon for companies to rebrand. Market forces, an outdated image, a bad reputation, new competition, and even your own success can force you to rebrand your business. Trademarks almost always evolve to meet the fashion of the times. Some companies, like Comcast (now xfinity), change their name entirely. Rebranding is an expensive and dangerous process that should be engaged in carefully and deliberately. The recent exploits of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are a cautionary tale.

It should come as no surprise that your business should not (allegedly) get drunk, (allegedly) smoke marijuana, then (allegedly) race a rented Lamborghini down a public street. What is surprising, however, is that dancing all up on Robin Thicke on national television while doing unspeakable things with a foam finger might be exactly what your business needs to do to solidify its place with a new demographic.

Unless you live under a rock (and that rock has no internet access), you have heard more than you want to hear about the recent transformations of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Miley, daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, gained her notoriety playing Hannah Montana on the hit Disney television-show-turned-multimedia-empire of the same name. Justin, on the other hand, has more of a grass roots success story (that's the story, at least). While the two stars' brands have different origins, they have the same target demographic: pre-teen girls. The problem intrinsic in entertaining this demographic relates to the fact that people (even celebrities) age. There is no universe in which a thirty-five year old Bieber will be singing pop songs to arenas of screaming twelve year old girls. So, these brands must evolve to adapt to the unavoidable changes in the services they render. In other words, Miley and Bieber have aged, and their brands must change to accommodate their transition to adulthood.

This is exactly what Miley Cyrus has done. She has identified a new target demographic, and has pursued that demographic as unapologetically as she did the pre-teen demographic as Hannah Montana. She has intentionally alienated her former demographic to endear her to her new demographic. This is her marketing judo move: the more you (person reading trademark law blog) hate the new Miley Cyrus, the more her new, rebellious (non-trademark-law-blog-reading) demographic loves her. Her marketing goal is to distance herself from Hannah Montana and no one can stop talking about how different she is than Hannah Montana. This is genius-level marketing and an excellent example of extreme rebranding.

Bieber's exploits, however, are not the product of an intentional strategy to rebrand a boy-star as a man-star. Unlike Miley, his change in behavior is not perfectly orchestrated with a change in the style of his music. Bieber is just poorly managing his brand. His product has not changed. His target demographic has not changed. Yet, he repeatedly acts outside the brand he promises and his most devoted customers have come to expect. Thus, it is unfair to compare Miley and Justin's recent behavior. A better comparison is Bieber's recent behavior and UPS's uncharacteristic failure to deliver large numbers of packages on time this Christmas. UPS failed to account for the holiday volume. Bieber's business team failed to account for the fact nineteen year old boys are invariably nutzo (I sure was). The failures are the same in that they both failed to deliver on the promises of their brand.

Miley Cyrus is an excellent example of adapting a brand to accommodate the unavoidable changes in the product. Bieber is an excellent example of failing to adapt a brand to account for those same unavoidable changes. The takeaway? I can't believe I'm saying this: Smart businesses behave like Miley Cyrus.

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