—David Mitchel, Chief Marketing Officer, Norton Mitchel Marketing
The ongoing saga of Charlie Sheen has been quite odd. He demanded a pay raise and made inflammatory comments about his boss, Two and a Half Men Executive Producer Chuck Lorre, which led to Two and a Half Men shutting down production for the rest of the season. He later made rather unusual comments in an ABC interview, amongst others.
This melodrama has raised his public profile. On March 1, Sheen started a Twitter account. In less than 24 hours, he got 1 Million followers. The Guinness Book of World Records confirmed that Sheen was the fastest to reach 1 Million followers and he is still accumulating followers quickly.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that Sheen’s antics would have destroyed his abilities to be an effective product endorser. The conventional wisdom is correct to a certain extent. I do not expect to see Sheen endorsing branded products in the traditional media space. In recent years, he had an endorsement contract with Hanes, but that deal ended after the domestic violence incident in late 2009.
All is not lost for Sheen’s endorsement potential. He has the opportunity to capitalize on his Twitter following. His rapid rise in followers has already gotten the attention of one brand, the Just Chill beverage brand. Just Chill has offered Sheen a $3 Million endorsement contract. The endorsement deal has certain stipulations that Sheen must adhere to. The social media space represents the newest opportunity for branded products to use celebrity endorsement.
Brands have shown willingness to engage in endorsement contracts via Twitter. Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan are examples of celebrities that have Twitter based endorsement contracts. Kardashian collects nearly $10,000 per tweet of a branded product and her price is getting higher by the minute. Kardashian has mentioned brands such as Quick Trim, Sketchers and Midori Liqueur on her Twitter page. One website has called her “The Queen of Endorsements” and offers an extensive list of her product endorsements. Lindsay Lohan has promoted coupons/gift cards on Twitter and is an interested case study for Charlie Sheen. Like Sheen, Lohan has faced scandals. Despite scandal, there has been interest in Twitter based endorsement.
Based on his behavior, Sheen probably will not be offered a Twitter based endorsement deal from a major brand for at least the next year despite his major following. Even in the digital space, he represents far too big of a risk for the public perception of a brand. Other recently tarnished celebrities have had challenges in brand endorsements. Tiger Woods lost a number of endorsements from his scandal, but remained under contract to Nike. Michael Vick has regained endorsers after his release from prison, but they have been with smaller brands. A brand looking to raise its profile could be interested in linking with Sheen in the digital space and there is no shortage of these types of brands.
With celebrity endorsement, the key to success is an alignment between the celebrity endorser and the branded product. When thinking about Charlie Sheen, it is difficult to think of a case of strong alignment. He’s known for his partying ways and a Hugh Hefner esque lifestyle. Hugh Hefner has had endorsements before, such as this one for Stoli vodka, but his public perception differs from Sheen’s. Based on Sheen’s history with substance usage, I don’t think that major alcohol brands would be interested. Even though Jimmy Fallon made a Winning Fragrance ad imitating Charlie Sheen, I can’t imagine a major fragrance brand linking with Sheen.
The recent string of unusual events in Sheen’s life doesn’t spell the end of his acting career or his product endorsement capabilities. There’s a need for him to make changes to his behavior and keep those changes in place for a significant period of time. Other celebrities have bounced back from more devastating circumstances, often involving the threat of lengthy prison sentences. Kobe Bryant went from having sexual assault charges filed against him in 2003-04 as a result of an extramarital affair to making $16 Million a year in endorsements by 2007. Today, he is still a desirable product endorser. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder investigation and was able to secure endorsements after his plea agreement. His endorsements have included Under Armour and Old Spice. Both Bryant and Lewis have stayed out of trouble over a number of years, and that’s exactly what Charlie Sheen will need to do, not only to be a desired commodity as a product endorser, but also to continue to secure high profile acting roles.