Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Charlie Sheen and CBS

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Brand Winner… And Loser…



Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: 

Winner:  Charlie Sheen

Loser:  CBS




Folks, Charlie Sheen really is “winning.”

He won a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest to surpass the million-follower mark on Twitter.

He has won round-the-clock attention from the media for more than a week.

He has won admiration from people who are tired of media spin and found his direct answers to interview questions refreshing.

He is liked by many twenty-somethings –really liked, because he is perceived as standing up to the suits and authority.

His success has revealed that the public has a powerful taste for the unscripted in an age when celebrities and notables of all stripes are supposed to be slaves to the publicist-controlled gerbil wheel of brand-damage control.

Most of all, Sheen came across as funny.  Very funny.  The media came across like scolds trying to pull down a force of nature.  Sheen really did seem like he had tiger blood in him.

All of this has translated into huge interest in the Sheen brand, the kind of interest that stars, television shows and movies are hard-pressed to generate, especially in this ever-more fractured media environment.                                                                                         

The predictions of doom for the Sheen brand can be traced to two basic mistakes.

The first mistake is this.  Many people are confusing the Person with the Personality. 

In terms of brands, the person is who Charlie Sheen really is, but the personality is the image that he has crafted over the years.  The personality is the excellent actor and the career bad boy who people love to see on both big and small screen. 

This part of the Sheen package is possibly stronger than ever.  His behavior, despicable though it may be, has re-enforced the brand in people’s minds. 

What this guy does from a personal perspective might be terrible, but what matters here from a personality brand perspective is that he is perceived as a rogue. 

He was not cast in Two-And-A-Half Men because he had a reputation as a choir boy.  The perception of Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise going off the deep end hurt those personality brands, but there is no reason to think the same holds true for Sheen who never inspired the same expectations that Gibson and Cruise did.

The second mistake is confusing a momentary interruption in the distribution chain (i.e., he has been kicked off his show) for a permanent one. 

Sure, if you’ve got a winning product that you can’t get onto the shelves then eventually this is going to hurt the product’s popularity.

But as long as you can find a way around the distribution problem, then the brand can still thrive by finding a way to the people who like the brand.

Sheen has this kind of short-term problem – not a long-term one, and definitely not a career-killing one.

The issue then is ensuring that the personality reaches the Target Market that loves him.  These are the people who thought he was great in Two-And-A-Half Men and the even bigger audience who have admired his recent nose-thumbing at the status quo.

My sense is that the right producer and the right network can solve the Sheen distribution problem in a heartbeat and go on to make a killing from a brand new show packaged for this market that millions will devour.

The only downside here is that Sheen’s spike in popularity shares a lot of the characteristics with the trajectory of a fad. 

Initially, the public can’t get enough of a fad.  Then, usually because of poor brand management, they’ve had enough and you can’t give away what you used to be able to sell.

Corporate brands are usually smart enough to either ride the fad profitably and then let it die or control it so that the brand stays around for a while.  Fad Brand control is all about pacing, you don’t want to completely feed the appetite or be too available. 

Many fads –think Frisbee— were able to ride the initial wave of “I can’t get enough of this thing” to become mature brands.

But personal brands –think celebrities— usually fail when it comes to managing the fad trajectory.  Betty White handled her popular resurgence well, understanding how to ride the fad wave to more work and a new generation of admirers.  But she’s a professional who understands fever-pitched popularity never lasts.  William Shatner is the same.  Both simply keep working no matter what and accept that there will be a time when their public is just not as interested in them as it used to be.


Sheen has been in show business a long time too, but he’s definitely taking a risk with recent, over-exposing moves.

His Sheen’s Corner, the live-streaming video he did over the weekend is an example of the risk of a celebrity believing in himself too much… thinking that everything he touches will inevitably turn to gold.   The problem is that even his so-called rants were edited in short interviews with the media so that his best and funniest lines jumped out.  There’s nothing like unedited video footage to make anyone look like a hostage-taker or a cult leader.  And Charlie Sheen is no exception.

Bottom line, Sheen needs to pull back from the public eye right now. 

If he “goes silent,” just watch as his brand comes back stronger than ever.


I’ll keep this short.

For all the reasons above, CBS has made a terrible mistake.

They are letting a great brand slip away.

You can almost hear the old Hollywood-mogul, cigar-chomping bravado: Sheen will never work in this town again.

The only problem is that it’s a much bigger, much harder to control media landscape today.  Chances are Sheen will work again and CBS will be left scrambling to find a show that fills this valuable lost time slot.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 

A great brand must have the right distribution to succeed.

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