Politics + Pop = One Messed-up Brand

britney-spears-pap-crashOf all the stories this week, the part of my brain hard-wired for branding is most obsessed with House Minority Whip’s Eric Cantor’s dilemma. On the night of President Obama’s speech, Cantor attended a Britney Spears concert.

I know exactly what you are thinking. He’s going to risk his reputation over a damaged brand? Yes. I said it out loud. No matter what your political views, no matter what your taste is in music, you have to admit, there are safer musical acts for which one can, um, screw the pooch. And hey, that is not a slur against Ms. Spears’ looks. I’m talking in euphemisms here, folks.

If I could alter time, I’d like to see how the scene would play out if Cantor went to a Garth Brooks concert. Garth is a good old-boy loved by millions, and relatively scandal free. He didn’t shave his head because he went wild; he shaved it because he lost his hair and it was a style choice. Or, imagine if Cantor had gone to a concert of my personal favorite—-yes, I’m going to bring him up again:  Bruce Springsteen. Had that been the case, I would have argued that Cantor had great musical taste and who wouldn’t chose a Springsteen show over a Presidential speech? Had Bruce been playing that night, I would not hesitate one second to go to that show.  To see Springsteen live transcends mere politics! Just ask any Republican Springsteen fan who sat through the boss’s in-concert bashing of Bush. While the conservative fans didn’t like it, they shrugged it off when the band broke into “Prove it All Night.” After all, it’s only rock-n-roll, but we like it.

The big question is not what I’d do, but what would the media do if Cantor had gone to see a different artist, one whose name is taken a bit more seriously? Would they launch a blitz on the Power of Brook’s charm or the Obsession of Springsteen fans? Would they paint both artists as so alluring that a Republican Senator risked ridicule to go to their show? Or would the media simply leave the story alone? After all, Bruce and Garth–and for that matter, most everyone, are no Britney Spears and all the negative media associated with her brand. Yes, I’ve heard she’s staged a comeback, but it was just less than a year ago that they were wheeling her out of her home on a stretcher and she was smiling all crazy and babbling. Do you want to align your brand with that image or say, Sheryl Crow, a breast cancer survivor and fundraiser.

It’s all about brand. If I could ask Cantor one question, it wouldn’t be, “do you have any regrets about going to the show?” It would be, “do you have any regrets about going to that show?” To put it in marketing terms, it’s like St. John (the clothing line loved by famous conservatives such as Nancy Reagan) aligning with, say, the more trampy, yet nonetheless beloved, Ed Hardy.

All the other implications aside that “Cantor blew off the Prez,” don’t you wonder why, after Britney just finished having such a horrible time in the media, Cantor would go to her show? I am aware that there was a fundraising aspect to it, but my word, there are plenty of fundraisers to attend.

And again, I go back to, how would the press respond? Wouldn’t the story change with each star? What if he skipped the speech for Beyonce? Madonna? Or Elton John? Imagine the feel of the whole scandal had he gone to a Bette Midler concert. My personal favorite in this alternate-world scenario: The Jonas Brothers. Scandal? What scandal?

Every artist has their own feel, their own brand. It is what helps them sell records or get publicity. I say that Cantor’s attendance at a Spears concert is akin to putting up a drunken midnight “update” on Facebook. By the way, in case you think that is something you may eventually do, select the Private Profile option.

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