Tarnishing of a Brand — R. Kelly
4 Ways To Avoid Personal Brand Destruction
In 1999, I saw R. Kelly’s name, and knew whatever followed was going to be a hit.
In 2019, I see R. Kelly’s name, and don’t want to support anything to which his name is attached.
R. Kelly is a manifestation of 52-year-old Robert Kelly, yet I believe most would agree that the brand equity in R. Kelly is subzero, as any integrity left in his personal brand has been nearly annihilated. The R. Kelly brand as a musician is #Tarnished. #ForeverAltered.
The allegations against Kelly are very serious, so I will not address them in this piece.
As a marketer and intense music lover, the R. Kelly fiasco prompted me to evaluate this situation as a brand case study on how people with personal brands can avoid this type of self-destruction.
- Be clear about who you are and what you offer
When the R. Kelly brand launched, it presented the world a phenomenal singer, songwriter, producer and hitmaker who we all loved for his baby-making music. Through his lyrics, Kelly was pretty clear regarding not seeing anything wrong with sexual trysts e.g., “I Like The Crotch On You,” “Bump N’ Grind.” And while close, he wasn’t straight up selling porn and sexual abuse. Heck to balance it all out, Kelly threw in a little inspiration with “I Believe I Can Fly,” (’96) and a love song to his native city with the Chicago Steppers Anthem “Step In The Name of Love” (’03). So, we fans embraced him for musically articulating our dreams, fantasies and secret thoughts as well.
It does stand to note that Kelly’s obsessions with sex grew more explicit over time, e.g. Black Panties (’13) from his initial albums from the 90s. So we as a public bought into him as a great musician. The unfoldings over the past few years would have been less tragic if Kelly’s brand was selling sexual abuse and degradation of women publicly. Sure, him selling such wouldn’t have gotten him as far, but, it may have been aligned with his inner personal brand for him.
2. Seek alignment.
If your personal brand is vastly different from the public brand you want to purport, seek alignment. Do what is necessary to bridge the gap, make the investment to grow or discipline yourself to eliminate things which are contrary to what you want to offer or be perceived as. Period. The job of a brand is to sell a solid offering, and be consistent. The job of a consumer is to consume. If you present the offering consistently enough, consumers will buy into it. Why risk the backlash of your truth coming out, which is misaligned and having your customers abandon you? (take note, Kelly, Cosby, etc.)
3. Be discreet, especially if misalignment.
Personal brands are different from product brands in that the brand is a human being. Personal inclinations and interests which are different from and even contrary to your public brand proposition ABSOLUTELY must remain private. If there are things you like to do, which don’t collude with your brand, keep it on the low low people. And note that the inner circle you choose to trust with personal interest/trysts, must be vetted and tried and true.
4. Know that you are not infallible.
People choose you. When you go too far and disprove their trust, they can choose again. Money, fame and power can delude many to believe that they can do anything, get away with anything and treat people in any way. Not so.
Just as people chose you, they can choose again. And when I think about R&B singers, I feel like there are plenty of other brand choices that don’t degrade women, e.g. Joe, Mario, Brian McKnight, Carl Thomas, Charlie Wilson, Jaheim, Keith Washington (boy do I love him), need I go on?
I have many good memories living in Chicago in the ’90s riding down Lake Shore Drive or Highway 290 listening to R. Kelly (12 Play (’93) and Born Into The 90s w/Public Announcement (‘92). Like many, I actually loved his music, not always the lyrics, but the compositions were beautiful and unparalleled by many in music at that time, hence him being sought after for collabs by Celine Dion and Lady Gaga, among others.
Your talent will only take you so far. If you are lucky enough to establish a public brand that people buy into, fiercely protect it.
Keep all the shenaniganry on the low. Doing so is critical for your longevity and livelihood.
Olivia F. Scott, Marketing Strategist/Consultant/Adjunct @ NYU-SCPS(www.omergealliances.com)