Branding Miley: An Alternate Shot

Last week I posted about personal branding, that intangible quality that sets you apart from your competitors to give people a reason to buy your stuff and not theirs. This week, Miley Cyrus showed us a very off brand side of herself, barely covered in a provocative pose. The Vanity Fair picture stirring up controversy shows the teen singer and actress partially covered with a blanket in a shot that is suggestive of nudity if not fully delivering on that promise.

Celebrities give us an excellent, often extreme example of branding and Disney is a master at differentiating the commodity of Teen Idol. It’s nothing new. The only thing difference now is that they had a tighter rein on Annette Funicello than the pop tarts of today.

Bad Girls Are Good For Business
As Britney and Lindsay floated in and out of rehab and tattooed arms, Miley Cyrus held tight to country values and her good girl image. Cyrus and her alter ego, Hannah Montana, are the biggest thing going at Disney. Parade magazine this month reported her annual income at over $18 million. She’s a cash cow capturing the tween demographic and its huge spending power. But who owns her brand? And do they really expect her to stay clean, or is it all part of a master plan?

Of course Disney’s got to oppose the photos, whether or not the added exposure is good for business. But the truth is little girls don’t stay little forever and if Miley Cyrus wants a career in the future, she’s got to start sexing it up sometime. What she may lose in ten-year-old fans (or rather, their parents’ willingness to continue shelling out for sub-standard role model gear), she will surely gain in the wider consumer base. It worked for Britney and Christina Aguilara. No matter what you think about Britney in that school girl get up, or Christina writhing in the mud, their tarty image makeovers sold music. So, is this lastest stunt by Cyrus really the maiming of a brand or simply it’s inevitable evolution? Tweens turn into teens, who are interested in becoming adults. Maybe this move is calculated not to garner attention, but to bring the current fan base along while gaining new ones.

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A few months back some amateur shots of Miley and a friend in compromising positions accidentally hit the Internet. Looks like the Cyrus camp is trying to have their girl pop out of a the cake and eat it too. At some point this girl is going to be a woman. Then how will she make a living? Because $18 million doesn’t go as far as it used to.

Is Cyrus playing against brand, or taking the next logical step at extending her shelf life?