Brands have always been careful about which celebrities they associate with. Morals clauses in endorsement contracts allow companies to instantly sever ties with anyone who behaves “inappropriately.” These things aren’t going away, and they shouldn’t. Many brands, even most brands, need to make sure they don’t get in bed (so to speak) with the wrong influencers. Influencers like Jeremy Meeks who might project an image that the brand’s audience disapproves of.
But here’s the thing. Today’s audiences don’t seem to care much.
We could spend all day discussing the hows and whys of this cultural shift. In a not-too-distant past, something like a leaked sex tape or a conviction for a violent crime would quickly land someone on the no-no list for most marketers and brands. Today’s culture celebrates controversy and “bad” behavior, though, and up to a certain point the old adage is true: there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Kim Kardashian and Pari Hilton both used sex tapes as part of their rise to fame, and both have been extremely successful with the brands they represent and their audiences. Ms. K is one of the most recognized and influential figures on the planet, and her more notorious beginnings only add to her allure and her marketing power.
Jeremy Meeks had even more notorious beginnings. Now a model and mega influencer on Instagram and other platforms, the only reason Meeks is famous are his prior arrests for assault and theft. His mugshot was pretty enough to go viral, and Meeks has found post-prison life a pretty sweet deal. How long he and the brands willing to back him can ride this out remains to be seen, but one thing’s clear—his fans love him, and there are millions of them.
There are, of course, many brands that refuse to have anything to do with Meeks, even though he’s a key influencer in sought-after demographics. That’s a choice every brand needs to make with each and every influencer they associate themselves with, and there’s no universal right answer. As society starts accepting and even celebrating notoriety, though, brands willing to align themselves with that type of influencer might find themselves at a distinct advantage.
At least until the cultural tides turn again, and the level of notoriety consumers will tolerate drops back down. With everything changing at the speed of social media, there’s no telling how soon that might be.