Last week on Oprah, MacKenzie Phillips launched her new personal brand. She is the self-dubbed, new face of “consensual incest,” according to Sunday’s New York Times.
I won’t guess what reaction you’re having to MacPhil’s latest attempt to spin a lifetime of addiction and dereliction into an Oprah book bestseller (featured for ratings, not endorsed for your book club). At least consider the effort a stroke of branding genius.
First, she set up her defense team’s argument for TV cameras being permitted in the courtroom for the trial on her latest drug arrest. As a public service, her situation could be framed as a “teachable moment” for parents and children who have gone way beyond breaching the missive that parents should be parents and not friends (especially not friends with benefits).
Because I am a former marketing executive with the world’s #1 brand, I’m particularly taken with La Phillip’s hoary “reinvention” brand strategy. Thank aging heavyweights Madonna and Cher for pioneering a century of superb repackaging and unintentional self-lampooning. Sum up the years of the careers of these spackled and taut divas with their astonishing trophies of tiny bottoms spandexed onto fishnet hose peek-a-booing relentlessly dancing legs, and 100 years doesn’t actually cover their long and winding if withered clutch on international fame.
Your market place
Of course, for personal and real brands, the pervasive challenge is to define a unique position in a developed market place. Almost no “space” is vacant and lying fallow these days, leaving room for a new brand to gain the first mover advantage. Yet, the benefits of first mover advantage are inarguable, if expensive and transitory. Think of some of the first mover icons in real and personal brands: Microsoft, Eva Peron, Apple and Sarah Palin.
In personal brands, even the celebrity “mean girl” space is cluttered, as it is in every high school, proving that art imitates life. Heidi, Lindsay, whomever Lindsay breaks up with and Perez Hilton are among about 25 top contestants for icon of that brand personality. By contrast, Natalie Portman holds steady with her promise as educated, beautiful and the least celebrated of all celebrity personal brand promises: civilized.
First mover advantage
For the same reason that Snapple cramps the style of Sweet Leaf Tea, competition from a current brand in the category is the reason why Mackenzie has to settle for being the “new” face of consensual incest.
Unfortunately for her, the same Sunday New York Times article points out that another woman already owns the first mover advantage in the category. That would be the author Kathryn Harrison, who broke ground in her 1997 memoir, “The Kiss,” detailing her own dance with the “devil as my father.”
The potential for Mackenzie’s differentiation is that Harrsion’s father lived to voice his “outrage” and Harrison enjoys a real but also storybook ending with a loving husband and children living happily ever after with her. There’s also a reunification with her complicit mother who becomes beloved to the author! If that’s not enough yuck factor for you, read the book. There’s plenty more including scenes with her gynecologist, so have soda crackers ready to settle your stomach.
By contrast in Phillips family, dad is dead and stepmothers stay storybook wicked. A bevy of Phillips wives claw over each other to say the man they all bedded “would never.” And, not one to miss a co-branding opportunity: savvy half-sister Chynna gives the round to Mackenzie, and surprise-surprise boasts the good fortune of timing the release of her new CD with her sibling’s confessional accusation. There’s even room in the brand blowout for Bijou, who is approaching actress hump day at 29 with a project to be announced for sure.
Celebrity branding wars?
Celebrity branding for mindshare looks a bit like the cola wars this year. Ever so often the blue challenger competes against the real thing and makes some noise before fading back.
Right now, as the Phillips family of brands grabs the stage, it slightly dims the light on Michael Jackson’s family, as they all race to make money on perverse and tragedy-based iconography.
As the new LA Personal Brand Examiner, I may not have a lock on celebrity brands just yet. But, my money is on the Jacksons. After all, they own half the Beatles publishing catalog. At the end of the week, does anyone care who owns Monday, Monday?
Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers.