Britney Spears recently made an amazing comeback at the MTV Video Music Awards. The pop princess of the early part of the decade has emerged victorious from head-shaving, crotch-flashing, public-ranting nuttiness – all topped with the proverbial cherry of last year’s VMA opening, replete with poor styling, bad dancing, and the appearance of not even knowing her own song.
At the 2008 Video Music Awards, Britney looked beautiful, spoke coherently, and – most importantly, won VMAs, She has emerged from teen idol-hood to womanhood, a bumpy journey that saw her temporarily lose her career, seemingly lose her mind, and lose custody of her sons before giving full custody to Kevin Federline – and whoever thought he’d look like the better choice of anything than just about anyone?
No matter how we sneer, we have to admit that Britney Spears has done some amazing personal branding throughout her short life. From child star to Mouseketeer to tween princess to teen idol to sexy vixen – no matter how we feel about her talent or her music, we must admit that it was Britney, Britney, Britney for as long as we can remember.
It’s hard to reach a consensus on how the pop princess handled her downfall. Who knows what happens on the inside of a life, but beyond her two adorable sons, Britney’s marriage to the ridiculous and climbing K-Fed remains incomprehensible to most of us. She pulled him up a bit in life, but the result was tantamount to a pulley – he rose and she fell.
Britney’s teenybopper fans were not old enough to realistically adore – as a teen star – the mother of two boys. Even if their mothers would agree to buy them, no little girl wants to buy tickets or CDs for a very young mother of two kids married to a grasping boy-dancer who has another group of kidlets with an unassociated baby-mama.
For the first time in her life, things weren’t sailing Britney’s way, and she melted down. Having always been surrounded by yes-people whose fortune depended on her success – even, sadly, her parents – she didn’t know how to handle the turn from public adulation to public ridicule.
Mental illness, drugs, and alcohol have all been blamed by various “in-the-know” sources for Britney’s inexplicable behavior over the last few years. She had, in the popular term, “let herself go” physically as her body went through the natural machinations of a post-maternity phase. She gave in to all kinds of crazy impulses and followed advice that seems unfathomable to anyone with an eye for personal branding or good public relations.
There’s no question, though, that Britney kept her name in the public mind. If you look at pre-K-Fed Britney and post-babies Britney, there is virtually no difference between the amounts of coverage she received from the media. Certainly she sold fewer records, and the tone of the coverage was a lot les glowing in the later years than in the earlier ones. But without a doubt, Britney did not let us forget her for the long haul, crept away into the shadows for a period of less than a few months, and when she showed up in public with everything apparently turned around for the better, she received standing ovations from every media outlet on the planet.
And has she even sung in public yet?
This is an excellent lesson for you to consider when managing your own personal brands. We all have our pits and our puddles. You can let it break your brand, or you can turn around and make it work for you.
Most people are forgiving. The ones that are small and petty weren’t adding to your brand anyway – those are the types that sit and worry that if you have a success, there will somehow be less success for them. Swallow your pride and keep in contact with the ones that are likely to remember the good things you did for them and could, in time, forget the time you let then down.
The trick is to keep your brand looking reputable and interesting, and keep speaking to your subject matter. If, like Britney, you need to take some time away to heal or repair out of the spotlight, do it. But be sure that you come back stronger than ever, with a new and more mature take on everything.
You can make a comeback. Just stage it beautifully, and people will stand and applaud.