Extraordinary Experiences #10: The Charlie Sheen brand is winning.

Is the Charlie Sheen implosion a publicity stunt?

Let’s talk about the stars in Hollywood. They are valuable assets to the broadcast industry. And, as we all know, brands are property with contracts and agreements in place to make sure behaviors are kept in check.

Charlie is not behaving. This fact is widely known.

Here’s my first theory. As a result of his bad behavior, Charlie is being written out of contracts, agreements and existing deals. He is tossing out the old Charlie brand with the bath water, thus reinventing himself and his brand. And, in doing so, he is finding his way out of the old “trade dress” of Charlie.

Is this just a brand consulting firm attempting to turn a popular culture moment into a lesson about branding? Before you answer that, let’s look inside this situation and follow this theory down the muskrat hole (as that’s the more appropriate metaphorical tunnel to follow).

Celebrities are brands, yes, but they’re also human beings. Some of them forget that their fame and fortune comes at a price, as they become property. At what point in contractual language around Hollywood stars does it start to sound like Charlie is merely a piece of meat? Is he being chopped up and served to the international consuming public with a side salad and just the right starch? What does this feel like as a human being? Perhaps Charlie has had enough and he is rebelling against the industrialized machine of Hollywood. No empathy for Charlie yet? That’s fine, let’s go further into his world. What if a brand starts to become boxed into a certain role in your life? You see it in that way and can’t see it in any other way. Spirits brands run into this when their audience starts to age and die off (Dewer’s). Fashion brands have this happen when they become too focused on one particular style without evolving themselves as trends change (Guess, Girbaud Jeans). Charlie is a brand attempting to get out of the pigeonhole we’ve all put him into, and he’s doing it by acting his way out. It’s also known as improvisation.

Here’s the second theory. Look at this one, Joaquin Phoenix on David Letterman back in 2009. He was in character and he was entertaining. It just took the public a while to realize this. Perhaps Charlie is setting up the next phase of his life, starting to blend his acting onscreen to his acting in front of other cameras (and on radio stations). Perhaps Charlie has short-circuited and his acting "off-switch" had a bad reaction to cocaine. But we’ve seen the stunts of Hollywood many times. This seems to smell of something being baked (pun not intended) in the oven of the publicity machine.

So, what's the extraordinary experience? When you realize how much spin is within the spin of Hollywood. Similar to the size of the universe, it is really hard to get your head around.

Theory one: Desperately attempting to reinvent his brand. Theory two: Setting up for his next deal or movie. Theory three: He misplaced his acting off-switch.

Which one gets your vote?

Aaron Keller
Managing Principal,



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