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Is Bad Publicity Really A Good Thing?

As the adage goes, "There's no such thing as bad publicity," P.T. Barnum, 19th century American circus owner and performer, was quoted as saying.

Today, the Philippine Entertainment industry seems like it has taken this quotable quote as a PR strategy of sorts.

But is it really a good thing?

Since things that are closer to home tend to sting a lot worse than those that have a degree of remoteness to them, we'll discuss examples from International arenas instead.

We'll take the lives of six different Hollywood and US public personas as case studies:

Rihanna -- When Rihanna canceled a scheduled performance at the 2009 Grammy Awards, no one was prepared for the story behindLink her absence. Within hours, outrage and sympathy poured in as pictures of her face, marred by the blows left by an altercation with then-partner Chris Brown, were leaked online.

Rihanna's brush with domestic violence in Chris Brown's hands did no small thing for sealing her into fame. While her songs were already increasing in popularity, the moment with the domestic violence controversy cemented Rihanna into public consciousness. And that defining moment also defined the rest of her career.

While prior to that dark moment, Rihanna had already been working on shifting from a bubblegum, wholesome image into an edgier, darker, more rebellious one, that controversial moment as a victim had given rise to a still darker, still edgier, more creative version of her. It even seems that being hurt gave her a reason to craft darker lyrics, with better license to toy with disturbing stories conveyed in songs and videos.

If anything, I'd have to say that this is probably the best example of using bad publicity and leveraging it for one's personal branding. In fact, for Rihanna, it seems to have gone deeper than mere branding: it seemed to have redefined her art, as well.

Paris Hilton -- Known as the more controversial of the two Hilton sisters, got a boost of fame and notoriety all in the same season: a private video of her was released a week before her MTV reality show, The Simple Life, premiered.

The source of bad publicity was the private video, however, it did nothing to diminish Paris Hilton's popularity. In fact, the video may well have boosted it, and it seemed to have been instrumental in keeping Paris Hilton, the brand, in the limelight, especially online.

Another source of what could be interpreted as bad publicity was her incarceration for DUI. Thanks to the dramatic (and crazy) scenes and antics she played out both in the courtroom and in jail, plus declarations of turning over a new leaf, Paris Hilton remains an amusing figure, nonetheless.

She has since made more serious business moves, and her fame and notoriety has helped make her name a household brand in the Philippines. That is why her real estate ventures in local shores are pretty "hot" -- for all her faults, no one can deny that the name "Paris Hilton" still evokes glamor, albeit with blonde and pink shades.

Taylor Swift -- The lady turned her heartbreaks into a whole album of Billboard chart-toppers. She also sang a very ironic and bitter song about fellow celebrity John Mayer.

She also figured in 2009's MTV VMA awards scandal wherein rapper Kanye West ruined her acceptance speech by declaring that Swift didn't deserve her award, and that Beyonce was far more deserving of it.

Since Swift carries a porcelain-pristine image and her innocent face boosts the image her brand has been working on keeping. Both her breakup-inspired songs and the VMA scandal attempting to besmirch her do nothing to tarnish the aura of innocence she has successfully projected, because people sympathized, empathized and were able to relate to her heartbreak. The net effect of this has resulted in record sales.

Her image also helped in turning sympathy to her side in the controversy with Kanye West. A good majority of onlookers and online armchair pundits chose to side with her and threw virtual tomatoes at West for being a first-class jerk. A clear example of how bad publicity could still go right for someone, given the perfect mix of timing, circumstance, and good positioning.


After the gals who made the most out of bad publicity about themselves, we now go to the girls whose personal scandals did more harm than good.

Britney Spears -- Who could forget this Disney Mouseketeer who danced through her adolescence with her LSS-inducing singles, starting with "Baby, One More Time"?

And yet, at the height of her growing fame, a meltdown happened.

A dark cloud seemed to descend on Spears as one by one, personal tragedy after personal tragedy dominoed upon her.

Close on the heels of her breakup with Justin Timberlake, Britney plunged from one bad decision to another, culminating in a breakdown wherein she shaved all her hair off and was checked into a rehab facility.

Jeers and comments expressing sympathy poured in, and within a year, Britney and her team pulled her from out of her personal abyss, and her popularity has been climbing steadily since. She has since released two albums and is currently on tour.

Her breakdown had earned her sympathy, criticism and derision, but it may have also given her the motivation to turn her life around. Was it a "bad publicity turned good" scenario?

Personally, I don't think so. Britney Spears has never gotten back to the positive perception of her persona before Kevin Federline happened, and her very public breakdown has done her no good. it's like an old scar from a very bad wound that wouldn't seem to disappear.

Lindsay Lohan -- This is probably the worst of the "Bad publicity is still bad for you" camp. After a promising career as a child star, then a series of meltdowns due to drug use, DUI arrests, lesbian relationships and increasingly worsening skin, this girl has not much of a career left. Thanks to her lack of professionalism and consistency on her projects, she hasn't been getting much in the way of offers lately.

Sadly, it isn't just about the bad publicity that ruined Lindsay Lohan as a brand and as a person: it seems like the bad choices she's been making, one after the other, have served to let the bad publicity remain a bad portion of her life.

Monica Lewinsky -- Nothing could possibly top how the phenomenon of "Bad publicity could kill your career" was manifested as in Monica Lewinsky's life.

Surely, as soon as you saw the name, certain impressions and emotions were already evoked in you. Could we say, "revulsion," "disgust," or "disdain"?

Poor thing. Having decided that, at 21, it was a good idea to be the then-President Bill Clinton's dalliance, she probably never would have dreamed what kind of life it would carve out for her.

Today, 13 years after the scandal, Monica has nothing to show for her choices but a failed handbag line, a career that won't get off the ground, and the life of a recluse.

With her credibility shattered, and her brand of notoriety working against her, this is possibly the ultimate example of bad publicity remaining exactly that -- bad publicity. And a bad reputation that may forever haunt her.
As they always say, "It seemed like a good idea at that time."

Popularity and fame, especially of a personal brand, may well be boosted by bad publicity leveraged right. Though, as the warning says, "Proceed With Caution."

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