This week: Actor Marketing & Branding | Disaster or Success?
There was a major failure and hullabaloo recently. A cruise-line began taking on water and its image was about to founder. And actors had need only witness the disaster unfold in order to enhance their own career longevity.
Readers of ACTING: Make It Your Business know that I stress this industry of ours is all about “image, image and image”. What you display in your marketing materials, in auditions/performance, and off camera/stage is what lingers within the memories of those you encounter. This holds true for individuals as strongly as it does for corporations. And if you’re familiar with Celebrity Cruise lines then you know Celebrity recently X-ed themselves with the new branding ‘X The Rules’. Don’t let this happen to you.
For those not familiar with the upscale, mass market, cruise carrier each passenger of the line is to be treated as a “celebrity”. Formal nights in the MDR (Main Dinning Room for the cruise phobic) have tuxes and gowns that smatter among the smarter dressers. Celebrity Cruises for years has been one of Condé Nast’s top-rated lines (and by-the-by, Celebrity’s offerings are amazingly affordable for the starving artist).
Recently Celebrity, with its iconic ‘X’ branding, changed tactics in marketing. And when the company launched what loyal customers viewed as a misguided tag line ‘X The Rules’ many of those passengers wanted to abandon ship. On cruise chat boards and Celebrity’s Facebook page the customer feedback was tumultuous with heated rhetoric and disdain. The new ‘X The Rules’ was interpreted as ‘Fuck-the-rules-and-do-anything-you-damn-well-please-on-our-ships-as-we’re-lowering-our-standards-to-the-party barges-of-Carnival’.
Celebrity within hours of the new launch had a major image crisis that was dangerously listing their leverage in the upscale cruise market. A tilt that could potentially scuttle long standing customers’ positive image of the line. This was not Celebrity’s intent with the ‘X The Rules’ folly. As part of damage control Celebrity’s CEO, Dan Hanrahan fielded questions from consumers on a popular cruise web-forum. Corporate released a lengthy advisory statement on Celebrity’s Facebook page explaining that the new tag line ‘X The Rules’ in no means was a reflection upon a change in image for Celebrity but a herald announcing life and work have too many rules and the only way to combat such is to take a cruise on Celebrity. With marketing — as just like the punch-line of a joke told — if explanation of meaning is required then the message fails. And fail terribly Celebrity’s new marketing launch has. (Update: A week after “X The Rules” debuted, Celebrity’s CEO Dan Hanrahan announced the campaign would be scuttled.)
This happens repeatedly with actors who don’t know or understand what their own brand is. In ACTING: Make It Your Business I and colleagues (actors and agents) detail extensively the importance of knowing what is your brand. But self-awareness is not enough. Execution is equally important. How do you effectively display that ‘image’ to your professional peers and audience?
When the name Lindsay Lohan is mentioned what comes to mind? The images, nouns and adjectives of ‘lush’ and ‘spoiled starlet’ possibly sizzle the synapses of your cranium. Those flash card-like images were placed in your mind by the actress herself by how Ms. Lohan has handled her own image. When the name Tom Hanks is offered you possibly think ‘stability’, ‘good-humored’ and ‘affable’. That’s his branding.
Your brand begins from the moment you sit at your computer and keystroke your resume. You have two choices. First and preferable; follow the industry format for an actor’s resume (three columns, training at the bottom, directors listed, and crisp attention to detail). Recipients viewing your work history on paper will think of you as, ‘professional’, ‘organized’ and ‘straight-to-the-point’. The lesser option would be to do as many actors who try too hard with dumping information haphazardly upon colored paper peppered with entertainment related clip art. Recipients of the trashed text will perceive you as, ‘amateur’, ‘tries too hard’, ‘sloppy’ and/or ‘is masking deficiencies of talent’. (And please if you really need to know what is industry format for an actor’s resume turn to Chapter 4 of ACTING: Make It Your Business… and to those who are presently scowling that that was a cheap plug; no it wasn’t. I can only repeat advice in font so many times before my fingers and sanity rebel.)
How you dress, how you speak, the quality of your picture… all of this is your brand. Oh, and then comes that thing called talent. Which of course is also a key to your image; your brand. How strong is that message within your marketing? Are you pursuing roles fit for your abilities and type? Or are you like a middle-aged, character woman who foolishly clings to the belief that she can play ingénue but because directors and casting have limited imaginations are miffed you’re not being considered for roles beyond your type. (Note to those who follow this folly: It’s not us behind the table but the audience – which often includes you – that accepts or rejects ‘brand/type’.)
If you offer, like Celebrity, a message that is confusing or in contrast to your product then you’ll fail at attracting the attention you seek. Know your brand. Keep clear the message of your image; from talent, type, offstage stage/camera interactions, to resume and picture. You’re the CEO of your business. What is the most effective image that matches your product? ‘Dem’s da rules.
And now a related note… the one and only scheduled Spring TV/Film non-musical Access to Agents is registering. Faithful readers know that many actors who participated prior in this four week seminar (which includes branding and audition technique) have gotten agents and/or work as a result of Access to Agents. My schedule permits this to be the only New York, TV/Film non-musical Access to Agents for the Spring of 2011. 10 actors only per series. Details @ http://paulrussell.net/Access_to_Agents_TVandFilm.html.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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