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Charlie Sheen: Raving Lunatic or Marketing Genius?

From Twitter: Charlie Sheen and Rachel Oberlin, the first posting on Sheen's verified Twitter account.When you're a self-proclaimed "rock star from Mars" with "goddesses" living at your "Sober Valley Lodge," it only makes one wonder are you a raving lunatic or a marketing genius?  While many are writing Charlie off as having a mental meltdown and suffering career suicide, he is actually asking for a 50% pay increase.


Is He Really Crazy?

 Sound crazy?  Maybe, maybe not.  Sheen’s hit show “Two and a Half Men” is the most-watched comedy in prime time averaging 15.2 million viewers.  It pulls $207,000 per ad.  Last season, it generated $155.1 million in CBS ad revenue according to Kantar Media.  Sheen earned $30 million last year on the show’s back end.  Bottom line: there’s plenty of money to be made with Sheen back on the small screen, and none if he’s not.

One could actually argue the show has never been more popular.  Sheen himself has never been in more demand.  Sheen's quotes, culled from interviews with NBC, ABC, TMZ, and CNN, are popping up as mock Facebook status updates and serving as fodder for various Twitter accounts featuring made-up tweets by the actor.  In a twist Tuesday evening, Sheen launched his own verified Twitter account with the handle @charliesheen.  His first tweet: "Winning..! Choose your vice.”  Attached was a photo of Sheen holding a bottle of what appears to be chocolate milk with his girlfriend Rachel Oberlin.

Whether you agree with him or not, it’s hard to argue that he has built his name and following to such a level that he demands attention.  Fans of the Sheen-isms (of which there are huge numbers) say he's doing something many people wish they could: say whatever he wants.  Social media provides the  opportunity for anyone to voice their opinion, Charlie Sheen is certainly doing that.

In this age of self-promotion, it is the people who push things to the extreme who are idolized and revered.  Take twitter queen Lady GaGa.  She is not afraid to push the limits on what is deemed normal and pop culture and social media has revered her for it.  She is the Madonna of this generation;   unlike train wreck veterans Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, she did not have to make out with Madonna to get that title. Is Charlie so wrong?  I don’t mean in regards to his lunatic behavior but in regards to how to market yourself or your company.  I am not advocating these extreme comments. With such mass publication abilities those who have a “same old same old” corporate or personal message are getting drowned out..  You need to push things to the extreme, while still being genuine, in order to be heard.


So What Can You Learn From This?

For most of us, we will never be in Sheen’s position.  However, you may find yourself working for a client or a company who has had some bad publicity.  I recently had a question with a company with just such a problem.  They have a history of not-so-sterling treatment of customers (think “wham, bam thank-you ma’am”).  The company’s online reputation is not good (and that’s an understatement).  They asked if I could help them eliminate the negative results that are popping up about them in search results.

Many people will claim to help your company, if it's in this situation.  Usually, they'll try to have the review sites remove the offending opinions because they are inaccurate.  Sometimes that can work, but it helps a lot if those opinions truly are inaccurate.  In this case, they aren't.  If the charges are true and can't be removed, you need to get those results off the search page completely.

The best way to do that is to accentuate the positive, which is actually good advice whether you have a reputation problem or not.  However, I am not sure Charlie has quite picked out his “positive” points. Search engines aren't necessarily drawn to negative news—they show the sites that seem to have the most attention, which can often be negative sites, but not always.  You can use social media to create your own positive presence, but to do so, you need to have a story in which people are interested.

So, you can tell stories about the good things that your business does for the public and for your clients.  Moreover, you can put out lots of helpful information not aimed at selling something.   You might think of many such stories, but you might want to start with the most important one: " We haven’t valued our customers like we should have… we realize that's wrong and we have cleaned up our act."

But that's the hard part, right?  First off, you need to be willing to admit to what happened publicly (and more importantly) express a true desire to change (Please note, I don’t think Charlie Sheen is anywhere near this point yet).  If you're willing to be up front about that, it could definitely get some social media traction, but I've found it is the rare business with a checkered past that actually steps up to being open, honest, and willing to make amends for the past.  If your company just sees online reputation management as one more thing to manipulate to succeed, I'd recommend that you not even try, because it is more likely to backfire and make things even worse in the end.

But to me, the most important part is the hardest.  You have to truly want to change the way you do business.  If improving your online reputation is just another quick-fix manipulation tactic rather than a real "heart-felt change" for your business, it will inevitably backfire, and the resulting reviews  will make the ones you hate now pale in comparison.  Whatever short-run success you might glean by manipulating things will make it even harder to come back from when the backlash happens.   You can only fake sincerity once.

There are some great examples for Charlie of stars who have managed to turn around and make lots of money in the process by first admitting they truly have a problem.  Topping the list is, of course, Robert Downey Jr. His is perhaps the greatest Hollywood comeback story of all time.  But others include Mickey Rourke, Drew Barrymore and Michael Vick.  The biggest thing and the key to online brand management:   you have to truly want to change, which our self-proclaimed “rock star from Mars” is just not ready to do.

Join The Conversation

  • Mar 17 Posted 6 years ago campfirenetwork

    People really need to stop being so narrow minded by assuming he is on drugs and/or alcohol. he has been tested repeatedly and he keeps coming up clean. Fact is, Charlie is a theatrical guy and most people do not know anyone like that. Meanwhile, they will pay to see someone be theatrical in a play or movie, but they sometimes don't want to see it in real life. What Charlie Sheen is doing is fantastic. Is speaks volumes about a unique way to market and promote a product. He is scaring the heck out of the media because they don't know how to handle it. Most marketing and advertising is filled with lies, red-herrings, smoke and mirrors. Here is Charlie Sheen speaking the TRUTH about his life, and as a result, he is developing strong brand recognition.


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  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Kevin Lockett (not verified)

    Charlie has some serious issues going on.

    But the ironic thing is this haze of confusion, he has gained new fans, he is now topic for social media types, the term "Winning" is now part of his brand as is "Tiger Blood, which is still new buzzing on Twitter along with "Adonis DNA", plus he might make a few dollars from his partnership with 

    Do I think he need help?  YES  Do I think he might be a marketing genius? YES

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Andrew_Hunt


    Great point and I love the article about Tyson.  Relative to Tyson and Jackson he has been very tame.  In today’s age of being able to say what you want to thousands, maybe millions of people, you do have to commend him for saying what he is thinking.  Even if it is a “little” bizarre.  At least he is interesting and makes you think.

    Andrew Hunt

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Andrew_Hunt


    From all reports, he is doing it personally.  There is even a PR agencies that is on the news telling how they training him.  As far as trying to determine Sheen’s value or influence, that is a tricky question.  The answer if different for everyone.  From a brand prospective I would question how much you want, attach your brand to him.  However, his value for the TV/Media industry has just skyrocketed.

    Andrew Hunt

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Andrew_Hunt


    I find this a very challenging question for me.  Personally, I find some his actions totally off the wall.  However, professionally I can see the financial of what he is doing.  I would take the publicist quitting with a grain of salt.  Many times, I have seen that happen just to help the publicity of it all.

    Andrew Hunt

  • Mar 4 Posted 6 years ago Andrew_Hunt


    Totally agreed that he needs to focus on his recovery though he has “passed” three drug tests.  My question to you is, if he did this and become more “normal” would he be a better investment?  Because then there would not be a fraction of the media attention.

    Andrew Hunt

  • thelindes's picture
    Mar 3 Posted 6 years ago thelindes

    Well he just passed his 4th drug test, so going with he is not crazy theory on this one. I think he is a marketing genius and he has shot himself to the top of the media charts. BUT at the top nobody knows what to make of him, since he all over the place and totally unpredictable.

    Yet watching his Piers Morgan interview he explains he is the most focused ever, and he want the truth to come out. Its is obvious his attitude is he has nothing to lose with regards to his show, he just wants the record set straight.

    From a social media standpoint, he destoyed TWITTER, his growth has never and probably will never be beat. I am going to track it on my social media BLOG, and started yesterday when he skyrocked to 900 000 plus users in less then 24 hours

    I would say Tiger Woods needs to pay attention here, if he started talking about the girls he had relations with while married and why he did it, we all might swtch our attention away from Charlie.

  • CliffFigallo's picture
    Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago CliffFigallo

    After hearing an audio clip of Charlie the other day, I'm convinced that he's not acting. I'm hesitant for couple of reasons to issue any kind of amateur, distanced diagnosis, but I've seen this kind of behavior on numerous occasions in my time. Too bad. I hope he gets it together. Often people in that state do so. But these days it's so easy to get attention if you've got notoriety.

    Interesting, though, that this post has over 5,000 views on its first day. That's at the upper end of what posts here tend to get. That's a lot of attention for a guy falling out of touch with reality.

    Also interesting that the title of the article did a lot of the work of attracting readers. This (attention-getting titles) is also being discussed on Jacquie McCarnan's post,

    5 Ways to Get 20,000 Views to Your Posts

  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Diana @somebody... (not verified)

    Mental illness and substance abuse aren't funny or entertaining. This guy is sick. Period.

  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Arpy Dragffy (not verified)

    Just remember, Charlie Sheen was a C grade actor before the public started realizing just how interestingly explosive his real life was. The irony of his real life being portrayed on the airwaves made that show a success. As you've laid out here, the added polarization he's now spread across media, where he looks like a crazy person but never actually says anything too inflammatory is turning him into an icon for all the people that have grown up with media icons that are muzzled and spewing out pre-formatted garbage like that commonly found on the red carpet. He's honestly the most entertaining character in the media today. Michael Jackson was creepy, Charlie Sheen is the guy you want to be with on a Friday night. Sure at the heart of it he may be a lunatic but aren't we all in some ways? He just happens to have everyone wanting to talk about it, where most of us would never find it conciousable to discuss our most off-beat views in public, and hold back what really makes our minds unique.

    Until he says truley offensive or starts swinging babies above their impending doom, you can't but think he will benefit from this and that more stars will try and capitolize on extravance rather than pointless drama (eg Kardashians).

    Funny enough, I wrote a piece on Mike Tyson's Polarizing effect on marketing that resonates with the Charlie Sheen explosion


  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Anonymous (not verified)

    As soon as he comes clean, admits his wrongdoings, and all the other advice you give, all of his "fans" will drop him like bad habit. These people are merely watching a train wreck. Society of spectacle.


  • Cloggin's picture
    Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Cloggin

    How does someone already popular, a celebreity even, be portrayed as a marketing genius? Plus Sheen is comical. Content and people that provide entertainment value have a special way of gaining popularity on- and offline. Joining Twitter and tossing around one-liners doesn't make him a genius, it just makes him more accessible - as an icon.

    I have two big questions for anyone trying to determine Sheen's value or influence:

    What is his international appeal on social networks, on TV or through any other media?

    Since the most recent development is Twitter, does Sheen personally manage his account or do his writers, publicists, et al?

  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Andrew_Hunt


    Love your point about “will America at more than 9% unemployment want to watch a guy who can now afford more porn stars and coke.”  But think about it.  On the show, Sheen plays Charlie Harper, an excessive drinking cigar smoking, womanizing machine.  Is this not what Sheen is in real life?  Could CBS get more mass exposure than this?  You mention about the costs, but think about what CBS will now charge for ad space when it comes back on.  Ultimately it will all be about the $$$ the network can make that will drive the final decision.

    Andrew Hunt

  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Jason Mollica (not verified)

    There is simply nothing that Charlie Sheen is doing that would be considered genius... nothing.  He's dishonest (his publicist quit because of it), a loose cannon, and, simply, an addict.  

    Attention from the world doesn't mean genius.  In this case, the media is following him around because he's making an utter fool of himself.  No PR person would think he's worth working with.

  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Jason Karpf

    A marketing genius doesn't shut down production of his hit show. ("Two and a Half Men" doesn't benefit from limited edition status like Disney's DVDs of its classic movies). Some may speculate that Charlie Sheen is doing a mashup of Lady Gaga, Joaquim Phoenix ("I'm Still Here" phase), and Andy Kaufman. Nothing so's simply another bender. The question is if his show goes back into production (likely) and he gets his $1 million raise (see previous parenthetical), will America at more than 9% unemployment want to watch a guy who can now afford more porn stars and coke?

  • Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago Jane Payne (not verified)

      A little bit of both! He has gotten the world's attention. Even if you don't care, he can not be avoided. He is appearing on several news shows & radio shows. I think that if he put a fraction of this energy into his recovery, he would find it to be a much better investment.

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