Two adverts which premiered in the US during the first week of March 2012 point to how a tarnished celebrity reputation can provide a start point for a memorable media campaign.

Fiat and DirectTV have both teamed up with the actor Charlie Sheen, playing on his notoriety to create humourous TV spots.

The former plays up to the idea of Sheen as a carefree rebel, careering around his mansion in the carmaker’s latest model to the delight of a partying entourage, with the tagline ‘Not all bad boys are created equal’. The latter takes a comedy-based structure already rolled out (previous ads have followed a man from his home to Vegas where he is forced to sell his hair to a wig-maker) and has Sheen sending up his own role in Platoon.

Both campaigns take advantage not only from the instant-recognition of Sheen, but also of the newly shaped (or perhaps reshaped) status of the actor as something of a maverick. This is a safe risk in many ways: Sheen may have burned his Hollywood bridges, but consumers eat up controversy and countless stories of celebrities falling from grace help shift magazines and bump TV ratings.

Both Fiat and DirectTV will be hoping that asscociation with Sheen will engender a sense of playfulness and lightheartedness – and may prove something from a way back for the actor. Of course, the converse risk is that he plays to his ‘strengths’ to such an extent that the impact is spread thin, but these two campaigns show how – done correctly – brands can benefit from ‘bad’ celebrities as much as ‘good’ ones.

For more on the power of celebrity, see Mintel’s Inspire platform, and the trends Celebs and Social Engineering and Cult of the Celebrity.

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