Is there a Thin Line between Fake News and Branding?

The #BowWowChallenge says Yes!

Recently, actor and rap artist Shad Moss aka Bow Wow almost broke Twitter. He posted a photo on Instagram of a private jet with a caption implying he was flying in luxury. But a passenger behind him on the same flight saw the Instagram post and snapped a picture of Mr. Moss revealing his alternative facts stunt. The jet photo can be found on the internet. Since then, Twitter has been firebombing him with snarky comments and their own photos of alternative facts. Its called the #BowWowChallenge. Every major news outlet is reporting on this.

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So, what does this have to do with branding?

Well, Shad Moss has had a personal brand ever since he was a little bitty rapper named Lil Bow Wow. He released his first album at the age of 13 in 2000. As he aged and released more albums, he dropped the ‘Lil’ from his name. His ability to stay relevant has led to other deals such as movie roles and TV hosting gigs. Since his career matured during the internet era, Mr. Moss has increased his brand equity by using social media as most young entertainers do these days. And it appears that he manages his own Instagram account. But has he damaged it by this stunt?

Social media has become the publicist for many B-level celebrities like Mr. Moss. According to writer and columnist Rachel Deahl, a publicist’s job is to get journalists to write about their client. Since news outlets troll Twitter and Facebook in search of news, it would make sense to utilize social media has a promotion tool. Since it is used this way by many celebrities, wannabe famous people and the rest of us, personal branding has become important. But fake news and alternative facts via social media has grown as well.

Kevin Kruse, a Forbes Magazine writer interviewed former presidential campaign spokeswoman turned marketing strategy consultant Dorie Clark. He asked her this question: Who needs a personal brand? This is an excerpt from the interview:

“The truth is, a personal brand is really just a synonym for your reputation. Everyone has a reputation. People think something about you. The only question is what do they think about you? Is it what you would wish them to think about you?”

I would go as far as to say that if you have any kind of active internet presence, you have a personal brand. Mr. Moss knows that and this is why he posts on Instagram.

But considering this media stunt, should there be a line between fake news and branding?

Let’s set the record straight. Alternative facts are…lies. Fake news are…lies. There are some murky areas of truth and falsity (that can involve a jury) that demand time and patience. But ‘a little white lie’ is still a lie. Since fame, perception and spectacle drive so much of our media consumption, we have developed other pseudo descriptions for a lie. We are introduced to alternative facts and fake news in every election cycle. We are are so accustomed to it through our local media that we shrug our shoulders. 

Companies and nonprofits should tread carefully in this area. Lying to customers can kill your brand or diminish it.(Unfortunately, this hasn’t stop companies from doing it.) Amid the emissions cheating scandal, Volkswagen’s stock dropped significantly. Since customers have more access to company/brand information via the internet, companies would do well to pay attention to three branding footprints that help create the perception of your brand personality: Content, Social and Influence.

  • Content involves allowing others to see/engage your visual and written materials (print and digital).
  • Social involves allowing others to see your number of followers, tweets, likes, etc.
  • Influence involves allowing others to see who you are connected to.

Mr. Moss used all three branding footprints to appear like he was ballin’. He uploaded a pict with text (Content) on Instagram allowing others to see how many liked and commented (Social) and mentioned who he was connecting with (Influence). But since his implicit reference to the private jet was exposed as a lie, have you noticed that the reality show he was connecting with hasn’t said a word? His influence footprint isn’t working well for him right now.

Mr. Moss most likely attempted to create news (that is fake) to benefit his brand. Others have done so with some success. (For example, the Kardashians come to mind.) The recent presidential campaign demonstrated this. For example, three Politico reporters fact-checked Trump’s statements for a week in March 2016. They found that he had uttered “roughly one misstatement every five minutes.” In spite of this, he still won. What does it say about the people who seek the highest office in our land when a July New York Times/CBS poll, reveals that less than one-third of respondents said Trump is honest and trustworthy? Clinton’s scores were about the same.

If branding is about reputation and authenticity, then the use of fake news and alternative facts can point to a character deficit. But does it depend on how we measure success? If publicity is the measure, then Mr. Moss may have won. He could join the ranks of others who have used questionable publicity to raise their profile. But he has to be careful. Everyone lies on social media. But there are enough dead careers because of it. If he does this regularly, someone could bring this up 10 years from now and brand him as…a liar.

Here are a few questions to ask:

What kind of character does your company possess?

What kind of character does your brand possess?

How is that character perceived by the staff?

How is that character perceived by the target audience?

How has good character benefitted your market position?

Do you measure success by publicity or market influence?


What do you think?



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