With a Twitter following of 29 million, a majority of teenage girls who aren't bashful about broadcasting their love for him, there's arguably no more social brand than Justin Bieber, and their passion has freed up his managers to get creative.
"This level of intimacy allows you to take bigger risks," said Brad Haugen, CMO at Scooter Braun Projects, the Los Angeles-based talent management group that counts Mr. Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen and K-pop sensation Psy among its clients, at Ad Age 's Social Engagement/Social TV conference Wednesday.
Just last week, Mr. Bieber's team pulled off an intricate hoax with an allegedly stolen laptop at the center to release the singer's latest video with Nicki Minaj, "Beauty and the Beat." Mr. Bieber began tweeting at a mystery user, who claimed to have his laptop and taunted him with the possibility of broadcasting its embarrassing personal contents (including a nude photo) to the public. The saga got media coverage from the likes of "Today," but the mystery user (who turned out to be Mr. Bieber's team) ended it by posting a Vevo link to the new video.
Mr. Haugen said that internally there was more concern about potentially alienating media partners with the prank than of turning off Mr. Bieber's fans, who are protective of him. He also said that the results speak for themselves, and sales of the single are up 400% since the video release and the ruse that made it public.
"We know our brand really well, and whenever people talk about Justin outside of his fan base, it's some scandal," said Mr. Haugen, referring to rumors about Mr. Bieber like the persistent one that he had impregnated someone. "We just started creating that scandal ourselves."
Scooter Braun Projects also harnessed Mr. Bieber's social following to release his newest fragrance, Girlfriend, last spring. While his first fragrance, Someday, became the top-selling new women's fragrance of 2011, it had cost $25 million to launch, and it seemed like there was room for improvement.
"We had a TV spot that admittedly was terrible, but we learned from it," Mr. Haugen said.
Together with Bartle Bogle Hegarty's Los Angeles office, Mr. Haugen's team created a contest in June where Mr. Bieber's fans had a two-day window to post videos of themselves singing their own modified versions of his mega-hit "Boyfriend" (substituting "Girlfriend" for "Boyfriend" to promote the fragrance), with the promise of the best entries being featured in his upcoming NBC special.
"We opened up the floodgates for 48 hours and we got over 2,000 original videos where brave girls had sat in front of their computers all weekend and rewritten the entire song," said Pelle Sjoenell, BBH LA's executive creative director.
Notable among the batch was one by a fan who played up the creepily possessive angle with comic flair. While she didn't have the singing chops to be among the contest winners, Mr. Sjoenell said her video has gotten more than 20 million views, evidence that Mr. Bieber's viral marketing isn't necessarily benefiting his career alone. It's been a launch pad of sorts for her, and she's using her 15 minutes of fame to raise money for a surf camp for autistic children.