From drug use to allegations of domestic abuse, Charlie Sheen is a portrait of bad behavior. But with the help of Madison Avenue, he's becoming a marketable brand.
Two major marketers, Fiat and DirecTV, make light of Mr. Sheen's past in new TV campaigns. In Fiat's spots for its newly tweaked sports mini, Mr. Sheen races a car around a mansion full of models. "I love being under house arrest," the actor says, emerging from the Fiat 500 Abarth with an ankle monitor. "What do I get for good behavior?"
DirecTV's commercial shows Mr. Sheen as the culmination of bad decisions that began when a guy chooses cable TV. As a result, he meets Mr. Sheen at a Turkish bathhouse and later re-enacts scenes from "Platoon" in his apartment with the actor.
The former star of "Two and a Half Men" was reportedly the highest-paid actor on TV before he was fired last year and trash-talked the show's creator. He has been accused of domestic violence and hospitalized for recurring substance abuse. At first defiant and unrepentant over his firing, Mr. Sheen spewed bizarre statements about his "tiger blood" and "winning" ways and embarked on a "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour that was largely unsuccessful.
But his tone has become more conciliatory in recent months. He let himself be the butt of the joke in a Comedy Central roast and settled with "Two and a Half Men" producer Warner Bros. last year in a deal reported to be north of $100 million. Mr. Sheen also landed himself another show, an FX series called "Anger Management" that premieres June 28.
It seems logical that advertisers would avoid such a controversial star, but DirectTV chose Mr. Sheen for just that reason. "Charlie's reputation is kind of the point," said DirecTV Marketing Chief Jon Gieselman. "What should give you pause is sticking with cable."
Chrysler says the spot will be directed primarily at evening and late-night viewers. Olivier Francois, in charge of the Fiat worldwide brand and CMO of Chrysler Group, echoed Mr. Gieselman, saying that the actor "personifies the edgy and fun attributes" of the Abarth.
But while drugs are one thing, allegations of domestic abuse are quite another. Mr. Sheen has collected more than a few restraining orders and criminal complaints. Fiat could not be reached at deadline to comment on whether that should have disqualified Mr. Sheen as a spokesman.
Jackie Huba, an author of marketing books who blogs about customer loyalty, seems to indicate that Madison Avenue's Sheen rehab, it that 's what it is , is too late. "I don't think this is smart marketing," said Ms. Huba. "Last year, people were talking about him. This year, people are over Charlie Sheen. "
Ms. Huba says she thinks marketers are "desperate" if they use Mr. Sheen. "The only people talking about this ad [for Fiat] are the media."
However, Americus Reed, associate marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said he sees no danger in either of the brands' using Mr. Sheen in their ads. In fact, he said, it might be smart."If the idea was to position the car as the rebellious, superfast, out-of -control bad boy, that 's exactly what Charlie Sheen is these days, and there's a fit between him and how Fiat is trying to position the brand," Mr. Reed said.
DirecTV is "representing the old Charlie Sheen -- when he was one of the big actors back in the '80s, and that 's a positive thing that doesn't explicitly invoke all that bad-boy stuff," Mr. Reed said. "Charlie Sheen in an ad for a foundation against abuse of spouses, or being held up for some religious organization? Now that would be completely inconsistent."
Is it a mistake for advertisers to link up with Charlie Sheen? Comment below.
Contributing: Jeanine Poggi, Rupal Parekh