NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For those in the business of masterminding public-relations stunts for marketers, Janet Jackson's big expose during CBS's airing of the Super Bowl has raised a serious issue: how to top it.
|Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson just before Ms. Jackson's breast covering was ripped off during the Super Bowl halftime show.
For James LaForce, partner in New York PR agency LaForce & Stevens, the Jackson episode was "extremely successful. ... We love stunts at our agency and she opened the door for more people to take risks," he added. "It raises the bar for all of us."
A stunt 'gone right'
Whatever the impact on advertisers, CBS and the National Football League, few in the PR field think the stunt harmed Ms. Jackson. Desiree Gruber, president of Full Picture, a PR management company that counts Lisa Marie Presley and Arnold Schwarzenegger as clients, agreed it was a stunt gone right for Janet, and a stunt gone wrong for everyone else, but so what if she upstaged the advertisers?
"Janet is a brand, just as much as a Frito-Lay is," Ms. Gruber said. "Where does a brand begin and end? She sells and she sells directly to the public."
Mr. LaForce thinks that it will be discussed for years to come. In terms of coverage, Ms. Jackson certainly overshadowed the main event, both the game and the commercials. According to media research firm CARMA International, Washington D.C., Ms. Jackson garnered twice the number of U.S. press mentions as the commercials in the four days following the event, though much of that coverage was driven by the Federal Communications Commission investigation of the incident.
The "costume reveal" also catapulted Ms. Jackson into search-engine record books, conveniently just weeks in advance of her first album in three years, Damita Jo. According to janet-jackson.com, one of the singles from the album was released to radio stations around the globe on Feb. 2 -- the day after the Super Bowl. Ms. Jackson is also planning a world tour and is starring as singer Lena Horne in an upcoming ABC special.
Said Andy Morris, principal at Andy Morris & Co., a New York PR firm that works closely with the music industry: "It is the ultimate stunt. I don't see any downside for her. It fits perfectly with the new CD that's about sex."
Howard Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein & Associates, however, is taking steps to ensure his agency doesn't receive any backlash from media outlets covering PR stunts in the future.
'Can it backfire?'
"It has absolutely changed a lot of things about how we do stunts," Mr. Rubenstein said. "Right now we are asking ourselves: Can it backfire in any way? Can anyone be injured, will it insult anyone, does it make fun of people with a defect, is it over the edge sexually? Now PR people will have to be very cautious."
Mr. Rubenstein, who at one time represented Michael Jackson, is asking his staff to be wary if stunts might cause the company to be punished or barred by the media. In fact, Ms. Jackson was originally scheduled to perform on Feb. 8's Grammy Awards show, also on CBS, but at press time, her appearance was in doubt.
Peter Himler, a managing director at Burson-Marsteller, a WPP Group company, said he thinks such stunts are overrated.
"So many firms are about creating short-term PR or publicity or buzz and forget that the best way to build your brand is to produce a quality product," he said. Burson represents consumer marketers such as Hewlett-Packard, McDonald's Corp. and Coca-Cola Co.
'Boobs conquer everything'
One PR executive representing a Super Bowl advertiser said the stunt smacked of desperation and that the public was left feeling manipulated. An exasperated music publicist, who did not wish to be named, said simply: "Boobs conquer everything from the networks to the media to corporate America."