In 2006, you couldn’t tell me Chris Brown wasn’t going to be the next Michael Jackson. He was cute, danced his ass off and sang well enough. By 2007, he’d transitioned from cute teenager singing “Excuse Me Miss” to the hot guy singing the love song of the year, “With You.” He was set to become the biggest male singer since Justin Timberlake.
Then 2009 happened.
Since that year he's violently assaulted Rihanna, threw a chair out of a window Good Morning America, punched Frank Ocean, incited a fight with Drake at a club in New York and generally acted like a piece of human trash.
And although he didn’t lose his entire fan base, his violence cost him the career he could have had. Many women, though not all, saw his assault on Rihanna as reason enough to stop supporting his music. They thought, how could they willingly give their money to a man who beats women up?
I, too, had issues with being a fan of his music after he proved he was a violent person. Plus, he got angry, tried to be a rapper (?) and his music eventually fell off. It seemed like karma for all the people he’d hurt both literally and metaphorically.
Except that karma doesn’t actually work that way, right?
Just look at the NFL. It’s one of the largest money making machines that continues to grow in profit every year — and it’s built on players who are consistently caught with domestic violence and assault charges. In 2015 there were 44 players who had assault charges. And yet, we keep throwing our money at the NFL.
And it’s not even that entertaining.
So, what’s the difference? Neither Brown nor the NFL changed their behavior or stopped their business. Any backlash was largely ignored. There definitely wasn't a sincere apology from either. So, why is Brown feeling the effects while the NFL continues to grow?
Is it easier to blame a single person than an entire institution for their bad behavior? Is the NFL too big to boycott? Was Brown just not that good of an artist?
I see the argument for both sides. On the one hand, what Brown does personally isn’t anyone’s business unless they know him personally. As an artist, his only requirement is to release great music. The rest of it is a bonus. And the NFL is a business. They can deal with their employees any way they see fit.
On the other hand, we are all human beings and we should all work towards bettering ourselves and each other. Business may be business, but businesses are made of people and we can’t forget that.
If you know that your organization has an assault issue and you have literally billions of dollars at your disposal, maybe you do something about it? Maybe you get these guys into some anger management classes, or, I don’t know, fund research for the treatment of CTE?
I’m just spitballing here.
Now, obviously your brand isn’t the NFL or Brown, but it is one wrong decision away from being that. People and brands make mistakes. And thanks to the internet, those mistakes will be magnified and repeated (probably with gross exaggeration) for days, weeks and maybe even years. Hopefully it isn’t something so horrific that you have no chance in recovering, but you can’t know that much right now.
What you can know, however, is who you’re going to be when you do make your big mistake. You can decide that right now. Make your plan of action today so when it comes, you’ll be fine.
Decide now, before you’re angry or embarrassed or backed into a corner, the type of brand you’re going to be. Are you going to take responsibility? Will you admit to your mistakes? Will you do the hard work to make the changes in your company and yourself that will prevent this kind of thing from happening again?
You could take the chance that you’ll be like the NFL and people will throw their money at you regardless of the gross transgressions you make against humanity. But is that ok with you?
As Millennials start to become the majority of buyers, it’ll be more important than ever for your company to be fully transparent about its ethics and values. Making it known that you care about social issues, that your company holds its employees to a standard, and that you won’t look for a bailout when you do something wrong is the only way to ensure that Millennials will stand by your company when you make a huge mistake.
Don’t turn a blind eye because it’s easier. Don’t live above decency because you can. Really, just remember that you’re human.