Marketeer of the month

By The Drum, Administrator

February 25, 2004 | 6 min read

When the announcement, last month, of the latest batch of desperadoes was released for this year’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, there was the usual failed pop star, page three model and retired laddish sportsman. No surprises there then. Until, that is, you got to John Lydon. Surely Johnny Rotten would not put himself on a programme that flew in the face of everything that the Sex Pistols had famously battled against – in particular the ESTABLISHMENT.

But, sure enough, he landed in the Australian rain forest with nine other reprobates, battling against the elements, and each other, to win favour with the audience and be crowned King or Queen of the Jungle. So why did he do it? Surely the man who sang, “I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist” wouldn’t have dared to put himself up to such humiliation in the guise of entertaining middle England?

Managing director of the Lab, Adam Clyne, believes that Lydon had the game sussed from the start, making him a true marketer in every sense of the word. “In my opinion it wasn’t a master plan but a marketing plan – and he had it sorted from day one. Consider the evidence: he calls the show ‘mainstream rubbish’ but still takes part. He befriends the other celebs and then slates them to their face and behind their backs.

“In the 70s he shocked the world and made international headlines by swearing on TV. Did he learn his lesson? Yes – by doing it again, this time swearing live on ITV at peak time. Just as he is the bookies’ favourite to win, he walks out, placing him above the show and sending his credibility through the roof.”

The future for Lydon is bright, says Clyne, with, no doubt, a number of sponsorship deals on the cards, but he believes that Lydon should be wary of falling into the old grab-the-money and run tactic: “We don’t want to see him designing sofas à la Linda Barker, doing a Tara Palmer Tompkinson advertising crisps or bringing out a jungle DVD like Tuffers On Tour. Then again, the others did earn a few million quid last year so he probably will ignore my advice, and who could blame him?”

Rob Brown, head of PR for McCann-Erickson, believes that Lydon appearing on IACGMOOH was Lydon doing what he is famed for – subverting his public image. He comments: “I defy anyone to say that Lydon entering the jungle was a sell-out or against what he has stood for in the past. It was brilliant casting to get him into the jungle, and his decision to take part will have been a very deliberate and conscious move. The Sex Pistols were always about subverting the norm by turning things on their head, and he certainly did that.

“Those who argue that it goes against the nature of punk really don’t understand what punk was all about. Punk didn’t really stand for anything. I mean look at the Sex Pistols history. From very early on they were signed to a major record label and their second album was entitled ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’. What they tried to do was annoy people, and he did that by going into the jungle. He swore when he knew the cameras were on him and he made the headlines. The point of the show is to give a burst of show biz news in a short cycle and he gave us that. And then he left early, which again causes annoyance and upset.”

But Brown believes that he won’t go down the tried and tested formula of sponsorship deals. “I can’t see him doing that. He won’t go down that avenue. I’m sure that he will just disappear again back to LA with his family. If he was to put his name to a brand I think it would be something that you really would not expect him to do. Say, perhaps, a Pepsi commercial. Because he would be subverting the idea of himself once more and that is what he is all about.”

Lydon appearing on the TV was enough to wow even the hardest cynic. Over 12 million people tuned in most nights to see him rant and rave on everything from his disgust for his fellow contestants to the beauty of the natural landscape. But should he have appeared on the show at all? Damian Fitzgerald, copywriter at Target PR, is unsure: “It’s a tough one. Because, frankly, we were all happy remembering him as the guy who changed our lives. To think of him as a respected property developer living in the suburbs might just have been too much to bear. But then again, he has grown up and times have changed.”

For Fitzgerald, the reasons for Lydon entering the jungle were probably less to do with PR and more to do with another reason – to remind people of who he is and what he stands for. He comments: “He doesn’t need PR. He’s already proved himself as a true rock icon and I doubt his property development empire needs a boost. And I can almost hear the thousands of safety pins being ripped out of noses if he even thinks about taking on any sort of sponsorship deal.”

“The thought of John Lydon attaching his name, face, reputation to any kind of commercial product would compromise every value he has expressed or stance he has taken, in my view,” comments Mark Conway, managing director of HRO’C PR. He continues: “I can see a re-release or a new ‘best of’ the Sex Pistols or Public Image Limited, but that needs to happen quickly. He could take the wildlife angle, and go back to nature, but I’d see that more as a campaign than a commercial promotion for a particular product.

“I can’t see Lydon replacing David Ginola, Andi MacDowell and Beyoncé at L’Oreal with a candle on his head. Mind you, I’m sure he’d deliver the strap line perfectly: ‘Because you’re worth it ... you c**t!’”

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