Your personal brand

Hello, and welcome to Future Tense, I'm Antony Funnell. Today's theme is about the power of the personal brand and its complications.

[Audio: Pogba and Stormzy video]

This is a recent viral video featuring Paul Pogba. Don't worry if you don't recognise the name, I had to have this explained to me as well. He's a giant in football. He plays for Manchester United. And they recently paid £100 million to have Pogda join their team, so you know he must be doing something right. Anyway, in this short online video clip he appears with the rapper Stormzy. And the clip itself was launched on Twitter by Pogba's brand sponsor Adidas, which is a brand itself.

Now, this clip was Pogba's way of telling the world that he'd agreed to play for Man United. He didn't hold a media conference or make a speech, because, well Pogba as a personal brand is more important than all that.

But what's really amazing about this clip is that in no way does it relate to football. It's all about personal branding, it's brands by association. It's all three brands—Stormzy, Pogba and Adidas—coming together to create one super brand. And that super brand only works because of this football deal.

But here's the thing, it's actually become bigger than the football deal itself. And that's the power of personal branding. It's no longer enough to be just a footballer or a celebrity, you have to create your brand.

Tania Yuki: The real challenge of what it means to be a celebrity today I think is not about how much you reveal but how much you actually conceal about your day-to-day life, whereas I think the onus was completely different before where it was all about offering glimpses into your life, now it's about giving yourself moments of privacy, maybe when people aren't watching.

But it definitely does put a lot of pressure on celebrities to always be on. I think it really blurs the line between a public and private persona. It's definitely a very, very big shift in the expectations of how much distance you have between you and someone who you follow.

Antony Funnell: And we'll hear more from social media and branding expert Tania Yuki a little later. But first here's Stuart Cunningham from the Digital Media Research Centre at the University of Queensland. Building a personal brand, he says, isn't necessarily just narcissism, it can be the logical reaction to a changing world.

Stuart Cunningham: Well, I think it goes back to all that emphasis that young people have these days on, well, don't expect to get the job for life, you're going to have seven or 10 or however many years these days careers in your lifetime. So you've really got to put your own so-called brand or your own entrepreneurial energies into how you get work. And so what we see today is that being enacted in the entertainment space, and the opportunities with digital now are that there are lots of opportunities for young people to exercise talent in ways that they get immediate feedback from in terms of, well, are people listening, are people viewing? And from that has grown a rather large proto-industry that we call social media entertainment.

Antony Funnell: And it's that industry, or ecology, which Professor Cunningham has recently been researching.

Now, developing your own personal brand is one thing. Let's face it, if all you have is a Facebook account you're still in some way curating your image. But making money from a personal brand you've developed is quite another.

There are now lots of people who make a decent living from being a personality online, doing all sorts of things, and sometimes doing not much at all, just being cute or interesting.

And when they get it right, says Stuart Cunningham, the financial rewards are significant.

Stuart Cunningham: The three genres, or in this space it's called verticals, that are really unique to many multi platforms are game play, vlogging, and style or how-to, the how-to genre. So let me give you a couple of examples. The king of game play is PewDiePie, he's the king of kings really. He's got 43 million subscribers and about 11.5 billion views. He has been at it for most of the history of YouTube, which is now 10 years, so seven or eight years, and he is reputed to be worth somewhere between $15 million and $20 million a year in advertising, licensing, merchandising and other kinds of spin-offs.

So Michelle Phan who is the queen of beauty and style, so she has a whole line in beauty, in makeup, but also in being authentic as well. So it's not just about slapping on lipstick, it's about how your inner self matches your outer self, if you like.

[Audio: Michelle Phan video]

Look, she's got 8 million subscribers, she's had more than a billion views and she is probably worth about $500 million, she's a 29-year-old Asian-American. And in the vlogging space, I mean, think of a person like Tyler Oakley, he is a wonderfully winsome young gay man who is, as he calls, just a personality. Well, that personality is worth 8 million subscribers on YouTube alone and he has had enormously important influence on…for example, the White House has called on him and a number of the other vloggers to help them sell to the millennial generation the whole Obamacare question. So there are some concrete examples of the kind of things we are talking about, at least at the top of the range.

Antony Funnell: And when we talk about branding in this space, we're talking about people building a personal brand, but they are building that personal brand in order to attract more traditional brands for revenue, for commercial gain.

Stuart Cunningham: All of these people started off as complete amateurs, that's the most important difference between this and celebrity culture as we know it. These were people who don't come out of a film school, they're not actors, they haven't been trained as actors or directors, their personalities, their hard work has generated followings, and those followings has turned them into…the current parlance is 'influencers'. And so influencer marketing is now…the marketing world is now chasing these people because they offer a much more authentic route to brands meeting customers.

Antony Funnell: So the personal brand isn't just about identity, it can also be about income or potential income. Or both, of course. And the desire to build a personal brand is now seeping into everything.

Tim Fuller is a sports lawyer and former professional rugby league player.

Tim Fuller: In the past when athletes essentially had a certain, if you like, uniqueness or character, whatever it may be, in the end sponsors often used to jump on board and basically endorse that athlete for their products. But it has shifted in the sense that athletes are understanding that what they represent, whether they have a certain way of celebrating a victory or a try in a game of football, whatever it may be, those types of unique characteristics, if you like, athletes are understanding that there is a value attached to that. And what they are trying to do now is essentially capitalise on that in a commercial way.

Antony Funnell: This is an international thing, isn't it. When we see someone like Usain Bolt, who is a terrific athlete, when we see him do a certain type of gesture, characteristic gesture on the field, he is doing that, yes, because that's what he likes to do and he identifies with that, but there's also branding going on there, isn't there.

Tim Fuller: Absolutely, so those types of celebrations after a victory or if they score a point, whatever it may be, if you think about Australian athletes like Leyton Hewitt who has got the famous 'c'mon' after he used to win a point, Usain Bolt with his unique striking of a pose, a player like Jarryd Hayne who extends his arms and runs around like an aeroplane, he's the Hayne Plane. All of these things aren't really accidents. And as players develop those and develop a certain reputation in those celebrations, what they then go on to do is protect those usually through something like trademark registration.

So in the case of Jarryd Hayne, when he was ultimately contracted to the San Francisco 49ers, the very next day he registered three separate trademarks in the United States; for his number, which was the number 38, for his name Jarryd Hayne, and for his unique moniker, the Hayne Plane. So that was relatively simple for him to do and that's in accordance with Australian trademark law.

It becomes a bit more difficult in other sorts of areas such as image and personality, that in Australia you can't really tangibly recognise, whereas in America they do enjoy certain proprietary right in that image.

Antony Funnell: So we are seeing this trend or a growing trend towards sportspeople creating their own personal brand and trying to manage their own personal brand. Is that filtering down to the junior players and those aspiring even at a school level?

Tim Fuller: It's interesting isn't it because we look at certain athletes in this country and around the world, we know them almost by their nickname. For example, GI, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, JT. In the States, Tiger who is synonymous with Tiger Woods, Greg Norman was the Great White Shark. All of these types of nicknames or monikers almost become symbolic with the actual athlete. And I think there is that filtering down where junior athletes are much more prone to label themselves, if you like, with a certain name or a certain image. So I think they are very, very aware of the image, and with social media and so forth undoubtedly there's more opportunity to portray what they represent to the broader public. So I think that's absolutely right.

Antony Funnell: So the idea is you get in ahead of the game. If you aspire to being a successful athlete you've got to start building your brand while you are starting to build your body almost.

Tim Fuller: Absolutely. There has been a lot of examples of athletes who don't necessarily sit in the top range as far as the elite type athletes or the hallmark type athletes who have done very, very well through essentially marketing themselves and promoting themselves and often through forums such as the different various social medias. So players are now able to use things like social media platforms where they become an influencer, if you like, and attract an enormous amount of following. And from that obviously sponsorship dollars can flow.

Antony Funnell: You could imagine that there are positives for athletes in terms of the amount of money they'll be able to make in the future from that kind of personal branding. Are their negatives though as far as sport itself is concerned?

Tim Fuller: I think so, because the fundamentals of sport are never going to change, are they, you have to prepare well, play within the rules, you have to treat your body correctly from a rehabilitation process after the match, there are all those types of things. Focus on just marketing and branding itself as a product…I think there is a danger that image and so on could take over some of those other aspects. So absolutely, yes.

Antony Funnell: Sports lawyer and former professional footballer Tim Fuller. This is Future Tense, I'm Antony Funnell.

Building a personal brand can be problematic, particularly when there are conflicts over intellectual property. And they can arise over the most unexpected of things, like who owns your tattoo? Body art is an ever increasing part of personal branding.

But according to Drake University law professor Shontavia Johnson, in a world of ever increasing litigation, just because you paid for the ink and your skin is the canvas, doesn't mean your tattoos belong to you.

Shontavia Johnson: If I have a personal brand and my brand includes the display of tattoos, I feel not only a personal connection but really some amount of ownership in that thing. Along the same lines, a tattoo artist is a creator, just like a musician or an actor or a filmmaker, and that tattoo artist along those same lines is creating art, creating a body of work. And that tattoo artist by and large feels some amount of connection to the work that he or she is creating. And we've seen increasingly high numbers of tattoo artists wanting to have some type of ownership in the tattoo that they create.

Generally speaking when we talk about ownership of a piece of art in any capacity it has to be something original, something that falls within a framework that we understand, so something that is a work of authorship or a work of creativity, and it also has to be something that we can feel, see, hear, perceive in some way, and that's true in most countries around the world. Copyright law requires those three things generally in some capacity. So if those three things are met then really you probably have a copyright in that specific thing from the standpoint of ownership of a tattoo or any other piece of art.

So along those same lines if I am an individual who has a tattoo on my body, then of course I own in some regards, I have some type of personal interest, property interest, if you will, in my body and the things that are on it. But if I simultaneously place something else on my body that is an original work of authorship, that is fixed so that other people can see it, then you probably do have these competing ownership interests. It's not an all-or-nothing in most cases, but we do have multiple types of property ownership depending on whatever that thing is.

Antony Funnell: And if you're thinking the potential conflict Shontavia described there is merely an academic thought exercise, not a legal reality, well, think again.

Shontavia Johnson: One of the first lawsuits in this regard involved a basketball player named Rasheed Wallace who was in a commercial, a Nike commercial, and in that Nike commercial, as the commercial goes along they show the tattoo and the tattoo is being digitally recreated on Rasheed Wallace's arm. And Rasheed Wallace is explaining why this tattoo is important to him and what it means. Shortly thereafter the tattoo artist filed a lawsuit suing this basketball player and the Nike organisation. It was probably very surprising for Rasheed Wallace to learn that someone else said they owned his tattoo.

Antony Funnell: So there have been tattoo related lawsuits, as you say. Have they all related to athletes or some type of celebrity to date?

Shontavia Johnson: Most of them involve a celebrity or athlete, though in the United States there have been some instances where a person wearing a tattoo that has a trademark or a copyright associated with it, that person might receive a letter from the trademark owner or the copyright owner saying, hey, what you are doing is illegal, by photographing yourself in some type of way where you are making money and we want you to stop. Most typically they are celebrities and athletes, but not always. And with social media almost anybody can have a significant platform through social media now.

A makeup artist in a small town in California or a makeup artist in a small community in Ireland can have 2 million followers on YouTube or on Instagram, and so we now have these internet sensations, these internet celebrities who have a platform and sometimes much greater even than traditional celebrities, athletes, those types of individuals.

Antony Funnell: So there's two issues here really, isn't there, there is if you are wearing a tattoo that has somebody else's trademark but say a company's trademark in it, say a sporting company, that could be a problem for an individual, but as you said earlier, there's also that other issue of the artist who designed an original piece of work. So there's really two points of interest with regard to copyright and tattoos, isn't there.

Shontavia Johnson: That is exactly right, there can be copyright issues, there can also be trademark related issues, things in commerce. So there are multiple ways in which body art really has collided with the law. So the best thing in almost any capacity, including this question of body art and copyrights and trademarks, is to get a release of very early, get a contract signed between you as the tattooed individual and the tattoo artist. That is one of the best things an individual can do if they find themselves running afoul of some copyright related claim, some type of contract.

Antony Funnell: And could you imagine a situation where a court…or have there been situations where a court has ordered the removal of a tattoo or the alteration of a tattoo because of a copyright violation?

Shontavia Johnson: No, I've not seen any cases like that. In fact oftentimes when there is a lawsuit they settle very quickly because the tattoo artist in a lot of times doesn't have much to lose, so they are very, very interested in getting justice. And on the other side usually there is a large company, a large corporation who doesn't want any part of that type of lawsuit. They want to settle very quickly so they can continue to do whatever it is they like to do using that piece of body art. So no court has ever gone that far. But we do have a lot of settlement talks, a lot of negotiations where people are trying to figure out how to agree in this particular capacity.

Antony Funnell: Professor Shontavia Johnson, from Drake University in the United States.

[Audio: Kanye West interview]

And the short answer to that question is, once again, busy! Kanye West is a major personal brand. Who cares about whether he can sing. And he's married, of course, to the biggest personal brand of them all, Kim Kardashian. They're celebrities and they're hugely successful, but being a celebrity isn't what it used to be.

Tania Yuki is an Australian-born businesswoman who now lives in New York. She's the founder and CEO of a company called Shareablee, and Shareablee provides data analytics, its technology monitors and analyses how social media is being used by celebrities, corporate brands and their audiences.

Tania Yuki: The pace of change and what social media has done, even to the concept of celebrities, not only has it created a way for celebrities to have their own voice…if you think back to the origins of celebrities, movie stars and musicians where so much of the challenge, if you will, of the average consumer was how to get behind the scenes and learn a little bit more about these people that consumers love so much, now it's really building celebrities, so you have people who became famous socially first and then went on to do television or film. But on the other end of the spectrum with more traditional celebrities, so much more is expressed by them directly to the world and it's not scripted and it's not curated by a PR agency or by a manager, it really does remove that fourth wall between the people who play these characters and the consumers who follow them.

If a celebrity is not active on social media, the average consumer starts to wonder what they are hiding or the average consumer perhaps isn't as interested because it just doesn't feel as authentic and they don't feel as real. And I do think it puts an incredible pressure on celebrities who are themselves practitioners and they are making movies or they are writing or they are making music to also be documenting their lives and their process as they go about that act of creation. So it has really brought behind the scenes or the concept of a behind-the-scenes to a whole new level that is always on.

Antony Funnell: And to do that you're talking about a monumental enterprise, aren't you. If you are a Kardashian, if you are Taylor Swift, if you are someone like that, to actually just keep up with that level of engagement on social media means you need a team of people behind you, doesn't it.

Tania Yuki: It does I think for the most part. I think there are particularly some younger celebrities and influencers who are just so native to the format. If you look at what someone like Justin Bieber or Selena Gomez does, it's almost like just as they go about the state of their day they are capturing images, they are making videos and they are really bringing their fans along with them. So that doesn't feel as orchestrated.

But you're absolutely right, someone has got to be there making sure that everything gets responded to and making sure that things come out the right way, and that's not even beginning to talk about what happens when there is a crisis or some sort of misstep, that has a whole separate team. So it definitely ups the production demands of what used to be maybe prepping your celebrity for one interview with a magazine every so often or with a news show, now it's these constant pieces of content coming out multiple times a day.

Antony Funnell: And what is expected from that celebrity seems to have changed too. Celebrity, building that personal brand was about an emphasis on glamour, if you like, an emphasis on living a rich lifestyle or an interesting lifestyle. But it seems like it's very much about sharing now private moments, that's what people want, they want to be in there with the Kardashians, they want to be in there with Taylor Swift at their party, doing what they are doing, is that correct?

Tania Yuki: That's absolutely correct. The glamour is there naturally, just by virtue of the lifestyle, but it's so much more about grit, it's so much more about being real. There was a whole slew of great Instagram images that many models and celebrities put out of themselves without makeup, just things which you would never think of before. Where it was all about looking great for a camera, now it's all about I think unpacking that and revealing who you are as a person, which when you think about just how curated and how built many of these celebrities are is quite a frightening prospect.

Antony Funnell: And it's a difficult thing to do, isn't it because, as you say, the emphasis is on being real. 'Authenticity' is a word that we hear all the time when we hear about social media. These celebrities trying to put across an image of intimacy, but there has to be a barrier, doesn't there. As you said, it has to be curated. That's a difficult path to walk, isn't it, between the two.

Tania Yuki: It's the real challenge of what it means to be a celebrity today I think is not about how much you reveal but how much you actually conceal about your day-to-day life, whereas I think the onus was completely different before where it was all about offering glimpses into your life, now it's about giving yourself moments of privacy, maybe when people aren't watching.

But it definitely does put a lot of pressure on celebrities to always be on. I think it really blurs the line between a public and private persona, and I think that it really empowers and perhaps makes much more demanding a general public who no longer are just happy to listen to a song that Taylor Swift performs, but they, to your point, want a guided tour inside her apartment, they want to be at her parties and they want her to respond to everything that they post. It's definitely a very, very big shift in the expectations of how much distance you have between you and someone who you follow.

Antony Funnell: And the impact on the celebrities themselves? I've read that with actors, say, the number of social media followers that they have can actually affect decisions about whether they get certain parts or not. Is that sort of thing common?

Tania Yuki: It's becoming increasingly common. I think there's still perhaps a little bit of a disconnect at the very upper end of Hollywood. I think you still have a sense of who is a box office draw and who is a 'star', but definitely on the lookout for emerging talent or in any situation where it might be difficult to make a casting decision, many people casting will say we will look at their inbuilt audience, we will look at how popular they are. And I know the other big challenge that is being faced by many of the studios right now is they are getting a lot of pressure to cast these social media stars who may or may not be actors, they might be aspiring actors and they may or may not be any good by traditional measures yet they've got these millions of people who are supporting them and who want to show up and see them in movies. So making those decisions of when to cast these people into roles, just because you have an audience doesn't mean that you are necessarily going to be great for the film, but at some point if millions of people want to see you in there it becomes a public vote as opposed to something that just comes down to the producers or the directors.

Antony Funnell: And this is a fluid environment we're talking about, this is changing by the day almost. Four, five years ago this kind of environment didn't exist, so people are still learning how to play the game, in a sense, aren't they.

Tania Yuki: Sure. Four, five years ago Snapchat didn't exist, Instagram, so many of these platforms themselves are such new players, it becomes impossible to know what is coming next and what's going to be really influential for the future. But definitely brands themselves are learning a lot about how to be active on social media from celebrities, but it feels like every time a celebrity does something new on Snapchat or does something else that really works on Instagram, suddenly all the fans expect that of everyone and it just becomes this ongoing, very hungry feeding frenzy of more information and more private glimpses into people's lives.

Antony Funnell: I'm reminded of that old Chinese adage, being cursed to live in interesting times.

Our final guest there was Tania Yuki from Shareablee, the vocals from Mr West.

That's Future Tense for another week. My co-producer for this program was Edwina Stott, the sound engineer Steve Fieldhouse.

I'm Antony Funnell, until next time, cheers!