Biebs 'Pot Pic' Scandal — Will it Lead to Fan Fallout?

Experts weigh in on what the marijuana scandal means for Justin Bieber's brand.

Biebers on Pot Pics
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Behind the four No. 1 albums, more than two dozen chart-climbing hits and countless sold-out concert, Justin Bieber is a brand built on a wholesome image.

Now that carefully-crafted image is being called into question by two online photos that show the teen pop phenom holding what appears to be a marijuana blunt — a cleared out cigar packed with pot — at a Jan. 2 party in a Newport Beach, Calif., hotel room.

As they spread the web like wildfire, the images sparked a range of reaction among Bieber’s millions-strong worldwide fan base, with some berating the star, others saying a one-time slip can be forgiven and still others dismissing the drug as no big deal.

Though his team has not addressed the controversy, Bieber seemed to touch on the topic on Twitter. “everyday growing and learning. trying to be better,” he wrote. “u get knocked down, u get up.”

So will Bieber — named by Forbes’ as the third-most powerful celebrity in the world last year — be able to bounce back from this blunder? Short answer: Yes, in time.

"Overall, his fan base will be unaffected and will remain loyal," says Stacey Jones, CEO of Hollywood Branded Inc. "This is not a major transgression. It is a mess up, not a deal breaker. He won't be forever tarnished from this one incident."

Still, Bieber may lose some fans — those that held him on a pedestal of perfection or younger Beliebers whose protective parents are disenchanted by his marijuana misstep. But in the long run, it may be better that Bieber's once squeaky-clean brand is be slightly sullied.

"I think this makes him seem more like a real person, which I think is important," explains Monica Cost, Chief Brand Strategist of Evidently Assured LLC. "When you build a brand that looks so pristine, then the chinks in the armor come out [or] the people see the flaws, it just makes the fall from grace that much harder. But I think he’s still at an age where people kind of expect him to be doing those sorts of things."

That's why Bieber should seize this scandal to redefine his image, as he continues to transition from teen hearthrob to adult artist. "I don’t think fans are upset about who you are as long as they can count on who that is," Cost says. "At the end of the day, it's all about authenticity. So I think this is a good lesson for him in terms of giving people a little more insight into who he is and not necessarily perpetuating the all-American image."

Now it all lies in how the Bieber camp chooses to tackle the controversy. "Every individual is responsible for their own actions, but when you live in the spotlight, you are expected to serve as an example," explains Jones. "It’s just part of the entire package of fame."

That means headline-hitting marijuana photos require a public response. "He just needs to be real, and matter of factly address the issue, and make it understood that he realizes his actions have deep impact upon his younger fan base," Jones adds. "If Bieber handles this situation correctly and addresses the public, acknowledging that his actions influence others, his fans and their parents will come to understand and remember that Bieber is simply human and growing up."

Though his team has yet to issue a statement as the scandal unravels, Bieber diverted attention away from the marijuana madness with a bit of good will. Just days after the incriminating photos were published, the pop star surprised seven-year-old cancer patient Millie Flamm at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a private concert. He even shared snaps of the visit on Twitter.

"That was absolutely a savvy PR move," reveals pop culture expert Jo Piazza, author of CelebrityInc.: How Famous People Make Money. "He was trying to replace the marijuana pictures with the pictures of him with this leukemia patient. We know that celebrities don’t do anything without a motive. And there was absolutely a motive behind him visiting this cancer patient. He was hoping to alleviate some of the damage that he did to his brand."

Now as the best-selling, award-winning pop star continues to mature, Bieber's team should steer him away from the path of former child stars like Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes and Miley Cyrus, who all spiraled out of control as they came of age in the spotlight.

"If he wants to elevate his brand to a more adult level, this isn’t the way to do it," explains Piazza. "He should be following the Justin Timberlake business model, which is just do good, adult work, instead of following the Miley Cyrus business model, which is go wild, use drugs, get tattoos. Because we’ve seen that Miley Cyrus model doesn’t seem to be working, and we know that Justin Timberlake worked."

Still, fans should not expect flawlessness from Bieber — when the cameras stop rolling, when the music stops playing, when the screen dim to black, all celebrities are still just human. "He is growing up...and messing up here and there. And he probably will again, as the paparazzi have eagle eyes and keep him in their eyesight at all times," says Jones. "Just because someone is a star, does not mean that they are going to be perfect by any means. Perhaps a small fall from grace will actually be a great learning lesson for both Bieber and his fans."

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  • Wendy

    Put a freaking shirt on and pull up your stupid pants!! You are not the new Marky Mark!!@

  • Mrs.Bieber (Olivia)
    Mrs.Bieber (Olivia)

    come sing in albany PLEASE Justin Bieber!! If u would it would make my life!! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!! I'm your biggest fan!! I know every thing about u!! ask me any thing!!

  • starrhunter

    you really need to get rid of that fashion and put pants where they belong over your bottom not under it,,,that is a terrible look

  • Cory Lopez
    Cory Lopez

    Very true. But when you are a celebrity or public figure, you forfeit a certain amount of personal privacy. You are always in the spotlight, even when you think you're doing something behind closed doors. That said, I think he has the free will to do as he pleases, but he and his team might want to consider offering up some language around "my choices don't have to be your choices" considering how young some of his fan base is.

  • Cory Lopez
    Cory Lopez

    It's true that Justin often makes visits to children's hospitals and the likes, and has been a big supporter of charity. But he did Instagram a photo from his visit with Millie -- granted, doesn't make it a publicity stunt, but he did put it out there for the world to see.

  • Cory Lopez
    Cory Lopez

    Good point. I think there is a big difference nowadays between marijuana and other drugs, especially given the laws pushed out this year following the fall election.

  • bobby brown
    bobby brown

    this bimbo is dumb as hell if you one pot is less addictve then so much stuff 2 if your a pot head u wont contrubute o the world LOL Thomas Alva Edison — Cocaine Elixers Steve Jobs — LSD Stephen Jay Gould – Marijuana Sigmund Freud — Cocaine Richard Feynman — LSD, Marijuana, Ketamine Ralph Abraham – LSD/ Other Paul Erdös — Amphetamines Kary Mullis — LSD John C. Lilly — LSD, Ketamine Francis Crick — LSD Carl Sagan — Marijuana Bill Gates — LSD Andrew Weil – Morphine Sir Richard Branson smokes weed with his son Rick Steves smokes weed Aaron Sorkin smokes weed Michael Phelps smokes weed Barack Obama smoked weed Michael Bloomberg smoked weed Ted Turner smokes weed every day Montel Williams smoked weed Stephen King smokes weed Arnold Schwarzenegger smokes weed and there are 10000s more this dy is dumb as hell like i said

  • Ivan Cardona
    Ivan Cardona

    Let me add that if a so-called friend did not sell the pics to TMZ for $25,000 betraying Justin, nobody would have made a big deal of this and the world would have been at peace! Justin did nothing that millions including the President have not done.

  • Ivan Cardona
    Ivan Cardona

    It's amazing Justin Timberlake would be considered a role model for Bieber since he also smokes pot. Also, his visiting the child was not a publicity stunt; he has done this many times before. the media was not invited to be there. The pics originated from the family and were posted in the internet. There was no effort to publicize a visit that was the result of an online request by the family and fans.

  • dan

    No just cause a few thousand of his tenn followers to try smoking if they haven't already. He is such a great role model for the 12-14 years little girls to try whatever he tries.

  • Max Lazzarotto
    Max Lazzarotto

    Give him a break weed is nothing bad... It's not like if he did cocaine and even if he did it would be his own choice, he aint 16 anymore he's 18 going into his 19's ...