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

Cory Lopez / January 8, 2013

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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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