I’ve kinda become obsessed with Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir. No not THAT kind of obsessed. Oh I do get a major kick out of his whole act: the fashionable, unpretentious, fierce, fox-fur-and-Louis-Vuitton-dipped swagger. However, the brand strategist and social media marketer in me has been salivating at the branding potential of this Pop Star on Ice. (The name of his documentary film that premiered at Sundance.)
Weir’s potential as a brand first caught my eye, when it was announced he would don faux fur instead of real fox fur on his costume for the Olympics. No doubt a PR coup won after the PETA folks lambasted him for wearing real fur during a competition. What caught me was the terms “fox fur” and “figure skating” in the same sentence. Especially since skating hasn’t evolved much stylistically since I went the Ice Capades with my Girl Scout troop in elementary school. Who was this frozen fashionista? I had to find out more.
For the unfamiliar, Mr. Johnny Weir is a 3-time US Figure Skating champion from Pennsylvania, but he’s no Brian Boitano yawn-fest, trust me. Weir is the first figure skater I can ever recall who’s been embraced by pop culture and the fashion world. He’s walked the runway for ultra-hip designers Heatherette at New York Fashion Week. He not only goes to Lady Gaga’s concert, but sat next to her mother. He has his own reality show, Be Good Johnny Weir, on Sundance Channel. He did this promo spot for the show rocking nothing at one point but John Galliano drawers,ice skates, and an impish grin.
No wonder he has the collective traditional skating world clutching its pearls aghast. More than that, though, he’s the first figure skater that seems like a real human being. With his honesty, candor, and wicked sense of humor, he’s the first skater I’ve seen that I would like to go have a latte and shoe shop with.
So what would I advise him to do if I were his brand strategist?
1. Engage With His Fans More Via Social Media. Social media is tailor-made for a celebrity like him. Its largely uncensored, self-publishing, and easily accessible. True, he has a Twitter account, but from what I see he’s doing one obligatory update a day. I’d tell him to let it out, say what he thinks, and share content with his fans. Especially,especially,especially, web video. If you’ve seen the show or the movie, you know he is a pure natural ham in front of the camera. I’d have him shoot video messages on his ever-present Blackberry and post them to a video diary blog as often as he could. Same thing with Twitter. Connect
2. Do TV That Lets Him Be Himself. I’d book him to host Saturday Night Live if it killed me. (He’s already been parodied by SNL alum Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory.) His talent rivals if not exceeds Justin Timberlake’s in the ability to be funny and mimic. He does a dead-on Russian accent, and has already got several “characters” developed. (Just watch his show.)
3. Endorsement Deals. MAC cosmetics needs to be on this guy like yesterday to pitch their stuff. Yes skaters wear makeup, and sometimes off the ice – get over it. MAC’s been outlandish yet charitable from day 1, and Weir, while self-promoting and brash, also has real concern for human rights issues. Its a match made in Lipglass heaven.
4. Plan for 2nd Career(s) After Skating. Clearly Weir is multi-talented both physically and creatively. Given his style and strength, I could see him moving into dance, and becoming another crossover star like Baryshnikov. He’s also on record as saying he wants to go into fashion design after retiring from skating, but brand-wise, he needs to make sure his brand distances itself enough from the “Donny and Marie on Ice” image of figure skating overall to stay “hip” and relevant in the fashion world which is oh so fickle.
So what do you think? Is Weir as marketable as I think? Do you agree with my strategy proposals? Hit me up in the comments and let me know what you think about the Pop Star on Ice.
I’ll leave you with a video of his performance to Poker Face by Lady Gaga.