An ode to Rihanna and her bad girl persona


‘BBHMM’ (Bitch Better Have My Money) is in the news for its very NSFW and controversial video. Why am I not surprised that Rihanna has got the world buzzing about her work and talking about it? She is after all the Good Girl gone Bad and there is no stopping her brand power.

Celebrities have always crafted a persona to appeal to audiences and create relevance in pop culture. Cannes 2015 this year was a lot about leveraging content – especially in an E! driven, celebrity obsessed world that we live in.

Rihanna’s evolution as a brand and celebrity has been complemented by her evolution and growth as a musician. So what is it about brand Rihanna that is so intriguing that Dior actually signed her on as its first brand ambassador of colour after 69 years?

Her rise from being the girl from Barbados to being the most popular musician of our times has been meteoric and documented in public. What is so striking about her persona is her attitude which comes across as genuine and authentic. She is not pretentious and is a free-spirited, confident woman who pushes boundaries. She does not claim to have a moral high-ground. If I had to define her in a word, it would be ‘Unapologetic’. And why shouldn’t she?

What makes Rihanna appealing?

Everything that Rihanna does, is closely aligned to who she is as a person. This makes her work more genuine and her brand associations more collaborative and mutually beneficial. Her persona of being a rebel that refuses to be stereotyped adds to her appeal.

She does not look at conforming to fit into a slot of any kind. She has instead gone ahead and done things her way by being totally unapologetic and going beyond what people are judging her for. It’s her life. She is in control and that’s what makes her bad girl persona feel aspiring, sexy and powerful. This attitude of being oneself – flaws, success and all makes her fans feel like she is just like them – messed up in some ways. But, yet she is more than that as she likes being disruptive albeit in a commercially safe way without going completely anarchic.

A large part of her appeal also lies in her being comfortable in her own skin. The sexually liberated women’s image is something that brings alive her bad-girl persona. She has embraced the bad girl persona whole-heartedly and leveraged it to be aspirational.

Her attitude is her brand power.

Rihanna knows how to play the fans, she is in tune with pop culture trends and what’s happening in the world. We know about her likes and dislikes because she talks about them. She loves and watches football – so a football related tweet from her during the world cup felt genuine. She loves brand Dior and has talked about the brand and also sported it earlier – this makes her Dior endorsement more genuine.

She likes keeping it real while staying true to herself. She bounced back from bankruptcy. She bounced back from her very public domestic abuse case with Chris Brown. Her style, her music – all reflect her ‘being unapologetic’ philosophy. By accepting her vulnerabilities, she won more fans and more believability for her authentic image. Her attitude has become her brand power.

She understands image building.

She knows and chooses what she wants to represent. She does not care for what the media thinks because hello – she is unapologetic remember? She lets her work do the talking.

BBHMM shows her as a woman who is in control. Be it nudity, drugs or violence – she chooses the story and carefully builds the narrative. The misogynistic, violence aside – we see a black woman in control. If Tarentino can direct a movie with violence then why not Rihanna?

Her fashion and style sense too is reflective of this. The Met-gala this year saw her as the only celebrity who actually wore a Chinese designer’s clothes which was the theme in the first place.

She knows how to successfully collaborate.

Rihanna is a wonderful collaborator. She understands how to reach new audiences by leveraging the existing audiences of different brands.

In music, collaborating with the likes of Maroon 5, Coldplay, Eminem, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris to name a few has only resulted in some chart topping music and more fan following.

In business, Puma, MAC and Dior are perfect examples of her collaborations. They become more believable because she chooses to collaborate with brands that she believes in. For example, she used MAC cosmetics on her tours so a RiRi hearts line for MAC seemed like a perfect fit. The brands benefit too by tapping into different audience psyches with these collaborations. Dior’s Secret Garden campaign ad was first featured on Rihanna’s Instagram page before it’s reveal by the brand. It worked for the brand to build the buzz.

What can brands learn from RiRi?

While there is so much more to write about Rihanna’s power as a brand, the following are some of the key things we can learn from her:

  • Stay true to yourself and your core
  • Accept your vulnerabilities
  • Being unapologetic can sometimes work in your favour
  • Take risks (but be mindful of the social and cultural contexts)
  • Push boundaries
  • Collaborate and connect

More importantly – be ‘fearless’ and ‘unapologetic’ in your own ways.

What are your thoughts on Rihanna and other brands? Let me know your thoughts

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