H&M, Mont Blanc, Tom Ford, Asahi, Dior are just some of the most prominent brand endorsements for Johnny Depp, in addition to his lucrative movie career. Depp’s viability as an actor and brand was the topic of his defamation case against ex-wife Amber Heard.
As I’m sure you’re all aware by now, Depp successfully sued Heard over a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which she identified herself as a domestic abuse survivor. According to testimony during the trial by forensic accountant Michael Spindler, the actor lost $40 million in earnings from December 18, 2018, to October 31, 2020.
In his opening statement, Depp’s lawyer, Benjamin Chew, argued the narrative, “For nearly 30 years, Mr. Depp built a reputation as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, a respected artist whose name was associated with success at the box office. Today, his name is associated with a lie, a false statement uttered by his former wife.”
We all know that rebuilding a damaged brand reputation is very difficult and perhaps impossible to return to what it once was. But will the court victory help Depp get his career back? The jury is still out.
Putting my crisis management hat on, you need to consider the trajectory of Depp’s career before the real-life drama began. He may have won in court, but the court of public opinion will be the driver of his reputation going forward.
In 2018, Depp sued the parent company that owns The Sun and the newspaper’s executive editor for calling him a “wife beater.” Justice Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp in 2020, saying the British tabloid had presented substantial evidence to show that Depp was violent against Heard on at least 12 of 14 occasions. In the wake of that case, Depp was asked to resign from the “Harry Potter” film franchise “Fantastic Beasts.”
According to Howard Breuer, CEO of LA-based Newsroom Public Relations, “people in the industry will approach working with Depp again with caution. I’m sure some factions in Hollywood will be cautious as long as they know there are people out there who think Amber Heard was telling the truth.”
On the flip side, Depp clearly won in the court of public opinion, as seen by the groundswell of support for Depp on social media platforms during the trial. Comments on Twitter and TikTok overwhelmingly backed Depp, with hashtags like “JusticeForJohnnyDepp,” generating more than 3 billion views on TikTok alone. Similar hashtags have been tweeted thousands of times. A search for “JusticeForAmberHeard” on Twitter displayed tweets calling for justice for Depp.
Whatever side of the fence you sit on, there are a couple of takeaways here. First, your brand reputation can change very quickly. Despite victories in court and in public, Depp’s brand may be too toxic for movie houses like Disney or brands like Dior and H&M to risk aligning with him again. Perhaps it’s unfair, but perception is everything.
Second, the power of social media to move hearts and minds has never been so apparent. Fans and potential business partners pay attention, and so should you. Our advice is to make sure you know where you stand on reputation and always track sentiment so you can be prepared.
I’ll leave you with this. Do you think this is a turning point for “cancel culture?” Has it gone too far? Let us know what you think.
The team at Social360 has deep experience managing reputation issues for clients, acting as communications practitioners, and more than a decade of monitoring know-how. If you need help or have questions, please contact Alex Baker or Giles Brown or visit our website – www.s360group.com – for more information.