Jussie Smollett Is Guilty. Here’s What We Can All Learn.

It’s difficult for me to understand why Jussie Smollett would stage a racist and homophobic hate crime on himself. 

I get that the actor was desperate to boost his brand. In the same way, leaders, marketers, and influencers are hell bent on gaining more fame and attention for their brands. 

But there are plenty of ways to become famous today. And Jussie Smollet’s form of seeking fame and playing the media, I believe, was especially hideous.

Here are some definitive lessons on how not to build your brand, courtesy of Smollett.  

Firstly, no matter how tempting fabricating a story might be to get attention, it’s is never a good idea because it causes confusion, anger and breaks the trust of your consumer. (And that’s before we consider it’s simply the wrong thing to do.)

According to a recent study from Pew Research, 64% of Americans say that fake or fabricated news causes too much confusion, inevitably leading to public backlash against people, companies, and products when they get caught. What’s more, 67% of members of Gen Z report that they value authenticity in brands, all 71.7 million of them. 

Many of you know I write a lot about the power of your vulnerability and flaws in leadership. So, do I think Jessie Smollett would have been in a better place today if he just came clean and admitted that he had staged the attack for more attention?

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Absolutely. 

Secondly, thanks to social media, the court of public opinion has become equally as powerful as the court of law. 

Regardless of the verdict of Jussie Smollett, the public had already found him overwhelmingly guilty. The Empire actor had been ridiculed on social media for two years, and audiences were already well on their way to destroying his brand. 

I’m not a big fan of the power of the court of public opinion. Certain people inevitably become easier targets of the media and the public, and that’s why we have the court of law. Nevertheless, it’s an increasingly evident reality with which we all need to grapple. 

And, it’s not like we haven’t witnessed the power of the court of public opinion before with the murder charges against OJ Simpson and the child sexual abuse charges against Michael Jackson, etc. Both were found not guilty, but branded criminals as audiences struggled to believe their innocence. 

Thirdly, never take advantage of sensitive cultural trends. I’ve said this before referencing Pepsi’s campaign with Kendal Jenner or Starbuck’s Race Together campaign. Both brands inappropriately attempted to leverage the race relations conversation to increase their brand relevance. And they were ridiculed and received significant backlash. 

But today, I’m also advising this. Don’t take advantage of cultural divisions.

Audiences are too savvy when people, products, and brands use sociopolitical divisions for their benefit. Remember, positive posts on social media have a ripple effect that benefits the original poster, and audiences do respond to messages of unity instead of division and strife.

But what I find most disturbing is that Jussie Smollett used the fact that he was a black, gay man targeted by Trump supporters to manipulate the genuine divisions in today’s society across race and sexual orientation to get more attention. 

It was a shameful and wreckless move on the part of Smollett, who lynched the truth and, in the process, betrayed every black and gay person in the country. There are real victims of racism and homophobia out there who might well be viewed with more suspicion due to his moves. 

Still, I do believe that Jussie Smollett doesn’t deserve our fury. He deserves our sympathy. 

Named Esquire’s Influencer Of The Year, Jeetendr Sehdev is a media personality, international speaker and the author of the New York Times best-selling book, “The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).” Follow him on Twitter @jeetendrsehdev, Instagram @jeetendr_sehdev.ollow me on Twitter. Check out my website

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