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Is your brand running on cruise control?


I’m a great believer in synchronicity. So after watching the latest Mission Impossible film on Saturday night and then walking into work this morning and hearing ‘Take my breath away’ from the movie Top Gun, I knew I had to write a piece about Tom Cruise.

Such a polarising figure, he’s a bit like Marmite, you either love him or hate him. I’ve always been a fan of the man as an actor and film star, rather than the jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa, nutbar crazy Scientologist. Handsome in a non-classical huge hooter way, the bloke has starred in some amazing blockbusters. What about the classic Risky Business? Who doesn’t remember the dance scene with Tom in white socks and shirt miming to ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’ by Bob Seger? Then there’s ‘Show me the money’ Jerry Maguire and latterly his many trips out as IMF agent Ethan Hunt in the highly successful Mission Impossible franchise. Rain Man was another great, and I still feel Cruise deserved the Oscar over Hoffman, and would have loved to have seen him ‘Thank the Academy for this award’. There have been a few flops too, which we can forgive him given the plethora of films he has made. I’ll just mention Eyes Wide Shut and we’ll leave it at that.

Maverick or micro manager?

So, why am I writing about Tom Cruise on a business blog? In short (no offence Tom) but he’s a good example of how to successfully manage a brand. But what does that actually mean?

Tom Cruise controls the Tom Cruise brand in a way that not many other major celebrities have been able to do with their own brands. This is no mean feat in a world of 24/7 media coverage, social or otherwise. Hollywood stars since the beginning of moving pictures have had carefully manufactured personas, to make them shiny, exciting and universally appealing. In the past, homosexuality, drugs and scandal were all hidden by the PR people at the studios. Each star had a carefully created image, and any actor who dared to rock the status quo was quickly sidelined or blacklisted.   

There have been plenty of other stars who have failed miserably at controlling how the world views them and have fallen by the wayside. Quite unsurprising really given the fact that most of these celebrities are young, daft, have more money than sense and don’t know how to make good choices – sound familiar Lindsay Lohan?

From what I can glean about Cruise, he’s actually a really nice bloke and a pleasure to work with. There of course many rumours about his ‘arranged’ marriages, his controlling nature, his penchant for wrestling young men in Lycra outfits, and his belief in a load of nonsense made up by L Ron Hubbard. So far, nothing has really stuck, and for the most part he has enjoyed global stardom that very few others have.

Blockbuster or bust?

What can we learn from Tom Cruise, his impressive career and enviable brand status? Here’s a few pointers:

Give your punters what they want – we love it when Tom does his own stunts, runs like a meerkat on speed, hangs off helicopters/motobikes/aeroplanes and is the lead in films which are truly deafening at the cinema. Being the baddie in Collateral was plain wrong, and his days of being the romantic lead and snogging women half his age are well and truly over. 

Business case in point: Blockbuster, how did you not see Netflix coming?

Make good choices about what your brand does, says and how it behaves – Tom being moderately humorous and the raconteur when interviewed by Graham Norton is appealing. Tom going off script is not so good, just ask Oprah. 

Step forward United Airlines – dragging a customer off a flight and threatening to handcuff another who wouldn’t make room for a ‘higher-priority’ traveller is not the type of behaviour that will sit well with your frequent flyers.

When it comes to creating good publicity from bad, you can’t fault Tom’s tactics. During his marriage break-up with Katie Holmes, while some media discussed his domineering behaviour and his unconventional religious beliefs, the man turned on the charm for his fans. At the Los Angeles premiere of his new film Oblivion he spent hours meeting and greeting the crowds, proving once again that he’s got it – or at least a Teflon coat and a clear understanding of how PR works.

Brand KFC came out fighting with recent apology ads to customers in the UK and Ireland after running out of chicken and shutting down more than half of its 900 stores. What could have been a PR disaster was spun into a cheeky campaign earning the company kudos for having acknowledged the problem with this print advertisement:


Point in case

What’s the point I am trying to make? Well there’s a few actually. For starters, it’s comforting to know that vertically challenged people can succeed, so thanks Tom. Secondly, that it’s flippin’ hard to write a business article connecting a Hollywood film star and brands. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, brands are like celebrities, they need to be carefully managed and nurtured, and because you can’t always control them, you need to be prepared for the unexpected and have a plan b (or at least a shit-hot comms agency).

Mister Badger