Justin Bieber is in damage control mode as his personal brand reels following photos of the baby-faced Canadian teen idol smoking cannabis at a party (for which he duly apologized to his millions of Twitter followers with the "trying to be better" message posted on January 5th).
A lot is riding on the bankability of the singer, who's a bonafide mogul at the tender age of 18, with a higher Klout "influence" score than Barack Obama or The Dalai Lama. Having garnered more than 3 billion views on YouTube, 48 million Facebook fans and more than 30 million Twitter followers, Bieber’s appeal and reach are incomparable in the underage cohort.
So besides music, perfume, merchandise and concert tickets to sell, Team Bieber is also counting on a growing revenue stream: extending Bieber's name to other brands through endorsement deals.
The star's Justin Bieber Brands, LLC can't afford to let a marijuana scandal scupper his current and future deals. The Atlanta-based LLC just jumped into the lucrative and fast-growing U.S. market for prepaid debit cards, joining forces with BillMyParents, a niche player competing with financial giants including JPMorgan Chase and American Express.
As ambassador for “the Responsible Teen Spending company and payments industry award-winner,” Bieber will collaborate with BillMyParents’ SpendSmart card on a video series geared to unique cardholder experiences for teens, and offering their parents socially savvy help in teaching their kids financial responsibility.
"In addition to his many musical talents, Justin Bieber is a smart, motivated and socially conscious artist who actively works to have a positive social influence on his tens of millions of fans worldwide," stated Mike McCoy, Chairman and CEO BillMyParents.
"Our mission is to help families teach responsible spending habits. By combining our new teen prepaid debit card with Justin's vast reach and financial educational materials, we can empower countless families with teens to think about responsible spending in a new and better way."
Justin Bieber Brands LLC's first deal was with PhoneGuard, an anti-texting product downloadable to Blackberry or Android smartphones for safe and legal use of mobile phones while driving, launched in a video titled, "Let Them Wait."
Critics of the “strategic partnership” promoting the SpendSmart prepaid debit card say it’s neither smart nor simple. “Based on its fee structure, the SpendSmart is affordable if and only if you jump through hoops to make it so," NerdWallet commented. "Always get cash back, don’t lose or stop using your card, load infrequently and then only by checking or savings account…it doesn’t quite seem to teach responsible spending, unless “teaching” means “classically conditioning to avoid ATMs at all costs.”
SpendSmart comes with a $3.95 monthly fee (a good deal compared to Chase Liquid’s $4.95), but loads on additional fees including:
- $0.75 to load from a checking/savings account
- $2.95 to load from a credit or debit card
- $1.50 per ATM withdrawal (plus owner ATM surcharges, averaging $2.40)
- $0.50 per ATM balance inquiry (plus ATM surcharges)
- $3 for 90 days of inactivity
- $0.50 ATM decline fee
- $7.95 replacement card fee
NerdWallet concludes: “To the teens and parents who might be considering BillMyParents now that the Biebs has endorsed it: Responsible spending starts with choosing the right financial products. This isn’t one of them.”
Another critique from CardHub is even harsher: “At the end of the day, the relationship between Justin Bieber and BillMyParents seems like just another case of a celebrity trying to pull a fast one and endorse a financial product not because it’s the best on the market, but rather because the endorsement deal provides the best financial terms for them.”
Bieber’s online clout and musical acumen to date are indisputable, but in the world of brand endorsement – particularly in the volatile financial arena – the still baby-faced mini mogul’s Midas touch has yet to be proven — even while his management team looks to stub out this latest embarrassment for the teen influencer. At least they can relate to the angst he's feeling over his New Year's Eve faux pas.