Justin Bieber -- a puppy you sort of thought was cute once a long time ago but then he followed you home and wouldn't stop whining, chewing on the furniture, getting DUIs, sleeping with supermodels and making millions upon millions of dollars, all before he was old enough to drink -- has had a really good year.
That's an understatement, actually. The Great Bieber Rebrand of 2015 will likely be studied by breathless PR apprentices for years to come, as well it should be. How a guy went from professional punchline to topping professional critics' end-of-the-year lists is a public image redemption arc for the ages.
Except that not everyone is won over so easily. SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office, for example, was probably not bumping Purpose (which just went platinum) when it issued a letter on Dec. 28, addressed to heads of Def Jam and Universal Music Group, blasting the "illegal guerilla marketing stunt" that accompanied the album -- a.k.a. the Bieber graffiti that began showing up on San Francisco sidewalks in the weeks before the album dropped in November.
Herrera, who called the graffiti vandalism “illegal and actionable” in a letter today to executives from Def Jam Records and Universal Music Group, vowed to “aggressively pursue all available penalties and costs from those responsible for lawless marketing tactics that intend to financially benefit your respective companies.”
San Francisco Public Works has for weeks responded to neighborhood complaints about the stenciled ads, which have otherwise persisted undiminished through several rainstorms. Unlike other recent instances of illegal sidewalk advertising that was chalk-based, according to Herrera’s letter, the Bieber-related graffiti appears to have been applied with permanent spray paint. Such defiant guerrilla marketing tactics have become an increasingly unwelcome sight to many San Francisco residents, according to their reactions on social media, in published news accounts, and in complaints to City officials.
“....This prohibited marketing practice illegally exploits our City’s walkable neighborhoods and robust tourism; intentionally creates visual distractions that pose risks to pedestrians on busy rights of way; and irresponsibly tells our youth that likeminded lawlessness and contempt for public property are condoned and encouraged by its beneficiaries—including Mr. Bieber and the record labels that produce and promote him.”
The letter does not, unfortunately, address how criminally sad it is for a major corporate media conglomerate to attempt to ply consumers into associating a mainstream-in-every-sense-of-the-term pop star with subversive "street" values, but perhaps that goes unspoken? Herrera does add that he has successfully fought back against "virtually identical" infractions from "IBM, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting and Zynga" over the past 15 years. Those actions did not, you will note, make for such fun headlines.