The term “branding” is often misunderstood by actors, not because it’s their fault, but because it’s bandied around by people who don’t actually understand the broader marketing principle it arises from.
Actors are often led to believe that their “brand” is something they have to dream up or figure out or choose out of a million possibilites. Or vice versa, they think they have an “implicit brand” that they just need to discover, and they set out on a mission to find out what it is but they’re never quite certain if they’ve found “it.” But that’s not how it works.
From a marketing perspective, there’s no way around having a brand or being branded. Like it or not. Although consummate and famous actors like Meryl Streep don’t all actively set out to brand themselves, the fact is they offer a brand. That brand is what makes them famous. They are like McDonald’s in that whether they are the best or not doesn’t matter…. audiences know (and like) what they will get when they go to see a movie that actor is in. With Meryl Streep, you know you will get a consummate performance of anything she does, and typically an accent of some sort. Some people like her and some people don’t.
One of the things that makes an actor famous is that people — individuals who watch their performance — love “something” about that particular actor. That something which they love is an aspect of that actor’s branding.
For producers, directors and others who hire them, there’s a star actor’s type and demographic description, but there’s also that star’s reputation — another part of their branding, which makes the industry pros want to or not want to work with them.
Bottomline… branding is inescapable if you want to be a known talent — known by the industry or the viewing audience. It’s simply inescapable.
The confusion most often lies in understanding how an actor’s brand arises and comes into being for a given talent. In reality, it emerges as an agreement from both sides — the actor and the audience. Who does the actor present themselves as and who does the audience see them as or buy them as? As long as the two come together… you have a starting point for a brand. Marilyn Monroe, case in point.
Early on, however, the most important thing for actors (after becoming a strong actor) is to understand as fully as possible what type you are, what unique quality you bring to the table, and then to amplify that to make a stronger impression…. thus creating a stronger brand that is authentic and unique to you.