Category Archives: Case Studies

Case Study: The Justin Timberlake identity

Everyone loves a good a case study.  As humans, we constantly search for stories or instances that can present different perspectives of decisions.  Children learn from family members on how to dress, how to approach other people, how to be kind etc.  As students, we CRAVE examples to help absorb a lesson.  As professionals (in any field), we look to how our competition reacts in certain scenarios or how they roll out new practices or products.

As a PR major about to step into the working world, I am CONSTANTLY looking at what others are doing around me.  Are people being consistent in their branding?  Are they communicating their story well?  Have people bought into the brand and exactly how loyal are these brand ambassadors? I try to view situations from three lenses; public relations, marketing and advertising.  These three fields are taught separately at my school, but they are so intertwined it is almost impossible to view any scenario without considering the impact on the other fields.

Lately, my attention has been drawn to Justin Timberlake’s comeback into music.  Previously admitted, I am a HUGE Justin Timberlake fan.  I have been enamored by the man for the last 15 years of my life.  My knowledge of him and his career exceeds the knowledge of the average person bopping along to Suit & Tie.  I’m now watching Mr. Timberlake from a more critical perspective.  I can’t say that my opinion of his re-launch isn’t biased, but nonetheless, I feel that people should be paying attention to what he is doing.  After all, how many from his era have made a steady transition into an independent identity and been SO successful?


Before I delve into what he is doing with this new album, it’s important to know what Justin has been doing in the last ten years.   In 2002 he attempted to shatter his boy-band mold with the release of Justified. Here we see the young 22 year old Justin in his first attempt to figure out where he sits in the realm of music.  He had a lot of help on this album and it had a very Pop/ R&B feel to it.  Songs like “Like I love You” were reminiscent of long-time idol, Michael Jackson.  Timberlake receives help from Timbaland, Pharell Williams, Brian McKnight, and Janet Jackson.  Nothing about the songs really sounded entirely different at the time of their release.  In 2006 Timberlake released FutureSex/LoveSounds, which was an album that had a very different sound from what was already out.  In the four years between the two albums, Justin has clearly matured vocally and personally and this is reflected in the content of the music.  He continues to work with Timbaland and brings other artists onto his album such as T.I. ,Will.I.Am and Three Six Mafia.  However, Timberlake begins to figure out where is identity falls.  There is a definite sex appeal and southern swagger to his entire persona.

In between these albums and tours Justin occupied himself by working with his childhood best friend, Trace Ayala, to create a clothing line and restaurant chain.  Both ventures are heavily influenced by their southern upbringing.  Their restaurant, Southern Hospitality (, is more or a less a shrine to Elvis Presley.  Each restaurant has a fun atmosphere with southern-styled, barbequed, fried, and cheesy eats.  Their clothing line reflects a southern meets chic look.  Denim and leather are the main fabrics you encounter.  Don’t forget, that amidst all of this, Timberlake decided to thread his favorite hobby (golf) into his philanthropic ventures with Shriner’s Children’s Hospitals.  From 2002-2012 Justin was part of 13 movies, appeared on SNL 7 times, created a tequila, held some endorsements (Givenchy, Audi, and Callway golf), developed the first ecologically friendly golf course, hosted a few awards shows, produced a television show, performed here and there, produced or collaborated with artists that include (but are not limited to) Ciara, Esmee Denters, Matthew Morris, Free Sol,  Duran Duran, T.I., Leona Lewis, etc. Oh, and he bought MySpace.

And yet you all thought he was JUST acting during this 7 year “musical hiatus”.

Regardless of what he was doing, there are some key things to pay attention to in ALL OF HIS VENTURES.  His southern roots appear in almost every single thing he does.  For example: the tequila he created and launched, 901 Silver (, uses 901 because that was his area code when he lived in Tennessee.  901 is readily available at his restaurants to which their mantra is “Its 9:01 somewhere”.  In case you’re wondering, I happened to enjoy an amazing performance when he celebrated 901 Silver on September 1st, 2011 at Southern Hospitality (Hell’s Kitchen location).  JT sang one song (What goes around comes back around) but played with the rap/rock band FreeSol.  FreeSol is signed to his record label, Tennman Records/Interscope Records.

Justin Timberlake performing with FreeSol at Southern Hospitality 09/01/2011

Clearly losing my mind over seeing Justin Perform for the first time in 4 years.

Clearly losing my mind over seeing Justin Perform for the first time in 4 years.








Is “9:01” ringing a bell with anyone?  To those of who have been keeping up with (at least) his comeback, 901 should resonate.  He released Suite & Tie digitally at 9:01 am, Pacific Time.  Coincidence? Absolutely not.  I am convinced that his Grammy performance was scheduled to take place at 9:01 p.m. Eastern Time but fun.’s acceptance speech ran overboard resulting in the performance start time of about 9:06 pm.  He has also been insanely consistent in branding the identity of The 20/20 Experience.   In an interview with GRAMMY ( , he explains that there is a character he is living out for this album, hense the Tom Ford tuxedo image.  This character is part of the current branding of JT right now.  He hasn’t really been spotted without a suit and tie on, his social mediums have gone through revamping also (Facebook and Twitter profile changes with each new announcement) and the creation of his Instagram account.  By the way, the sepia-tone filter during his Grammy performance was entirely intentional.  Feb 10th is when JT signed onto Instagram and every photo since has been in a grey scale toned filter.

Photo credit: Justin Timberlake's Instagram

Photo credit: Justin Timberlake’s Instagram

He has also created and maintained A LOT of buzz for his re-launch back into music.  Not only has he done this, but it has a very personal feel to it.  He has several hand-written letters on his website speaking directly to his fans.  He also launched a video explaining his “hiatus” from music and why he chose to step back into it now.  And you can’t forget about the personally written track list of the album. His Instagram pictures, although obviously professionally taken vs. cell phone pix, give us a small look into his life as he re-enters the stage.  These updates come periodically and have his fans at the edge of their seats—or smart phones considering all of his announcements are via social media. (HINT: PR/social media specialists should be PAYING ATTENTION).

Also, I find it interesting that he has been releasing music digitally.  As I previously mentioned in an earlier post, Justin has advocated for many years against pirating music.  I also think it is interesting that the album is being sold exclusively through iTunes and Target.  This is a very interesting business move on his part.  Speaking of business moves, he’s recently the creative director for Budlight Platinum.

Keep your eyes on this rollout and take notes.  We have A LOT to learn from Mr. Timberlake.

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