13-year-old Ryan McKenna just experienced brand fame in a big way during Justin Timberlake's halftime performance at Super Bowl LII. When events beyond your control turn everyone's attention on you, it's easy to freeze in the spotlight like an Olympic ice skater. Without warning, everybody's watching and you have an opportunity that might never come again. What do you do?
McKenna was excitedly filming Timberlake's performance with his phone when the pop superstar went into the stands and boom! McKenna's standing next to JT.
He launched his camera app, got his selfie with Justin (complete with a big braces-filled grin), and then looked around sort of dazed, not quite sure what to do. An Internet superstar was born. Twitter broke itself. The next day, the kid was on the Today Show and Good Morning America. Hey, this fame stuff is easy!
Another example is Brian Gaw, who became an international meme as the infamous improvising "Left Shark" dancing with Katy Perry during the halftime gala at the 2015 Super Bowl. Over the past three years, Gaw has been accessible, honest, genuine and sweet in the many, many interviews that followed his instant fame.
He didn't launch a Left Shark clothing line; he's a hair stylist in L.A. Given the Super Bowl's incredible marketing muscle, that's serious restraint.
Obviously, McKenna isn't going to become a global brand or run for office (yet). He's going to surf on this wave for a while, enjoy a ton of notoriety back home in Minnesota, pick up tens of thousands of Instagram followers, and in a few years someone will be interviewing him like they did with Gaw.
But that doesn't mean we can't take away a few valuable branding lessons from how everybody's favorite Super Bowl selfie star handled his 15 minutes. Here are a few plays you can run when the spotlight swerves over and pins you down:
1. Be real.
McKenna didn't try to play the whole Timberlake experience cool or seem like he knew what to do. He didn't.
After Timberlake took off to continue his performance, the kid seemed bewildered, and it was adorable. After all, he's a 13-year-old boy, not a celebrity spokesperson.
When he was interviewed by the hosts of GMA and Today, he gushed about how crazy the whole thing was, how his phone had been blowing up and how exciting it all was. In other words, he sounded like a tired, flustered, 100 percent real teenager. Americans hate what's contrived, manufactured, but we love the authentic and unpolished; that's why McKenna's dorkiness won over the nation.
If you find yourself facing a New York Times reporter, don't be cool or ironic. Just be you, even if you is nerdy or nervous. Especially if you're nerdy or nervous.
2. Show nerve.
McKenna said in one of his interviews that when Timberlake came into the stands and stood right next to him, he saw that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a selfie with an idol, so he "went for it." When in doubt, step up and speak up, even that means walking up and introducing yourself to Elon Musk.
Swallow your fear, remember that we regret the things we don't do, and take a risk. Who cares if you're prepared? Last I looked, the saying wasn't, "Fortune favors the slick," but "Fortune favors the brave."
These days, if something doesn't happen on social media then it didn't happen at all. McKenna's smart move was in doing whatever he needed to do to get that selfie. He has proof of something extraordinary.
Whether you're building your company's brand or your personal brand, be alert to your opportunities to document your moment in the spotlight with photos, video or text. Documenting gets you instant attention on the internet--McKenna's gained 60,000 Instagram followers and counting since his Timberlake moment--and gives you content you can share and use to grow your brand for months and even year to come.
After all, you're carrying a powerful computer, camera, television studio, and recording studio in your pocket. Use it.