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Justin Bieber failing to divert attention from scandals to music: experts

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TORONTO - Justin Bieber's efforts to promote new music in the midst of his latest scandal are falling flat, say marketing experts familiar with celebrity meltdowns.

The pop star is currently juggling myriad legal troubles, but that hasn't sent the 19-year-old into hiding with trusted advisers.

Around the time he appeared at a Toronto police station to be charged with assault on Wednesday night, a video featuring Bieber popped up on Instagram, showing the upbeat teen urging fans to check out a new video for "Confident."

It was clearly an attempt to shift attention from negative publicity, one public relations expert said Thursday.

"He's trying to change the conversation, but the reality is he's peeing in the ocean," Howard Bragman, vice-chairman of reputation.com, said from New York.

"It's not making a big difference. When these stories go out there and tens and hundreds of millions of people see (them) every day and the arrests are everywhere, one Instagram isn't going to change it."

According to a time stamp on Instagram, the 12-second clip popped up shortly before Bieber surrendered to Toronto police and was charged with assault.

Police allege the Stratford, Ont., native was one of six people picked up from a nightclub in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, and that there was an altercation in the limousine on the way to a hotel.

The timing of the Instagram post promoting "Confident" raised speculation that it might have been shot at the police station while Bieber was in custody.

Toronto police took to Twitter on Thursday to denounce that theory: "TPS has been asked if @justinbieber filmed a video while in our custody at 52 Division. Answer: no."

In the promo, Bieber is seen in a dark baseball cap turned backwards, although it's not clear if it's the same one he was spotted in at the police station.

"Is the camera on? Oh, yeah, it is," Bieber says. "What's up, guys? Justin here. 'Confident' is out right now. ... So go get it, go look at it, go comment."

The timing and cheery nature of the video do not look good, said Oscar Yuan, vice-president of brand managers Millward Brown Optimor.

"The best thing brands can do when they're going through a crisis is be very aware and very cognizant of what is happening in the marketplace," Yuan said from New York.

"And I think specifically in this case, what Justin Bieber did not do is show an awareness of what people were talking about or what people were thinking about him. To release his new music video shows a little bit of a lack of even compassion for what people are talking about.

"One, it will get lost in the fray of other things, and then two, it is actually a message about him that (says) it doesn't really bother him or doesn't concern him what's going on around him."

Celebrity image consultant Amanda Sanders called Bieber "a typical child star" struggling to shift into adulthood. She blamed the ill-timed video on the fact "nobody's running the ship."

"The problem is these stars can put themselves front and forward with Twitter and all sorts of other social media that nobody is checking," said Sanders.

"He can put out whatever he wants from his phone even if it's not of a great thought process."

Still, she noted that "any press — even bad press — is press."

And lately, the press has been particularly bad.

Last week, Bieber was arrested in Miami Beach on charges of driving under the influence (DUI), resisting arrest and having an expired driver's licence. The resulting mug shot showed the singer smiling in a bright red inmate jumpsuit, a grin that would not have been out of place on a red carpet appearance.

Before that, reports emerged that Bieber was under investigation in a felony vandalism case after a California neighbour claimed the pop star threw eggs at his house and caused thousands of dollars in damage. Bieber was also accused of reckless driving in his neighbourhood, but charges were never laid.

Bragman said the teen "is absolutely in crisis" and needs to focus on his career.

"If you're going to evolve and grow as an artist, you need to be 110 per cent committed to your craft," noted Bragman.

"And he's not. He's just not. He's much more interested in partying and his antics, and to me, unless he stops that, unless he changes his focus, he'll be playing state fairs in three years."

Bragman noted that Bieber's fans are growing older, and increasingly tired of his behaviour.

"If you want to look at how it's done, look at Miley Cyrus," he said of the former Disney star, who killed off her Hannah Montana persona by chopping off her long locks, releasing racy music videos and twerking onstage next to Robin Thicke at last summer's MTV Video Music Awards.

"You may disagree with her execution, but her strategy was well thought out and pretty brilliant, quite frankly."

Yuan said his company advises brands to go through "a quiet period" during any public mess, noting it worked for Tiger Woods, who laid off the golf circuit after a sex scandal.

Consumers need time to "forgive or forget — or at least mitigate — some of the imagery that's in their heads," he said.

Sanders noted that Bieber manager Scooter Braun and mentor Usher were spotted with the teen over the weekend in Panama, presumably trying to tame his wild behaviour or maybe even strategizing on how to spin the escalating bad press.

"But at this point there is no spinning it," said Sanders, who has created signature looks for clients including Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx and Whoopi Goldberg. "It is what it is and I'm sure he's lost most of the demographic that he would have had."

Bragman said it's crucial that Bieber surround himself with people who care about him and turn his attention back to making music.

"He should be in the studio, he should be writing music, recording music in the studio. Silence would be a wonderful thing from him right now."

Follow @cszklarski on Twitter.

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