Bentley's Paris Hilton Problem

Forbes

This story appears in the Nov. 7 edition of Forbes magazine.

When paparazzi started snapping Paris Hilton cruising around Los Angeles in a bubble-gum-pink Continental GT, the folks who make the car nearly spat out their Courvoisier. Yes, next year they'll sell a new muscular $212,800 Bentley convertible designed to appeal to a similar demographic of young, monied drivers. But while Hilton is appropriately young, rich and well-connected, she's not exactly a cover girl for class, what with those sex tapes, drug charges and reality TV shows.

This presents a delicate challenge for stewards of the 92-year-old brand. One insider says the company appreciates the fact that "celebrities and influencers" buy the car for its excellence. But, he adds, "there's a certain element still buying it possibly for very different reasons: the follow-on crowd who just said, 'Well, so-and-so is driving the car, so I want one.'" To combat such brand-deflating associations, recent marketing overtures at Bentley have boosted cool folks like , former editor of Vogue Paris; the polo player-model ; and , an art connoisseur. Not a Hilton type among them.

Bentley is hardly the first company to want to distance itself from certain admirers. Other examples:

ABERCROMBIE & FITCH: In August the apparel retailer announced it would pay a muscle-bound Jersey Shore star to stop wearing its clothing, as it was possibly "distressing to many of our fans." Nice p.r. move, in fact.

BURBERRY: Chavs, akin to Jersey Shore kids but British, deck themselves in head-to-toe Burberry. The brand, hurting from overexposure, is trying to move back upmarket.

CRISTAL: The champagne-maker faced criticism when an exec said rappers' affection might not be bubbly for its image. Jay-Z called for a boycott, which eventually fizzled.

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