A few months back I wrote a blog suggesting that, for the sake of her brand, American pop superstar Taylor Swift should take a break from the limelight. A period of introspection followed by a triumphant return - very likely with a pared down acoustic album - seemed to me at the time to be a good idea. And it might be the best way to counter a feeling that with her glitzy, Instagram-friendly, girl squad antics she was drifting away from her successful all-things-to-all-people image, and never-put-a-foot-wrong performance that had earlier led me to ask whether she was the best person at PR, like, ever.
Well, let's just say that hasn't been the path she's followed. Her high profile relationship with Calvin Harris was followed by a high profile spat with Kimye, while her high profile friendships with any number of the glossy models du jour have been splashed all over the Mail Online and other social media. What might otherwise have been a quiet time between albums and tours has been anything but - and media interest has now reached fever pitch with the emergence of Hiddleswift, her relationship with the swoonsome star of the tedious / excellent (delete as appropriate) BBC drama of the Year, the Night Manager.
Mostly the interest in Tom and Tay has centred on a simple question: Are they for real? What are they covering up? What are they promoting? What does this mean for Tom's bid to be the next James Bond? Is it a living embodiment of the Swiftian lyric, 'your lover in the foyer doesn't even know you'? Acres of newsprint (is the modern equivalent, maybe, gigabytes of cloud storage?) have been devoted to this question, all of it accompanied by suspiciously hi-res pictures of the loved up couple. Hiddleswift is everywhere, providing much needed relief this summer from the depressing state of politics and other news particularly in the lovebirds' two home nations.
But this 'are they for real?' question completely misses the point. In the modern world it doesn't matter. At a time when people choose holiday destinations according to how they will look on Facebook, and when celebrities and wannabes are willing to live their entire lives, including births, marriages, sex, divorces and even gender reassignments, according to a producer's whim, the border between what is real and what is fake is a blurry one, to say the least. To what extent is real life shaped by the script or the script by real life? What is put on for the TV camera, the paps and the smartphone, and what is reserved for off-screen? And at what point does one feel exactly like the other for the people involved?
Much more interesting is to think about what it all means for communications today. Hiddleswift is a further reminder that in the age of multichannel, always-on, media consumers are looking for brands - and let's be in no doubt that Swift and Hiddleston are mega brands - to deliver fully immersive, always-on, experiences. Authenticity is the watchword: people want to see the same tale on Instagram as on Twitter as in the Mail as on television as, ultimately, in the FT and the Economist. They want to be able to look at the story from every angle, at any time, at a time when attention spans are short, competition for attention is fierce, and consumers are easily bored or distracted. They need more and more and more information, new perspectives, new drama to digest, new things to talk about and like and share.
In short, any successful modern brand, whether a showbiz personality, a consumer product or a big corporation, must constantly live out its narrative, stand by its values - and above all keep feeding the beast with more and more content. Swift and Hiddelston's relationship, whether it is real or fake or somewhere in between, achieves this in spades, and so should be treated by comms professionals as a brilliant what-to-do case study. The only bad news is for Tom: I just don't think it'll do very much for his chances to be the next 007. In every other respect, though, Hiddleswift is a PR masterclass.