Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: The impact modern social media has on a public trial


The Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial just wrapped up with the jury weighing in favor of Johnny Depp. It awarded Amber Heard $2 million and Johnny Depp $10.35 million, but this verdict just scratches the surface of the monetary damages and gains incurred by each of these parties and those that were swept up in its wake.

This is one of the first public trials that showcased the power of modern social media and viral moments to create and destroy opportunities for all brands, influencers, and parties involved.

Amber Heard’s reputation is injured, and her future prospects stunted.

Johnny Depp, who became close to unemployable for years, is now playing guitar on stage with Jeff Beck and has public opinion largely on his side.

The ripples of this case go well beyond Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, though. 

Dozens of public figures took the stand throughout the trial, and thousands of brands and influencers weighed in from the sidelines. This created a storm of media coverage and tens of thousands of viral videos on Youtube, TikTok and Instagram. 

To give you an idea of the amount of public attention this trial garnered, you can compare it with the recent “slap seen around the world.” 

The response from the public has been nothing short of an obsession. 

The Johnny Depp/Amber Heard media moment is already about 25% larger than the Will Smith/Chris Rock moment (as measured by our sampling of articles published about each topic), and we don’t believe the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard moment is close to being over.

While it doesn’t spike as high as the “slap seen around the world,” its staying power is almost second to none this year. 

Some brands like Milani Cosmetic have ridden this wave well.

When Heard’s attorney, J. Ben Rottenborn, showed the Milani Cosmetics Conceal + Perfect All-in-One Correcting kit and said this is what Amber Heard used to hide bruises, Milani Cosmetics was quick to respond.

The cosmetics brand pointed out in a viral TikTok video (over a million views and growing) that they didn’t start manufacturing that particular kit until a year after Heard was supposed to have used it.

Heard’s legal team responded by saying that they were just using that kit to represent the actual kit she used.

Regardless, the incident resulted in millions of views for Milani, with several viral tweets from customers stating that they now have customers for life. 

Also, if your brand was a competitor to Milani Cosmetics, you could also have been primed to instantly take advantage of this moment had you targeted such a scenario in your Brand Mentality™ profile.

On the other side, brands like Disney and Warner Brothers have received a lot of backlash from angry fans due to Depp’s recasting in films.

This trial has left fans with a bad taste for one of Disney’s most successful franchises, Pirates of the Caribbean. A film franchise that gained over $4.5 billion in global box office will now be looked on with unease by what was once a loyal fanbase. 

One of the moments that showcased this damage best was when lawyers asked a Disney executive if the company had entertained the idea of paying Johnny Depp $300 million and a million alpacas to return to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. 

The executive replied “No” and then thousands of YouTubers got to work splicing, remixing, and commenting on that clip to garner millions of views on the social media platform and leave Disney’s brand damaged in the aftermath.

For Warners Brothers, the trial was trending as they released the third installment of their Fantastic Beasts series. To a decent amount of fan backlash, before the trial had even begun, Warner Brothers had removed Johnny Depp as the main villain and recast a new actor.

The recast might have been the final nail in the coffin for a struggling series. The movie opened to an abysmal box office performance. There were two more Fantastic Beasts movies in the pipeline, but it seems unlikely they will be made now.

The above are just a few examples of this case’s ripples outside of the courtroom. We expect this reaction to be the norm for most future high-profile court cases.

While there is no exact game plan to follow, if your brand finds itself swept into the wake of one of these future court cases, we believe the best protection is to have your brand’s mentality written down and shared with the team. 

If your customers and team members know what you do and don’t stand for, then as long as you act in line with your brand mentality, it will be hard to fall out of favor with them. 

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