Say the chart below was a stock. What would you think of its performance?
A fallen champion? A company that once was on the upswing but has since lost its mojo? No longer in a growth sector?
That, folks, is a chart of interest in "Hannah Montana," courtesy of Google Trends. For those of you in need of remedial pop culture education (and given the demographics of our CNBC audience, this may indeed be the case), Hannah Montana was the early alter-ego, via a Disney TV show, of the real-life pop singer Miley Cyrus.
The chart shows Hannah was quite popular for a time. The peak is around the time "Hannah Montana: The Movie" was released and Cyrus signed on for a fourth season of the show. Then, well, it looks like Hannah's popularity went into steady decline.
Now take a look at this next chart. And if that were a stock? A different story, no? Peak, retreat. Peak, retreat. Volatile, but testing new highs. Hot growth stock?
As you've probably already guessed, these are searches for "Miley Cyrus," also courtesy of Google Trends.
And it may show her current route toward, ahem, the provocative is the way forward. That first peak? The Vanity Fair photo that many thought was inappropriate for a girl of her age.
The other peaks come at points where she is changing her image or making dating news. That high point just before 2011? Just after the release of her "Can't Be Tamed" album. (Headline from Philippine Star: "I'm not trying to be slutty")
That final peak? Hey, did you catch the VMA show last Sunday?
"Once again proving Mae West right, 'When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better,' " said Michael Farr of Farr Miller & Washington. "And yes, this counts as a sin stock."
Of course, the attention that performance drew was overwhelmingly negative. Nevertheless, some argue that attention in the celebrity business, bad or good, is what makes success. (I'm not sure Mel Gibson would agree, but it's a point of view.)
The two "stocks" are vastly different.
But if such lookups can be taken as a kind of "currency" for celebrity value, then Cyrus' whole turn from wholesome girl to Madonna-Gaga clone makes sense.
"Initially I thought they were charts of ONXX, the biotech company that just agreed to be acquired by Amgen and had been the subject of takeover rumors for some time," said Scott Nations of NationsShares. "Instead it's a pop star who's telling all her former fans that she'd rather be Madonna redux than Hannah Montana."
Indeed, combine the Hannah-Miley graphs and look at the tops. We're back at a stock with possibilities, no?
"Now show me a chart of Janet Jackson, whose search engine fame most likely peaked around the month that she gave us that Super Bowl peek," said Josh Brown, author of The Reformed Broker blog. "The trouble with pushing the envelope for attention is that there is always someone willing to go further than you, just as there's always going to be the next flavor of the month on Wall Street."
—By Allen Wastler and John Melloy