Supply And Demand: Michael Jackson, John Lennon, and Whitney Houston


In the years before Michael Jackson passed away, you didn’t often hear his music on the radio. But as soon as he died, we wanted to hear his music again. His songs were everywhere.

The same thing will happen this week with Whitney Houston.

You see, when something is rare we naturally perceive it’s value to be higher.

John Lennon’s album Double Fantasy came out just three weeks before he was shot in December 1980. When critics first reviewed the album, most were unimpressed and some were downright scathing. Prior to Lennon’s death, the album was at #46 in the UK and #11 in the USA. Then, wimmediately after his murder, the album shot to #1 and went on to win Album of the Year at the 1981 Grammy Awards. Rolling Stone would later name the album the 29th best album of the 1980s.

What happened? Simple. We lost John Lennon and came to the stark realization that his music would no longer be with us. Knowing that, we placed new and increased value on his music. Instead of a mediocre album, we saw Double Fantasy as musical genius… in part because of the circumstances, not the music.

The death of Whitney Houston is no doubt a sad tragedy.

At one time, she was an amazing singer with a magical voice. She made history with her success. But as you watch the tributes to Whitney pour in this week, remember that over the past decade her music had been invisible on radio stations and her name had only been in the headlines for negative reasons. A few days ago, the world was not clamoring to hear “I Will Always Love You” one more time. Nobody was downloading “The Greatest Love of All” from iTunes.

That all changed with her passing.

The relationship to business is clear: when the supply of something is infinite, value is naturally lowered. When supply runs short of demand, perceived value goes up.

RIP Whitney Houston, 1963-2012.


John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston 1,862 Comments

Rebuilding The Brand


Every rock star, prize fighter, and long-forgotten brand thinks they can do it, but it is never as easy as it looks.

The comeback.

Whitney Houston is next in line to try recapture the glory of her 1984 to 1994 run of hits. Her new album “I Look To You” hits stores September 1.

This week in New York I had the privilege of being invited to a star-packed Allen Room at the Time Warner Center to hear the new album in advance, and have her legendary collaborator Clive Davis provide a song-by-song commentary.

Going into the evening, there was obvious skepticism. Was Whitney clean of the drugs she had been rumored to be involved in? Was she clear of the bad-girl image she had gained through her failed marriage to Bobby Brown? Was Whitney ready for the new music sound of 2009?

Musically, the album is very, very good. Collaborations with Alicia Keys, Akon, and R. Kelly have given the songs a decidedly progressive sound without losing the essence of her signature sound. They’ve also managed to avoid over-hipping Whitney Houston and trying to turn her into something she genuinely isn’t. That would have been a fatal mistake.

But the success of Whitney’s comeback isn’t entirely about the music. It rests in the story. Having great product is vital, but without a great story the great product could easily go unnoticed.

The songs on this album each share part of her story. Her fall from grace. Her failed marriage. Her struggles with drugs. Her faith. Her family. With each song she admits her mistakes, takes accountability for them, asks for forgiveness, and moves on confidently.

That’s how you rebuild a brand.

That’s how Hugh Grant overcame his scandalous rendezvous with a prostitute. He went on The Tonight Show and owned up, apologized, and moved on.

That’s how Tylenol recaptured its lead in the pain-reliever market after the 1981 poisoning of the products. They addressed it head on, voluntarily pulled all of their products, developed new tamper-proof packaging, and moved on.

I can’t say with certainty whether Whitney Houston will succeed with her comeback, but I can say that her odds are much better thanks to some very smart brand rebuilding moves.

Akon, Alicia Keys, Clive David, Hugh Grant, R. Kelly, Tylenol, Whitney Houston 144 Comments