The Beach Boys: Great Brands Sell Escapes, Not Products

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Our minds have a wonderful way of dreaming worlds into existence.  We look back at our teenage years and the songs we listened to, and it seems like the world was so much nicer then.  The music was so much better.  Life was so much simpler.

We know better, logically.  When The Beach Boys recorded their first single, “Surfin’”, 49 years ago, the cold war had world tensions cranked high.  Kennedy and Khrushchev met that year in Vienna and disagreed strongly on many issues, fueling US policy on preventing the spread of communism is Asia through a demonstration of their force in the small nation of Vietnam.  In North America, the Communists ruled Cuba and bragged openly about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.  Race riots in Alabama resulted in martial law.  The US Civil Rights Act was still three years away.  Life as a Black person in the USA wasn’t exactly easy.

Only in our memory was 1961 actually a nicer, better, simpler time.  That’s the beauty of our minds.  We remember things the way we want to remember them.  We remember the good times, and forget about the bad.

The Beach Boys, 50 years later, are discussing a major reunion.  Troubled chief songwriter and de factor leader Brian Wilson hasn’t been a consistent contributing member of the band since the early 80′s, and he’s apparently on-board for a reunion with Mike Love and Al Jardine, the last surviving original members.

The Beach Boys should go on tour.  They should celebrate their 50th year with a spectacular show that brings to life all of the amazing music they made.  There are few bands that so eloquently captured a time and place in music the way The Beach Boys did.

What The Beach Boys shouldn’t do is make a new album and  go on tour playing their new songs. The fans who pay their hard-earned money to see The Beach Boys in concert are buying an escape, not just a performance.  They are buying a temporary escape to their youth, where they can feel 17 again for a few hours.  If The Beach Boys play new music, the escape is over.

That’s what great brands do.  They are an escape, and allow you to be something you aspire to be.

If I drive a Jeep, I am escaping to somewhere off the beaten path.  I am paying extra to be able to explore the world away from the office drones and followers.

If I wear APO Jeans, I’m escaping to a world where things are custom made just for me, and I’m telling the world that what everyone else wears isn’t good enough.

If I buy my groceries at Whole Foods, I am escaping to a place where I can make a contribution to my own health and the health of the planet.  The extra money I am paying allows me to shop with a sense of purpose.

Will that Jeep ever go off-road?  Very few actually do.
Do I need jeans with silk pockets and diamond studs?  Definitely not.
Does shopping at Whole Foods actually make a difference?  Sure, but unless we all do it the difference is very, very small and mainly in our own mind.

Hopefully next summer fans of The Beach Boys will be able to blissfully escape to their youth for a few hours and enjoy the band as they remember them.  That’s the gift they can give to their fans by playing hit after hit, night after night, and leaving the new music to the new bands.

Beach Boys fans should also check out this earlier postabout how the obvious mistakes left in the hit song “Barbara Ann” provide an example of how Rock Star brands are authentic, not perfect.

1961, APO Jeans, Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Jeep, Whole Foods 177 Comments

The Authentic Brand


They had been in the studio for hours and hours recording, and desperately needed a break.  One of the boys in the band went out for some beer.  Meanwhile, some friends of the band came by the studio.  Gradually, the recording session gave way to a party.  The songs got crazier and crazier. The drummer pounded on an ash tray instead of a drum kit.  Everyone in the room joined in the singing, even if they didn’t know the words. The singer raised his voice above the incessant talking and laughing around him, until he could resist no more and gave in to the laughter himself.  The final product became a #2 hit in December of 1965.

Barbara Ann” remains one of the Beach Boys most endearing songs, 45 years after the studio party ended.

Beatles songs like “Taxman” and “The Long And Winding Road” are only two of many songs to feature stray guitar notes, drumming mistakes, and various unusual microphone noises.  The Beatles were famous for their mistakes, outtakes, and experiments gone wrong.

One of the things I love about rock ‘n roll is that it is at it’s best when it is imperfect.

Even in the days of four-track analog recording, George Martin and Brian Wilson had the ability to create audio perfection.  They did it over and over again.  No doubt that most of these mistakes were intentionally left in.

There was a point, only a few years ago, where having a solid brand meant covering up every wart and imperfection.  But today’s brands need to connect in a more authentic way, and some wise brands have caught on to this trend.

Canadian cough medicine Buckley’s knows this.  Their product doesn’t taste very good (to say the least), but it has a track record of working very well.  Instead of coming up with a new better tasting formula, they were wise enough not to fight the obvious (bad taste).  Instead, they flaunt it.  Their slogan is “It tastes awful, but it works”.

Marmite is another product that, to most palates, tastes awful.  True, it is loved by many, especially in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.  But to the vast majority, Marmite is a horrible tasting product.  So why fight the obvious.  Embrace it.  Flaunt it.  Revel in it.  Even the front page of their website gives you two options to click on.  One says “Marmite is perfect” and the other reads “Marmite is horrid.”

Human beings are wonderfully imperfect creatures, and we can only relate and bond with other wonderfully imperfect creatures.  We can’t possibly form a bond with something that has no flaws, because flawless simply doesn’t exist.  What an amazing visceral level to connect with your customer on!

1. What are your brand’s inherent imperfections?  What aspects of your brand turn some people off?

2. Can you use them to stand out from others?  Are your imperfections more glaring or more interesting?

3. Do your imperfections make sense?  It is easy to grasp how a bad tasting medicine would work better than one that tastes good.

Be brave.  Embrace your imperfections, and add some humanity to your brand.

Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Buckley's, George Martin, Marmite, The Beatles 558 Comments