The Lake Or The Well?

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Consider two great bands.

Both rose to fame in the 1970′s and their songs dominated rock radio stations of the era.  Both replaced their lead singers (as well as other less prominent members) over the years.  Both continue to tour from city to city with only one original founding member.  Both are legendary.


Foreigner had over a dozen hit songs during their prime years.  They rocked out with songs like “Urgent” and “Dirty White Boy” and “Cold As Ice”.   They had massive ballads like “Waiting For A Girl Like You” and “I Want To Know What Love Is”.  There are few bands that had as many hits as Foreigner did between 1977 and 1987, and nearly all of their hits are must-play songs on classic rock and oldies radio stations across North America.


Lynyrd Skynyrd brought their brand of southern rock to the world a few years earlier, from about 1973 to 1977.  In ’77 a plane crash took the lives of three of the band members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zandt, as well as their assistant road manager and two pilots.  They didn’t have nearly as many hits as Foreigner did.  Today only “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” are among the most played songs on those same classic rock radio stations.  Some of their other songs are heard now-and-then, but certainly not very often.

Foreigner is a lake.  Lynyrd Skynyrd is a well.

Foreigner has a wide catalog of memorable music, although passion for any one song isn’t all that great.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has a small catalog of memorable music, but passion for their two main hits is extremely high.

What is the better scenario for a brand today?

The lake is wide, but not that deep.  Chrysler is a lake.  They make all kinds of cars from all price ranges and passion for the Chrysler brand isn’t particularly deep.  Sure people love Dodge trucks and Jeep Wranglers, but few people crave a Chrysler.

The well is small, but extremely deep.  Porsche is a well.  They only make a few cars, all expensive and high-performance, and passion for the brand runs very deep.  People save money all their lives to own a Porsche.

I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong answer.  Both “lake” brands and “well” brands can be successful.

Which would you rather be?

I look forward to your thoughts.

Chrysler, Dodge, Foreigner, Jeep, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Porsche 239 Comments

John Mayer’s Brand Gap

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John Mayer has gotten more press in the past week than he has in years after making racially insensitive remarks in an interview in Playboy magazine.

He’s developed quite a reputation as a womanizer over the years, and he added to that perception by referring to ex-girlfriend Jessica Simpson as “crack cocaine”, talking longingly about his other high-profile ex, Jennifer Anniston, and publicly declaring his love for pornography.

John Mayer’s brand has a strange gap in it.

John Mayer plays what many people consider “wimpy” music.  His songs are more likely to be heard on the “soft ‘n easy” radio station than the local hit music station.  Hearing John Mayer next to Phil Collins, Celine Dion, and “Circle of Life” era Elton John is not the least bit unusual.

Yet John Mayer’s look and his words work against that image.

His most recent song, “Who Says”, includes the lyric “who says I can’t get stoned?”.   That might account for why it hasn’t been played much on the radio next to Celine and Phil.

His look, with a full sleeve tattoo, doesn’t fit with those artists.

And the comments he made to Playboy further distance himself from the pack.

Does John Mayer intentionally record soft music, yet put forward a rough image, in order keep credibility with a young and hip audience?  Click here to see how youth-focused news outlet MTV is handling the story.  The MTV angle is that an outspoken musician is better than a formulaic edgeless one.  Rolling Stone’s Caryn Ganz said “it’s better to have a rock star who isn’t afraid to open his mouth.”  Ganz went on to tell MTV that “he hasn’t converted me, but he has almost certainly convinced people to buy his albums based on his ability to speak his mind.”

Could John Mayer’s behavior be a calculated PR move?

It would be a bold and difficult juggling act to maintain.  But it is possible that his actions are a conscious effort to remain relevant to a young audience while keeping his musical appeal with older, more conservative, fans.

Still, a non-congruent strategy like that seldom works.

Rock star brands are almost universally true to their image across all of the senses.

For example, you won’t find a topless pool on your Disney Cruise.  It doesn’t go with the Disney brand. You’ll have to go on a Celebrity Cruise for that privilege.

Try buying a Porsche mini-van.  It won’t happen, because a mini-van just doesn’t go with the Porsche brand.  Even their Cayenne SUV stretches the limit of the Porsche brand!

If John Mayer is carefully trying to balance both ends of the spectrum, good luck to him.  Very few brands have successfully accomplished it long term.

Celebrity, Celine Dion, Disney, Elton John, John Mayer, MTV, Phil Collins, Playboy, Porsche, Rolling Stones 1,041 Comments