Putting Ice On The Ice Bucket Challenge


This was the summer of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Every summer music expert Sean Ross declares one song as THE song of the summer. This year he named the ice bucket challenge as the song of the summer… even though it isn’t actually a song.

The ALS Association did a fantastic job of riding this wave of awareness and financial support. Last summer they raised $2.7 million in funding. This year they have already raised over $100 million! That money, along with increased awareness of this terrible disease, will hopefully go a long way towards finding a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease.

For the past few months, people have been feeling very positive about ALS, and that can only help in the future.

Unless the ALS Association were to do something to completely deflate all of the goodwill.

Like take legal action to trademark the phrase “ice bucket challenge”.

Well done, ALS Association. You’ve managed to turn mountains of positivity and goodwill into rubble.

The ALS Association says they want to prevent unscrupulous groups from co-opting the Ice Bucket Challenge into their own fundraiser.

Think about this… so far this summer people have donated more than $100 million for the right to pour ice water over their heads in the name of ALS. Nobody is going to steal the Ice Bucket Challenge from the ALS Association. It simply isn’t possible.

Nobody is going to steal pink ribbons from National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can try make pink ribbons mean something to your cause, but it will never work. Pink ribbons equal breast cancer.

Yet pink ribbons remain in the public domain.

The Ice Bucket Challenge will always belong to the ALS Association. Putting lawyers on the case doesn’t make it belong to the ALS Association even more. It might legally define ownership, but it doesn’t define mental and emotional ownership.

When Bob Dylan heard Jimi Hendrix perform his song “All Along The Watchtower”, he instantly realized that Jimi owned the song. 

“it overwhelmed me, really. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day”

In other words, Bob Dylan performs “All Along The Watchtower” in Hendrix style because Hendrix owns the song in our minds.

The same thing happened with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails heard Johnny Cash do a version of his song “Hurt”.

“I felt like I had just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore.”

Mental ownership of a song or a concept like the Ice Bucket Challenge happens when we emotionally bond with something and we develop a permanent association with it.

And when someone tries to interfere with those emotional bonds, nothing good can come of it.

The ALS Association should tell the lawyers to go home, and let people give money for the love of giving, laughing, and shivering.

Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash 111 Comments

Seven Things Your Business Can Learn From Rock Stars


They fill stadiums with screaming fans.
They make millions of dollars.
They are synonymous with excellence.

Rock stars.

The premise of the new book Brand Like A Rock Star is that business can learn a tremendous amount from the experiences of the legends of rock. The book deals with specific bands, specific brands, and provides specific advice to apply to your business in actionable ways.

But from a big picture perspective, what can the average business learn from the rock star? Why does the business/rock star relationship make sense?

Here are seven things you and your business can learn from rock stars.

1. Do what you love. If you do what you love to do, you’ll do it more passionately than anyone else. And if you do something with passion, the odds of doing it successfully go up infinitely. Rock stars love to rock. That’s why Mick Jagger is still singing. Do what you love.

2. Be larger than life. There’s no excitement in average. Nobody notices the business that looks and sounds like every other business. Foo Fighters is a stupid name, but unforgettable. Same with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Hootie & The Blowfish and Barenaked Ladies for that matter. Go the distance. Stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to be larger than life.

3. Screw being better, just be different. Bands like the Grateful Dead and KISS weren’t at what they did, they were the only bands who did what they did. If you do something totally unique, there’s nobody to compare you to. There will always be someone better than you, but there is nobody exactly like you. Celebrate that. Be different.

4. Practice really hard. The Beatles played Hamburg for months at a time perfecting their craft. Metallica played every dive bar on the west coast before they made it big. You just don’t get to the top without a lot of practice. The same applies to business. Whatever you decide to do, perfect it. Practice really hard.

5. Find a producer. Great bands had great producers, engineers, managers, and record labels. You need people like that to see your work from the outside. Business owners are like bands, they see themselves from the inside. That’s the worst view in the world. You need a George Martin, just like The Beatles did. Get outside advice. Find a producer who isn’t afraid to tell you when you suck.

6. Take it easy. Being an up-and-comer isn’t a picnic, but real rock stars get first-class flights, penthouse hotel suites, and backstage buffets. There’s plenty of down time for true rock stars. Lenny Kravitz has a place in Bahamas. Eric Clapton kicks back in Antigua. Great business leaders know when to relax and rejuvenate their spirits. Minds that relax are minds that are open to learning and growth. Find the time to take it easy now and then.

7. Work with your friends. Eric Clapton played guitar on a Phil Collins song. Mick Jagger contributed background vocals on a Carly Simon song. Johnny Cash did the lead vocals for a U2 song. When you work with friends, you not only benefit from their contribution but you also learn from them and develop new skills. Hire great people that you love to work with and let them help you shine. Avoid unhappy people who bring you down, and work with your friends instead.

Take these seven lessons from the legends of rock to heart, and watch your business rise to the top of the charts.

Brand Like A Rock Star is now available via Amazon. You can have your copy within 24 hours! I can’t wait to hear what you think of it! It arrives at retail on October 1.

I’d love to speak directly to your company or conference about building a powerful brand using the lessons learned by rock’s legends. Contact me directly for details.

Upcoming Brand Like A Rock Star events:
Tuesday, September 27 – Calgary, AB
Wednesday, September 28 – Red Deer, AB (morning)
Wednesday, September 28 – Drumheller, AB (afternoon)
Thursday, September 29 – Edmonton, AB
Friday, October 7 – Las Vegas, NV at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – BOOK LAUNCH EVENT!

Monday, October 17 – Moncton, NB
Thursday, October 20 – Charlottetown, PEI (Chamber of Commerce Biz2Biz Expo)
Friday, November 4 – Anchorage, AK (Alaska Broadcasters Association Convention)
Wednesday, November 23 – Winnipeg, MB
Thursday, December 15 – Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Barenaked Ladies, Eric Clapton, Foo Fighters, Hootie and the Blowfish, Johnny Cash, KISS, Metallica, Mick Jagger, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beatles, U2, Uncategorized 163 Comments

When Bad Things Happen To Your Brand


Sometimes things go wrong, and brands get damaged.

Sometimes you have a late-night Thanksgiving car accident and your entire personal and professional life unravels before your eyes.

What bad things happen, brands need to rebuild.

For a brand like Nike Golf, once so aligned with Tiger Woods, that presents a daunting challenge.  And I like how they’ve handled it. Over the past few months, Nike Golf has been running an ad for their “Method” putter, showcasing the technology behind the club. It is a series of behind-the-scenes shots with pro golfers working together with Nike to create the perfect putter. One of the golfers just happens to be Tiger Woods.

He isn’t the centerpeice of the commercial. This isn’t a commercial about Tiger Woods. This is just a commercial about golf club technology that happens to include Tiger. It is a gentle reintegration of Tiger into the Nike brand.  The subtlty of the move is entirely calculated. Nike is being very cautious, because the Tiger Woods brand is dangerous – both because of his personal troubles and his shaky golf ever since the scandal hit.

Plenty of rock stars have bottom out, only to rise again.

For Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash, their comebacks were linked to collaborations with a fresh new generation of musicians. Santana recorded Supernatural with help from Rob Thomas, Everlast, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and others. Johnny Cash teamed up with producer Rick Rubin and recorded his own interpretations of songs by Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Depeche Mode, and U2.

But Santana and Cash hadn’t commited the kind of social crimes that Tiger Woods did.

Maybe a better comparison is Chris Brown, who is still rebuilding his career after assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. Brown was carefully reintroduced at a Michael Jackson tribute, where he performed an emotional version of “Man In The Mirror” that left many people feeling like the singer deserved another chance.  But then in March controversy arose again when Brown was accused of becoming violent in his dressing room after a Good Morning America interview that probed into the Rihanna affair and the restraining order against him. It remains to be seen if the career of the very talented Chris Brown can be rebuilt.

What can a brand in trouble learn from Tiger Woods, Chris Brown, Santana, and Johnny Cash?

* Take it slowly. Don’t try to conquer the world right away.

* Don’t make it about you. Instead, be humble. Tiger is doing that with the new Nike ads. Chris Brown did it with the Michael Jackson tribute.

* Find a few friends who can lend you credibility. Santana and Johnny Cash did that with tremendous results.

* In the end, being honest and straightforward will win you a lot of friends. Just ask Hugh Grant, who famously quipped “I did a bad thing, and there you have it” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, shortly after Grant was arrested with a prostitute. Hugh’s career would have probably suffered a great deal more had he not been so forthcoming.

Chapter Thirteen of Brand Like a Rock Star is all about reviving brands that have been left for dead. What can your business learn from Johnny Cash and Old Spice? Find out when you pre-order the book now.


Chris Brown, Johnny Cash, Nike, Old Spice, Santana, Tiger Woods, Uncategorized 1,285 Comments

The Challenge of Changing Minds: Can Blackberry Be Cool Again?


In the days pre-iPhone and pre-Android, it was cool to have a Blackberry.

Now, all that has changed.

I had a great back-and-forth with Dean Heuman on Twitter (@dheuman). Dean is a marketing and communications pro with and he is a die-hard Blackberry fan. But even Dean admits that “even if Blackberry comes out with something awesome, they are tainted with being uncool. It seems once you are tainted, you can’t be cool again.”

Can cool be recaptured?

There are some examples that suggest it is possible.

Only a decade ago, Old Spice was a washed-up brand that only your Dad would wear. Today it is the top selling men’s bath brand.

For a long time Johnny Cash was uncool, even in country music. He very quickly recovered that cool, and died a rock ‘n roll and country music icon.

Nintendo definitely looked pretty uncool compared to Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s Playstation. And then they created the Wii and changed all that instantly.

The Lacoste crocodile is suddenly cool to wear again, despite being a powerful symbol of 80s preppiness.

What can Blackberry take away from the lessons learned by these comeback brands?

1. Find new friends. Johnny Cash found uber-hip producer Rick Rubin. Old Spice found creative energy in Wieden+Kennedy and spokesperson Isaiah Mustafa. When you associate with cool, you too can become cool.

2. Take serious risks. Nintendo went after an entirely new audience for video games with Wii. Johnny Cash recorded sparse acoustic versions of alternative rock songs. If you want to move the needle, you need to do remarkable things that are inherently risky.

3. Touch pop culture. Isaiah Mustafa, as the Old Spice guy, has become a pop culture celebrity. The Wii became a pop culture phenomenon. When the world is talking about you, good things usually happen. Unless you’re BP, Anthony Weiner, or Tiger Woods.

4. Be patient. Lacoste waited nearly 20 years through the age of grunge, until the prep look came back in style. Johnny Cash waded through two decades of musical fads before his raw sound found an audience again.

5. Create scarcity. A shortage of something creates value. The lack of available Wii consoles when they were first released created a massive push for them. The death of Johnny Cash, at the peak of his comeback, left us wanting more of the Man in Black. Demand + Scarcity = Value.

I don’t know for sure if any – or all – of those lessons will apply to the fortunes of Blackberry, but I hope the brand recovers and emerges strong. It is good for competition and for the people of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, whose economic base has grown along with Blackberry’s parent company Research in Motion.

There is an entire chapter in the book Brand Like a Rock Star that examines how brands can recover their “cool”. You can pre-order the book right now.

If you don’t already follow Brand Like a Rock Star on Twitter, please do! You can also take part in the conversation on our Facebook page.

Apple, Blackberry playbook, Blackberry Storm, Johnny Cash, Nintendo, Old Spice, Uncategorized 169 Comments

Three Ways To Leverage Someone Else’s Brand Equity

The other night I found my new favorite bar.

The Mean-Eyed Cat is a rough looking shack in downtown Austin, Texas. It is the kind of place you can only find in a city like Austin; a bar where high-tech workers sit elbow to elbow with greasy bikers and the hipster music crowd Austin is famous for. The theme of the bar can be described in two words: Johnny Cash.

Named after a Cash song, there are pictures of him everywhere in the bar. Concert posters, albums, and Cash-inspired memorabilia and graffiti decorate nearly every inch. His mug shot graces the hallway to the restrooms, appropriately labeled “Johnny” and “June”.

But The Mean-Eyed Cat isn’t owned or endorsed by Johnny Cash’s estate. It isn’t a Margaritaville-style franchise. It is a great example of a business that has built on the brand equity of another (Johnny Cash).

When it makes sense, why not use existing brand equity to build your brand?  There are 3 ways you can do that:

1. Positive - Like The Mean-Eyed Cat has done, you can build a brand that pays tribute to an existing and well known brand. You are positively leveraging their equity.

2. Negative - You could position your brand against an existing and well known brand, and highlighting the differences between you. You are using their brand equity to build your own. In this case, you are negativelyusing their equity.

3. Symbiotic - How about brands like Mophie? They have made a great living making battery packs for iPhones. They didn’t invent the iPhone or the battery, but they’ve established their brand because of it. They are symbiotically using Apple’s equity.
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(Photographs by Steve Jones)
Apple, Austin, iPhone, Johnny Cash, Mean-Eyed Cat 2,011 Comments

Johnny Cash and Old Spice: Reviving A Brand

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You wouldn’t have caught me dead wearing Old Spice when I was coming of age in the 1980′s.  Old Spice was, first of all, “old” simply by name.  Dad wore it.  Today, every cool kid is wearing it.

Likewise with Johnny Cash.  Dad listened to the “man in black”, but nobody was playing his music on their Sony Walkman.  Today, the late Johnny Cash is permanently cool and genuinely missed.

Few musical acts have made a comeback as astonishing and deserving as the one Johnny Cash mounted in the five years before his death. He went from being a forgotten-about archive from the Hall of Fame into a six-time nominee at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

Few brands have staged a comeback as noteworthy as Old Spice.  It went from being a low-value brand from the past into one of the world’s leading men’s grooming products in an exceptionally short period of time.

Why do some brands fade away and others come roaring back?  What do the successful bands and brands that come back to life have in common?

1. Change Your Message

Old Spice changed their marketing message.  They brilliantly adapted their message to the self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek tone of today’s youth.  Their commercials began to spread virally on the internet spawning websites dedicated entirely to Old Spice commercials.

Johnny Cash changed his message too.  Instead of recording country or gospel songs, he recorded songs originally by hard rock bands like Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, U2, Tom Petty, and Danzig.  His series of American Recordings also included his own songs, but the albums focused on speaking the language of the youth of the day.

2. Change Your Partner

Old Spice collaborated with advertising agency Wieden and Kennedy to create advertising that was edgy and in touch with young consumers.  Wieden and Kennedy is best known for their work with Nike, and they’ve also developed many cutting-edge campaigns for Coke, ESPN, and Miller beer.

Johnny Cash collaborated with Rick Rubin to create music that was edgy and in touch with young consumers.  Rick Rubin is a producer famous for starting Def Jam records and working with performers like Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Metallica.

3. Don’t Give Up

Rebuilding a damaged for forgotten brand is not a quick fix.

Old Spice began their turnaround om 1990 when it was purchased by Proctor and Gamble.  In 1992 they updated the logo and color scheme.  Over the next 15 years they released body washes, body sprays, deoderant sticks, and shaving products. When the new Old Spice became popular, they rereleased the original blend with the slogan “If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.”

Johnny Cash began working with Rick Rubin in 1994, and won a Grammy for Best Folk Album for “American Recordings”.   It met with plenty of critical acclaim, but it was the subsequent volumes, particular volume IV of the series, that truly cemented Cash as a contemporary icon.  His 2003 version of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” remains a cross-generational classic.

Here are two videos that illustrate the brands post-turnaround.  The very emotional “Hurt” by Johnny Cash can be viewed here.  Below is the phenomenal “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” from Old Spice.

Beastie Boys, Danzig, Johnny Cash, Metallica, MTV, Nine Inch Nails, Old Spice, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rick Rubin, Run-DMC, Soundgarden, Tom Petty, U2 2,168 Comments