Super Vibes From Volkswagen


Photograph by Steve Jones

Spreading positive vibrations, Volkswagen created this Super Bowl ad to promote the VW Beetle. The commercial features a white Minnesotan at work in the USA, talking in near-perfect Jamaican patios dialect in order to cheer up his unhappy coworkers.

As expected, America was immediately outraged. The ad was quickly labeled racist by the politically correct, and VW was accused of mocking Jamaican culture.

Not so in Jamaica, highlighting how different the two nations are.

Jamaica got it right.

Jamaican tourism officials very quickly (and very wisely) recognized the opportunity to turn the publicity into positivity.

“I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous mass appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally,” said Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism and Entertainment.

In Washington, Dr. Claire Nelson, the Jamaican-born president of the Institute of Caribbean Studies, was equally enthusiastic. ”In one fell swoop, the ad directors have superimposed Jamaicans’ reputation for being hardworking — the three jobs archetype — as well as [for] our reputation for having a laid-back, positive, don’t-worry-about-a-thing disposition through the character of the Volkswagen.”

Sandals got it right too.

Adam Stewart and his team at Sandals Resorts also jumped in and wisely capitalized on the moment, creating a Jamaican version of the commercial featuring a black man touring the island and speaking in a fake German accent. “Das Jamaica” claims the very clever Sandals ad.

Jamaica’s tourism officials and the marketing team at Sandals are wise to seize the opportunity and ride the wave of happiness and positivity to send the world a message about Jamaica and it’s people. Their reaction builds on the upbeat VW message, inviting people to visit the island to share in the good vibes.

Jamaica received tremendous positive media coverage. So did Sandals. And they spent essentially nothing in order to receive it.

VW dropped millions on a Super Bowl commercial, and Jamaica turned it into a free tourism ad for their beautiful island.

What Sandals and Jamaica’s tourism department did is called “newsjacking” by author David Meerman Scott… jumping on a topical news story and giving it a spin that highlights your message, allowing journalists to cover it from a fresh perspective.

Having lived in the Caribbean and spent a great deal of time in Jamaica, I love the VW commercial.

But even more than the Volkswagen commercial itself, I love the Jamaican response.

And I love the new Jimmy Cliff song “C’mon Get Happy” that they use in both ads.

Big up VW and Jamrock! Everyting irie.

UPDATE: Another fine Jamaican brand, Red Stripe, has further “newsjacked” the controversy, providing their own ruling on the offensiveness of the commercial.




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Jamaica, Jimmy Cliff, Sandals, Uncategorized, Volkswagen 1,510 Comments

R.I.P. R.E.M.


Legendary pop-alt band R.E.M. announced this week that they are calling it quits after over 30 years together.

It is tough to be critical of a band that so eloquently matured without “selling-out”. R.E.M. is one of the bands responsible for bringing alternative rock to the masses. But purely from a business perspective, the band should have quit over a decade ago.  After the incredible Automatic For The People album, things gradually went downhill. They created some great songs after 1994, but their albums lacked consistency and failed to live up to the expectations created by their decade of greatness.

In this fantastic piece in the UK’s Guardian, Dorian Lynskey summed up the band’s challenges wonderfully well. “We carry our entire back catalogue and people’s personal histories with the music with each release we put out,” Stipe told Lynskey. “It makes it harder to kind of cut through.”

Had the band broke up in the mid-1990s, they would have gone out on top. Had they ended things when drummer Bill Berry left the band in 1997, their legacy would be stellar, and nobody would question their relevance. Sadly, after fifteen years worth of mediocre material, people will need to be reminded of their greatness.

That reality isn’t lost on lead singer Michael Stipe, who joked “It’s just like me to overstay my welcome.”

Your brand has a life span. At the very least, your brand has as life cycle.

Brands that understand that and go out with grace often become nostalgia brands. We lobby for their revival. The Volkswagen Beetle is a good example. So is Led Zeppelin.

Stick around past your prime, and we forget how good you once were. Oldsmobile falls into that category. Let’s hope R.E.M. doesn’t.

The new book Brand Like A Rock Star is now available, and it is full of lessons from rock ‘n’ roll to help make your business rich and famous.

If you’d like to go deeper into the bands discussed, the “Musical Companion” is worth checking out if you have a Kindle.


Led Zeppelin, REM, Volkswagen 1,335 Comments

Consistency Matters

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One of the chapters of the book Brand Like A Rock Star focuses on AC/DC, and how the band has become of one rock’s most successful acts through absolute focus and consistency.

I didn’t realize just how consistent AC/DC was until I started researching for the book and I had the chance to spend some time with the legendary Phil Carson.  Phil first saw a grainy super-8 video of the Australian band in the mid-1970s, and immediately signed them to a 15-album record deal with Atlantic Records.  He also helped launch the careers of Led Zeppelin, Yes, and many others.

When AC/DC was first promoted in America, Phil told me, they were greeted by “a stunning burst of indifference” from their record company and the music industry in general.  According to Phil, “Atlantic was a very forward-looking record company, and they thought we were nuts to sign them because the band was so straight ahead rock ‘n roll.”

Phil and the band fought against the push-back, playing their brand of raw straight ahead rock ‘n roll night after night and slowly winning over fans one show at a time.

Thirty-five years down the road, AC/DC are still winning using that same consistent formula.

Even when times were tough for the band, they were consistent.  In the 80s, when rock stars wore make-up and skin-tight leather and feathered their hair, AC/DC stuck to their formula.  Carson remembers seeing the band play Nassau Coliseum on Long Island during those darker days.  The arena holds 18,000, but fewer than 8,000 were there that night.  Yet AC/DC played like they were playing to a packed house because that was simply what they did… they played powerful straight ahead rock ‘n roll every night, whether there were a hundred fans or a hundred thousand fans in the audience.

The same AC/DC iconic font.
The same flat-top hat, sleeveless shirt, and jeans on Brian Johnson.
The same school boy uniform and duck walk from Angus Young.
The same pounding rhythm section from Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd.
The same grinding rhythm guitar from Malcolm Young.

Your brand might be consistent, but is it AC/DC consistent?

Are you confident enough in your formula to weather those tough times, like AC/DC did?

Apple was nearly dead a decade ago.  You could pick up their stock for $22.  It closed yesterday at $320.

Old Spice was dead and gone.  It was your father’s cologne.  Today it is the top-selling brand in its category.

Volkswagen was disappearing in the 90s.  Then along came the new Beetle.  VW is alive and well again.

LEGO was dying.  Today LEGO is once again immensely popular.

Great brands embrace what they stand for and they strive to exceed those expectations every single day.  When times get tough, they find resolve.  They know their customer, understand the expectations of their customer, and never let their customer down.

AC/DC, Apple, Lego, Old Spice, Volkswagen 200 Comments

What You Don’t Say Says A Lot


It was week two of the NFL season, and I was at Invesco Field at Mile High to watch Denver take on Seattle.  It wasn’t even close, but like most fans I stayed until the very end.

I went to a movie the other night.  It sucked, but I stayed until the very end.  I didn’t see anyone else leave either, but everyone I spoke to still hated it.


The human mind hates the incomplete.  We strive to draw conclusions, figure things out, and wrap them up in a nice package that makes sense.

If the human mind seeks completion, it stands to reason that the incomplete challenges the mind and engages it.

Remember the powerful silence near the end of “Animal” by Def Leppard?  The entire song comes to an abrupt halt leaving nothing but silence for slightly longer than seems natural, before Joe Elliot screams “… and I want…” and the song carries on for 10 more seconds.
“Living On The Edge” by Aerosmith did the same thing, as did “The Look” by Roxette.

Of course we can’t forget ”Strawberry Fields Forever”, a Beatles classic that fades out and leaves only silence behind, and then gradually fades back in again.  As a radio DJ it was painful to watch the VU meters sink down to nothing for several seconds during that song!

Incomplete is a pretty powerful tool.  Visually, it is known as white space. FedEx used white space to create the famous arrow in their logo.  You’ve never noticed the arrow?  Have a look at the incomplete space between the “e” and the “x” in their logo below.  You’ll never see that logo again without noticing the arrow.

Toblerone chocolates is another logo that famously uses the white space.  They are made in Bern, Switzerland.  “Bern” means “bear” in English, so they’ve creatively worked a bear into the white space of their mountain logo.

So many brands are afraid of the incomplete!  Volkswagen bravely used white space and an incomplete look in their early print campaigns, and as a result they created award-winning and attention-getting creative that helped make the Beetle a massive success.

Fear not the incomplete. Use it to your advantage.

What you leave out speaks volumes.

DaVinci and Michaelangelo were not afraid of the incomplete.  Nor were Led Zeppelin or The Beatles.  And a cult-brand burger shack in the southwestern US has made a business out of it.  You can read more about the power of the incomplete in this piece from March 2010.

Or if you’d prefer to rock out 80′s style, you can sit back and wait for the famous silence 3:55 into this Def Leppard classic.

Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Denver Broncos, FedEx, Led Zeppelin, Roxette, The Beatles, Toberlone, Volkswagen 1,113 Comments