Should U2 Quit?


There’s no debating U2‘s place in rock history. They are among the best rock bands. Ever. Period. End of story.
But it is time for them to quit.
Before you crucify me with hate mail, consider the band’s history.
Their breakthrough album from 1987, “The Joshua Tree”, went on to be certified “diamond” status, meaning it sold over 10 million copies in the USA. The most recent sales figures put it around 12 million, give or take. The album was the 13th best-selling album of the 1980′s.
A year later, “Rattle & Hum” sold over 5 million copies. A let down, but still impressive.
They recovered sales momentum in ’91, when “Achtung Baby” moved 8 million copies.
Then came “Zooropa” in ’93… two million. And “Pop” in ’97… one million.
The first half of the 00′s was pretty kind to the band. “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” in 2000 went on to sell 4 million copies. And in 2004, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” sold 3 million.
But their latest album, “No Line On The Horizon”, has sold only 500,000 copies. Gold status. Great if you are a no-name, but a big disappointment if you are one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.
Let’s look at the math this way:
From their debut in 1981 (actually, October 1980) to 1991, U2 sold approximately 34 million albums. That’s 34 million albums sold in just over 10 years. An average 3.4 million albums sold per year.
From 1991 through today, U2 has sold 10.5 million albums. That’s 10.5 million albums sold in 18 years. An average of 583,000 albums sold per year.
I think it is time for U2 to quit making new music. Or at least make far less of it.
The band continues to be a top draw on the concert tour. They can attract huge crowds at premium prices. They are an A-list live band. U2 should continue to tour, playing their hits to their fans. A U2 tour every second summer would become a major event.
The band continues to be politcally relevant. Bono’s input on world issues keeps the band at the forefront. He should continue to act as a rock ‘n roll ambassador.
But with every new album the band makes, they diminish their incredible legacy.
A hundred years from now, when a music teacher instructs a class about music history, I am absolutely confident they will talk about U2. But I am equally confident they won’t talk to their students about “Get On Your Boots“.
What do you think?
U2 184 Comments

Rock ‘n Roll Logo

You drew them on your notebooks and pencil cases.

Their posters adorned your bedroom walls.

In the 70′s and 80′s, having a great logo was simply part of being a great band. Today a great logo is a bit of a lost art in the music business, probably in large part because a downloaded song doesn’t come with an album sleeve or cassette insert to showcase the artwork. Some contemporary acts use a logo or consistent font to build their brand, but not to the degree that bands did a few years ago.

The AC/DC logo was created in 1976 by graphic artist Gerard Huerta for the cover of the band’s album “Let There Be Rock”. The gothic logo has been part of the band’s visual image ever since, and has inspired many band logos since.

Van Halen’s logo features the stylized VH with wings and visually represents the energy of the band perfectly. Great band logos are able to visually represent audio. It has lasted through three lead singers… David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, Gary Cherone, and David Lee Roth again.

Quite possibly the most recognizable band logo on earth is this one, created for the Rolling Stones in 1971. The band had already been well established for 8 years before this logo came along, yet today it feels like the logo has been with the band since day one. The lips and tongue logo does a perfect job of capturing the raunchy irreverence of the band.

There are few fonts as distinct as the famous KISS logo, designed by guitarist Ace Frehley in 1973. The logo was part of the band’s unique strategy of bringing major theatrics to the rock stage with make-up, costumes, and extreme pyrotechnics. The font used for the SS part of the logo invoked Nazi lettering, an association that the band has consistently denied. But even in denial, the rumors contributed to the band’s anti-establishment reputation.

Love or hate their music, there aren’t many bands who have made as good use out of a logo and mascot as Iron Maiden. The British heavy metal band created “Eddie” for their first album. Eddie evolved from a mask to a full character, and was often portrayed in violent scenes on the band’s album covers, on stage, and later in video games. Eddie, along with the Iron Maiden font, became a visual touchstone to the band’s unique sound.

There are too many band logos to list them all. Alternative acts in the 90′s created their own fonts, including Metallica, Nirvana, Green Day, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Progressive rock bands like Yes and Asia created logos that matched their image.

Sixties bands like the Grateful Dead, The Who, and The Beatles created iconic logos.

What band do you think had the best logo in rock ‘n roll history?

AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Green Day, Iron Maiden, KISS, Metallica, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rolling Stones, Stone Temple Pilots, The Beatles, The Who, Van Halen 2,162 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

Complain Like A Rock Star

When his luggage came off the conveyor belt broken, Dave Carroll wasn’t surprised. As the plane was boarding hours earlier he had witnessed baggage handlers at O’Hare Airport tossing his luggage – a $3500 Taylor guitar – around the tarmac.

Dave brought his concerns to three United employees, who couldn’t help him.

Over the course of a year, Dave chased different departments and different people at United in an attempt to have someone take responsibility for breaking his guitar.

And when he got to the top of the United Airlines food chain… the answer was “no”.

So Dave Carroll did what any musician would do when faced with an emotional situation. He wrote a song. It’s called “United Breaks Guitars”, and as of this writing about 3 million people have viewed it in one week alone.

With 3 million people now aware of Dave’s situation, suddenly United Airlines wants to fix the situation.

Dave is a rock star. Literally. Dave is in the popular Canadian band Sons of Maxwell.

But Dave is a rock star in the branding sense as well, because he has demonstrated clearly one of the principles of branding like a rock star in the digital age: accountability.

Brands today need to be accountable to their customers in ways never before imagined, because thanks to the internet, the big company or brand no longer has all the power.

Disgruntled customers can post on message boards, form Facebook groups, create blogs and websites, and post their home made videos on sites like YouTube.

And if the disgruntled customer hits a nerve with their message, as Dave did, their video can be seen by 3 million people in one week.

Brands today need to take part in the conversation and interactivity, because it will happen with or without them. Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and other emerging technologies need to play a key role in any brand’s evolution.

If you ignore the digital conversation, someone like Dave Carroll will catch you off guard.

Uncategorized 156 Comments

Tattoo You


Despite the title, this posting isn’t about the classic Rolling Stones album from 1981, which I would argue is the last great Rolling Stones album. But that debate is for another day.
Over the weekend, Paul McCartney played a concert for over 50,000 people in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Now Halifax is a relatively small city of about 350,000 people. The city doesn’t host very many concerts of this magnitude! Having an ex-Beatle in the city was a major event.
From a branding perspective, having 50,000 in one small city pay over $100 for your product is pretty impressive. But something else happened during that concert that demonstrates the power of rock star brands.
McCartney fan Audrey McCombs from Redding, California, flew up to Halifax because the concert was general admission. Being a massive Paul McCartney fan, she figured coming to this concert would give her the best chance to get really close to the stage. After camping out the night before at the front gate, she was indeed near the front during the show. And she held up a sign for Paul to see, asking him to autograph her arm so that she could turn it into a permanent tattoo.
Well, Paul saw the sign and brought the 19 year-old up on stage to sign her arm.
She left the next day for California, being careful not to shower. Later that day the temporary autograph became a part of her skin forever.
True raving fans do that.
They fly thousands of miles to see you in person.
They camp out the night before to get close to you.
And they make their contact with you a part of their existence.
That is why having true raving fans is so vital for your brand.
Halifax, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones 146 Comments