They’re Here For A Long Time


Iconic Canadian rock band Trooper stopped near my home town last week.

I joked with a friend that seeing Trooper in concert is like a requirement for Canadian citizenship. You shouldn’t be allowed to call yourself Canadian if you haven’t seen Trooper at least once.

From a branding point of view, you really have to admire these guys.

Trooper had a string of hits in Canada (and some US success) from the mid-70′s through the mid-80′s. Yet they work their asses off to this day like a young band on the rise. They are playing 30+ shows this summer in towns and cities all across Canada. They are playing some of the smallest venues and some pretty big festivals. They always give it everything they’ve got and nobody goes home unhappy.

Of course, many of my readers are from outside Canada and are wondering who the hell Trooper is. Your loss. Of course, you can always do some research here and a little more here.

But there is something more that impresses me about Trooper and in particular, lead singer Ra McGuire.

Ra keeps a very cool blog here and a few weeks ago he posted a piece that resonated with me. You can read it for yourself here.

Basically, Ra is pointing out that it is deceiving for bands like Creedence Clearwater Revisited and The Sweet to go out on tour with only remnants of their original line up intact. And in both cases, without the lead singers.

The new incarnation of CCR doesn’t include John Fogerty, who was the man behind both microphone and pen for the band. It does include Doug Clifford (drums) and Stu Cook (bass guitar) from the original band.

Sweet continues to tour as “Sweet” despite their revolving door of singers (and others). You can digest the endless array of band members on Wikipedia. I don’t have the time or space to do it.

This blog is about the area where BRANDS meet BANDS.

In the case of Trooper, the brand and the band are pefectly matched. Fans have an expectation, and the band delivers. Like other bands I’ve blogged about (AC/DC, U2, Springsteen, Britney Spears), they always live up to – and exceed – the expectations of their customers.

But for fans of CCR and Sweet, is there any hope of going home happy? It seems so deceptive to promote something that isn’t. There must be thousands of fans going home going “Where was John Fogerty?”

The band doesn’t live up to the brand.

The lesson for brands is simple and clear: know the expectations of your customers, and live up to them at every opportunity. Never deceive them. Never mislead them. If you do, you won’t have them for long.

And if you’re into reading some cool stories from the road, check out Ra’s blog and book.

Here’s a taste of Trooper from their hit-making heyday… 1979.

AC/DC, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Trooper, U2 1,262 Comments

A Coup In The Kiss Army


I’ve blogged in the past about the power of the KISS brand. In short, here is why I think the band KISS is one of rock’s most powerful brands:
1. They realized very early they had to be different rather than better. Make-up and pyrotechnics made an average rock band very noticable and memorable.
2. They wisely nurtured a fan base with loyalty programs long before loyalty programs existed. The KISS Army was a big deal in the 70′s. Next to the Deadheads and Parrotheads, the KISS Army probably represents rock’s best fan club story.
3. They brilliantly recaptured their magic after getting off track. After losing the make-up, replacing band members, and recording a series of forgettable songs, the band has done a nice job of recapturing the heritage. That’s not an easy task.
But what KISS has failed to realize is that in 2009 and beyond, you can’t manipulate the people the way you used to.
KISS had a great idea this spring. They allowed fans to vote on what cities they should play. They presented it as a grass-roots way to bring KISS to your town, no matter how small or large your town might be. It was even billed as “the first fan-routed tour” in history.
The winning city in Canada?

Oshawa, Ontario.

And when the tour schedule was released, no Oshawa. Despite the fact that the band promised that the top 3 cities would be guaranteed a show! Oshawa was #1. No show in the ‘Shwa.
What about tiny and remote Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (pop: 80,000)? It placed 3rd in fan balloting. No show in The Soo either.
Or Kingston, Ontario who finished 4th. Or Peterborough, Ontario, who came in 6th.
Or Edmonton (9th) and Sudbury (10th).
Where is KISS playing? Exotic Canadian cities like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Winnipeg. The usual suspects. Places with big major-league stadiums that can spin off big profits for the band and promoters.
After Oshawa fans protested en masse, the tour was routed to include a concert in Oshawa, although the official date hasn’t been nailed down.
If KISS was serious about a fan-routed tour, they would be playing Sault Ste. Marie. There is a new arena that is big enough to hold over 6,000 fans. Having KISS play Sault Ste. Marie would make headlines and get plenty of attention. A band that size simply doesn’t play remote small cities like Sault Ste. Marie.
And Sudbury is a short 3 hour drive down the highway. Maybe stop there on the way and shake the wooden rafters of their old hockey barn since they placed 9th in voting.
The point is simple.
In 2009 and beyond, you can’t easily pull the wool over people’s eyes anymore. Even in Canada, where wool is a mandatory clothing item for eight months out of the year.
If you say you are going to have a fan-routed tour that plays the towns that their fans demand, then do it. Plain and simple.
Don’t lie.
Don’t promote a faux “fan-routed tour” and then play the usual places.
Because in 2009 and beyond, your customers control the flow of information. And they will call you on your bullshit.
And in this case, they would be justified in doing it.
KISS, KISS Army 375 Comments

The E.N.D.

That’s the name of the new Black Eyed Peas CD. “E.N.D.” means Energy Never Dies, according to the band’s main persona, The album features the #1 song of the spring, “Boom Boom Pow” and the #1 song of the summer, “I Gotta Feeling”.

And it probably also features the #1 song of the fall and the #1 song of the winter. We just don’t know yet.

But what is significant to me about “The E.N.D.” is that it very well could spell the END of the physical CD as we know it.

Will told Billboard magazine that the old idea of releasing 12 songs on an album is dead in today’s digital world, and it might be for the better. “I’m trying to break away from the concept of an album,” he said. “What is an album when you put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs? That’s not an album. There is no album anymore.”

Another member of the band, Taboo, also hinted that the new digital world order is shifting how the Black Eyed Peas and others release their music. He told iProng magazine that “Possibly, this is the last physical CD for any group, let alone a Black Eyed Peas CD. Because four years from now, we don’t know what it could be,” he explained. “It’s one thing to just have a CD and need to live with that CD, but what if you were able to take those fifteen songs, and then you got ten songs the next month that you couldn’t have on the CD? And then we just keep on giving you new material and keeping it fresh and reinventing the song.”

They are both right on the money.

We are going back, to the future.

When rock ‘n roll first hit the big time in the 1950′s and 60′s, it was all about the song, or the “single”. The 45 RPM single was the money maker. If you had enough hit singles, the record company would put them all on an album along with some new songs. For acts like The Beatles and Elvis Presley, each of their albums played out like a greatest hits collection.

Somewhere along the way, the album became more profitable than the single. So bands were under pressure to record 12 or 14 songs every year or two for a new album. Not surprisingly, often a large number of those songs were “filler”… songs put there just to take up space. The real reason people bought the album was to hear the hit singles.

Today, with digital downloads fast replacing the notion of a physical CD, we’re back where we started from.

If I were marketing music today, I’d work entirely on a song platform. Forget the album.

Record a great song. Sell it digitally. Provide fans with the individual tracks so they can remix it and share it. Provide means for fans to use the song on YouTube and in other social networking capacities.

And then when the hype fades, do it all again.

The pressure of recording 10 or 12 songs at once is over. Focus can be paid to making each song a great song. No more filler.

Fans are happy. Artists are happy. Record companies? Maybe not, but they probably won’t be around much longer… at least in the form we know them now.

By the way, the Black Eyed Peas – focusing on their singles – have recently set a record on the Billboard charts for the longest band to continuously hold the #1 spot on the charts. After 12 weeks at #1, “Boom Boom Pow” was displaced by “I Gotta Feeling”. And now that it’s been #1 for five weeks the Peas have broken a 16 week run set in the 90′s by Boyz II Men.

Black Eyed Peas, Boyz II Men, Elvis Presley, The Beatles 323 Comments

Being "Better" Really Isn’t


I’ve worked with many brands over the past few years who have described their strategy as essentially to be “better” than their competition.
Almost any brand that enters a competitive marketplace on the premise of “better” is destined for failure.
Better doesn’t usually win.
The Ford F-150 truck was the best selling vehicle in North America in 2008. Was it the “best” vehicle? Well, it isn’t the most fuel efficient. It isn’t the safest. It doesn’t win any points for speed or high-performance. Frankly, it doesn’t win in many categories that one would think to use in order to judge the “best” vehicle. Except for one… and that’s the only one that matters… sales figures.
The top-grossing tour draw so far this year is Britney Spears. Is Britney Spears the “best” musician out there? Well, Britney is on an admirable comeback and has had a few strong hits this year. But most would agree that she isn’t the best ever, and she doesn’t even show up on the list of the most downloaded songs of 2008.
I had dinner a few weeks ago at Per Se restaurant in New York. It is rated as one of the world’s great restaurants. Is it the “best” restaurant? It isn’t the most expensive, although it is certainly pricey. It doesn’t have the best view, although the view of Columbus Circle is fine. The service was great, but I don’t think it was the best service anywhere.
The Ford F-150, Britney Spears, and Per Se Restaurant are all winners in their categories NOT because they are necessarily better than their competitors.
They are winners because of what their customers feel.
F-150 owners feel tough, determined, and rugged.
Britney Spears fans feel young, energized, and sexy.
Per Se diners feel privileged, elite, and special.
When you promote and market your brand, focusing on how you are better than your competition is an extremely weak proposition. Instead, focus on what emotions your customer feels when they choose your product. Focus on what problem you solve for them. Focus on what using your product says about their place in the world.
Britney Spears 220 Comments

The Top Five Greatest Bands Without Hits

It doesn’t take dozens of hits to become a legendary band. Here are a few of the greatest bands/artists on earth who never dominated the charts.

1. Grateful Dead – they had only one true hit, and it came at the twilight of their career. But The Dead was one of the top concert draws in the world for over two decades. The reason? Early pioneers of database marketing, the band cultivated the culture of Deadheads who followed them from show to show. The Dead also made each show unique and didn’t stick to a set list. That, coupled with their support of bootlegging their shows, brought their music to millions who wouldn’t have otherwise heard it.

2. Jimmy Buffett – another one-hit guy. Although only “Margaritaville” was a chart hit, Jimmy continues to pack ‘em in to stadiums around the world every summer. Why? Like the Grateful Dead, Jimmy supported the rise of the Parrotheads who dutifully preach his gospel. Jimmy has also remained dedicated to a core message: living the good life on a tropical beach. In recent years, his smart business sense has seen him turn his image into restaurants, stores, radio stations, a line of tequila, and a brewery.

3. Phish – never had a hit, and probably the closest they came was possibly “Free” in 1996 or “Heavy Things” in 2000. Yet the band took the torch from the Grateful Dead when Jerry Garcia died and became the jam band to follow in the 90′s. The reason? Phish caught on very early to the immense power of involving their audience. They were one of the first musical acts to use the internet, beginning with a 1991 usenet group. They played a tour-long game of chess against their audience in 1995. They’ve collaborated on music and art with their audience. Being a Phish phan is an interactive experience.

4. Insane Clown Posse – another act to never have a hit, yet their following is huge. Insane Clown Posse is a hip-hop act from Detroit who, early in their career, donned extensive make up and gave their act the persona of a violent horror-themed circus show. Like Phish, ICP has given their audience the chance to involve themselves in their “Dark Carnival” world. Their fans, known as “Juggalos”, are sprayed with Faygo soda by the band at each show. The band’s interest in professional wrestling led them to associate closely with wrestling, marketing themselves through wrestling organizations and eventually establishing their own wrestling circuit.

5. Radiohead – they might be a bit of a stretch, since 1992′s “Creep” did become a worldwide hit and they have had tremendous chart success in the UK. But in the USA, only 3 of their 27 singles have reached the charts, with “Creep” being the highest peaker at #34. Yet the band has a huge fan base and sells millions of albums. Radiohead didn’t build their following through relentless touring or brilliant marketing though, they built it through anti-marketing. They became critical favorites, and each release generated tremendous press coverage. Each song was intensely critiqued and analysed. Their 2007 album “In Rainbows” was released as a pay-as-you-wish download, a move that created incredible buzz for the band. Music critics and marketing experts discussed the move on blogs, radio, and TV. The band’s history of anti-marketing has made them a topic of discussion among fans and non-fans.

So what are the secrets to becoming a huge success without having traditional “hits”?

1. Be different. Radiohead, ICP, Jimmy Buffett, Phish, and the Grateful Dead were all very different from the mainstream at the time.

2. Nurture a base of fanatical devotees. Start small, and build your initial fan base up into something bigger and bigger. Don’t try reach everyone at once.

3. Reward the fans. Give them a “club” like Juggalos, Deadheads, Phish Phans, or Parrotheads. Reward their loyalty with extras like the downloads that Radiohead has provided.

4. Create a lifestyle. Music isn’t just about audio, it is about lifestyle. It says something about who you are when you say you are a Deadhead or Parrothead.

5. Market outrageously. For Radiohead, that meant anti-marketing. For Insane Clown Posse, it was professional wrestling. For Phish it was playing a giant chess game with their audience. Get noticed in a way that matches your brand identity.

These are all lessons demonstrated by the music industry, but just waiting to be implemented in any business.

And if you’re smart like Jimmy Buffett, you’ll even reward them by writing a song about your fans!

Grateful Dead, Insane Clown Posse, Jimmy Buffett, Phish, Radiohead 185 Comments

Retro Cool

My 11 year-old knows all the words to Foghat’s “Slow Ride”. He also can play along perfectly to “American Woman” by the Guess Who and several Nirvana songs that pre-date him by seven years.

My 14 year-old believes we should pre-order “Rock Band: Beatles”. He eagerly downloaded an app for his iPod Touch that allows him to play vintage arcade games like Pac Man, Space Invaders, and Frogger.

Meanwhile, they talk about Chuck Norris, wear t-shirts that look like they were made at Woodstock, and watch commercials for McDonalds and Pepsi that feel like they emerged straight from my youth of the 1970′s.

Did you see the latest TV campaign for Mexican beer Dos Equis? Very retro.

What is old is new again.

Is it because of the recession? When times are tough do we turn back the clock to things we know are safe and reliable? Not just safe products, but safe auras within the marketing message?

This piece from the United Airlines in-flight magazine “Hemispheres” says yes.

Certainly the recession is a factor is at play in retro-marketing. But my kids don’t really know or care if we are in recession.

I think they are discovering timeless products (Beatles, Guess Who, Frogger) and marketing that speaks to them in a fresh way. The retro marketing is so dramatically different from what they have been exposed to in their youth that it actually cuts through into their mind faster than most traditional marketing.

And the case could be made that the retro-marketing look and feel seems somehow more authentic than the slick marketing of today.

Finally, exposure to YouTube is probably a major factor. YouTube has democratized video in such a way to make retro and amateur video more believable than the slick commercials on TV.

Are there elements of your brand’s past that could be revisited?

Have you done research with your customers to determine what about your product initially attracted them to you, years ago?

Is there a retro look and feel you can give to your marketing message that makes it more human and honest?

Guess Who, The Beatles 166 Comments

Entry Points

There are two versions of the song.
A friend of mine who’s about ten years older than me loves the original. He doesn’t mind the remake, but in his mind the original wins.
I, on the other hand, enjoy both the remake and the original pretty much equally. But I heard the remake first, and was then introduced to the original.

The remake was my “entry point” to the band/brand Aerosmith. It was 1986 and I was just 16 years old. When I heard Run-DMC and Aerosmith kick out a rock/hip-hop mash up of “Walk This Way”, I was instantly hooked on Aerosmith. That introduction led to my discovery of the original from 10 years earlier, and that led to my first exposure to “Dream On”, “Back In The Saddle”, “Sweet Emotion”, and hundreds of other great rock ‘n roll songs. When Aerosmith returned with “Permanent Vacation” the following year, I was ready to crank up “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” and “Rag Doll”.

The cool thing about “Walk This Way” is that neither Aeromsith nor Run-DMC compromised their integrity. True Aerosmith fans may have been slightly off-put by the infusion of rap music into their classic favorite, but the duet still served as a primer for the Aerosmith comeback that went into high gear in ’87.

And fans of Run-DMC couldn’t object to the homage paid to the originators of the song. In the hip-hop world, using samples from classic rock and pop songs was not at all uncommon.

“Walk This Way” by Run-DMC and Aerosmith hit #4 on the charts in 1986, besting the original’s #10 peak in 1977. The song was one of the first mass-appeal hip-hop songs and helped introduce hip-hop to the mainstream. It was the first major hip-hop hit in the UK. And it helped revive the nearly-dead career of a great rock band, sparking one of their most prolific creative spans.

Your brand has plenty of existing customers who love your stuff.

So what can you do to gently create new “entry points” for customers who don’t already love you?

Are there aspects of your brand you can highlight to these new potential customers, without compromising your brand and alienating your core customers?

“Walk This Way” was the perfect entry point to introduce a 16 year-old to the Aerosmith brand, and to introduce a generation to hip-hop culture. The impact of that entry point was far reaching, as evidenced by Eminem in 2002.

Today’s “Walk This Way” is the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video game series. This fall, Rock Band: Beatles will become the next entry point for a generation ready to soak up the greatest band in music history. Watch for a spike in Beatles downloads this fall!

What’s your brand’s next entry point?

Aerosmith, Run-DMC 313 Comments

Sound Is Worth A Million Pictures

John Hughes knew it. The director of “Sixteen Candles” and “Breakfast Club” died last week, but he left my generation a wealth of movies that defined growing up in the 80′s.

“Holiday Road” by Lindsay Buckingham and “Blitzkrieg Bop” by Ramones gave “National Lampoon’s Vacation” a new dimension.

“Sixteen Candles” would not have been “Sixteen Candles” without songs from The Thompson Twins, Billy Idol, Spandau Ballet, and the classic “Young Americans” by David Bowie.

Spending a weekend in detention with “The Breakfast Club” gave us an original movie soundtrack hit that has endured nearly 30 years. “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” by Simple Minds stands up as the most mass-appeal hit of their lengthy career. By the way, Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry both turned down offers to record the song before Simple Minds wisely picked it up. Billy eventually did his own little-known version, which you can hear if you’d like.

“Wierd Science” wasn’t my favorite Hughes movie, but how can you go wrong with “Oh Pretty Woman” by Van Halen, “Wierd Science” by Oingo Boingo, and General Public’s “Tenderness”.

Things really got cooking with “Pretty In Pink”. The movie’s title song by Psychedelic Furs is the band’s signature song in the US. And OMD raised their career through “If You Leave”, a song that went on to be their signature song as well.

There never was a soundtrack album to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, but the scene with Matthew Broderick performing “Twist and Shout” is a classic moment in 80′s moviemaking.

Some of the British neo-romantic acts like Thompson Twins, Psychedelic Furs, OMD, General Public, Spandau Ballet, and Simple Minds owe a great deal of debt to John Hughes. Without inclusion in his movies, those bands may well have been just a footnote in US music history despite their success in the UK.

Hughes intrinsically seemed to understand the need for every strong visual to have stunning audio to accompany it.

That’s a lesson lost today on many brands, who insist on filling their print and outdoor ads with “white space” and ignoring the power of radio and TV audio.

Billy Idol, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, General Public, John Hughes, Lindsey Buckingham, Oingo Boingo, OMD, Psychedelic Furs, Ramones, Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, Thompson Twins, Van Halen 766 Comments

Should U2 Quit Making New Music?

UPDATED APRIL 8, 2011 – U2 is about to break all records. When they play Sunday night in Brazil, their “360 Tour” will become the most profitabl tour ever, eclipsing The Rolling Stones. The band will have earned $558 million by that point, and estimates say the tour will gross over $700 million by the time it wraps up in August on Canada’s Atlantic coast. This post goes back to 2009 when U2 was promoting their new album. I suggested they were wasting their time releasing new music, and that their brand would be better protected if they stopped making new music and focused entirely on touring and playing their hits.

My post the other day about U2 generated a lot of feedback, most of it critical and most of it sent directly to my email box.

“You are a moron”

“What a stupid post”

“F**k you”

It certainly generated reaction.

My basic premise was that, as a brand and a business, U2 should stop making new music because the bulk of their fans come to hear the classics, and each new album that doesn’t live up to “The Joshua Tree” simply dillutes the U2 legacy.

Everyone who commented or e-mailed me used U2′s incredible ability to draw fans to concerts as evidence that they should continue to make new music.

I agree that U2 is a great concert draw, and they should continue to tour! I’m not suggesting that U2 retire. My point is that most fans – aside from the hard core – come to hear the classic U2 hits.

Same with AC/DC. Their last album “Black Ice” went #1 in 18 countries. It spawned a #1 rock hit in “Rock ‘n Roll Train”. Yet when I saw AC/DC this summer, when the bathroom line-ups get long? It wasn’t during “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Thunderstruck”, or “Hell’s Bells”. People went to the bathroom when they played songs from the new album, with the exception of “Rock ‘n Roll Train” which opened the show. The crowd thinned a lot during “Big Jack” and “War Machine”.

The Rolling Stones? Same story. I saw them in Boston on the “Bigger Bang” tour in 2005, and a lot more people were lined up at the Garden bathroom during “Rough Justice” than “Honky Tonk Women”, “Satisfaction”, and “Start Me Up”. Great show, but if you had to miss a song or two to answer biology’s calling, it was going to be during one of the new songs.

How about Fleetwood Mac? I caught their “Unleashed” show at Mohegan Sun in March of ’09. During this greatest-hits style tour, bathroom and beer breaks were hard to find because they didn’t play any new material. There was no visible exodus, except possibly during lesser-known songs like “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and “Storms”. But a few years earlier I saw the band tour in support of their last album, many in the crowd took a pee break during “Peacemaker” and “Say You Will”.

Maybe suggesting these classic bands should completely giving up on making new music isn’t a fair statement. Music is an art and artists shouldn’t stop creating just because people aren’t buying paintings like they used to.

But speaking purely from a business perspective, it is an undeniable fact that the more you water down your brand’s legacy, the bigger risk you have of making your brand irrelevant.

To tie this back to business and branding, it is vital to know why your fans showed up. You need to understand what they expect of you so that you can live up to those expectations. That’s how rock star brands are built.

If U2, AC/DC, and Fleetwood Mac fans spend $100 each to hear the hits, does it make any sense for the band to waste time introducing new songs?

AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, U2 130 Comments

The Last of the Great Rock Stars


There aren’t many of them left.

You know, the kind of rock stars that can stand up in a crowd of 30,000 people, strike a classic rock star pose, and actually sound cool having the audience shout “hey” back to him after he shouts it.

I really think Dave Grohl is one of the last great rock stars.

Dave Grohl and his band, The Foo Fighters, are among the few today who can use every rock ‘n roll cliche and still come across credible and contemporary. Their shows are filled with guitar solos, drum solos, and classic rock star poses. And never once do you get the feeling that he’s out of touch. He evokes the glory days of Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, and others who truly owned the stage and the audience.

Jerry Rojas of blogcritics.comobserved something similar: “Grohl made use of the large stage, running like a madman all over and making the large crowd feel right at home. He played with such youth-like vigor, you’d think you were watching a 15 year-old kid in his first punk band sans all the wrong notes.”

Same observations from Portland radio station 101.9 KINK: “Right from the get go they owned that arena. The first note from Dave Grohl’s guitar FILLED the hall. People stood, pumped their fists, and were treated to a first-class, state-of-the-art rock show by a band that is absolutely at the top of its game.”

Is it because great brands are timeless? Have The Foo Fighters made those “rock star” moments part of their brand identity? I think so.

They’ve built a little kitsch into their brand, and when Dave Grohl stands in that classic pose he is giving a little wink to all who came before him. A tribute to all that is great, and often forgotten, in rock ‘n roll.

Uncategorized 894 Comments