Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Last week on Saturday Night Live, Andy Samberg reprised his impersonation of Jack Johnson for another episode of “The Mellow Show”.  Since Dave Matthews was the musical guest on the program, it seemed natural that he would show up at some point.

And he did, just not where anyone expected him to.

When Dave Matthews was introduced as a “Mellow Show” guest, Bill Hader emerged and gave a weak – but still funny – Dave impression.  For a moment I wondered if Dave Matthews had lost his sense of humor and didn’t want to mock his own brand of jam-band mellow rock.

That’s when Samberg introduced hard-rocker-gone-mellow Ozzy Osbourne, and out walked Dave Matthews in a dead-on Ozzy impression.  Dave-as-Ozzy serenaded the audience with a mellowed-out version of “Iron Man” with a slightly altered lyrics… “I Am Tired, Man/I wear sweatpants all the time/hang out on my own/watch a Frasier marathon”.

The light lesson in Dave Matthews’ appearance on SNL is that if you recognize the role that your brand plays in the world of your customer, you can use it to have a little fun at your own expense.

Unless your brand is heart defibrillators, you probably aren’t dealing in life and death.  And even brands that deal in serious issues can sometimes poke fun at themselves.

Tesco Mobile has made fun of typical mobile phone commercials with this commercial:

ESPN actually made obvious fun of their coverage of Brett Favre’s various retirements and unretirements with this commercial:

Instead of loving couples, Viagra has poked a little fun at their product with ads like this one featuring couples who have been forced to give up out-of-control hobbies like home decorating because they took Viagra:

In measured doses, a little well-written self-deprecation makes your brand more human, more relatable, and more fun.

You can watch Dave Matthews on SNL here.

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B is for Bob… and for Brand



Last summer, Ziggy Marley oversaw the release of yet another album of remixed Bob Marley songs, this one called “B is for Bob”.  As Ziggy describes it, this albums contains Bob Marley songs remixed for children, the way that Bob Marley used to play the songs for his own children.

I’ve written before about the amazing strength of the Bob Marley brand.  By sticking to his one little niche – reggae music – at a time when nobody else was paying any attention to it, Bob eventually brought the world to his music without ever compromising himself.  He created music that transcended race, religion, and genre.  Long after his death, Bob Marley’s estate makes millions every year.  In 2005, Forbes magazine ranked Bob Marley #12 on the list of the most profitable dead celebrities, just behind Irving Berlin and ahead of Ray Charles.  The estate’s 2005 earnings were estimated at $6 million US, and today most estimates put Bob’s annual earnings at over $10 million US.  Unfortunately for Bob and his heirs, an even greater amount of money is generated by unauthorized use of his face, music, and brand.  You can’t hit a steel drum on any island south of Miami without hitting something with Bob Marley’s face on it.

The release of a children’s album is an interesting step in the Bob Marley brand.  It is said that every college kid in North America goes through a Bob Marley phase.  Now, that phase might happen even earlier.

Like The Beatles “Rock Band” release in September, this Bob Marley children’s project takes the music to an entirely new group of fans.  Imagine 30 years from now, a generation of kids who consider themselves raised on an artist who died 25 years before they were born.  That’s an enduring brand legacy!

Hopefully your brand isn’t dead.  But hopefully you are thinking about how you introduce it to new potential customers.

* What aspects of your brand can you use to bring new customers or fans into the group?  Just like Ziggy chose specific songs for their lyrics and meaning, you can choose elements of your brand to showcase to specific new fans.

* What small changes can you make to your brand in order to lure in new fans?  There aren’t likely to be many true Bob Marley fans revolting at the release of “B is for Bob”.   Are there aspects of your brand that can be tweaked to attract new fans without alienating your present customers?

* Clearly Bob Marley’s music connects with people on an emotional level.  What angles can you take on your brand to highlight your emotional connections?  Instead of promoting your brand’s attributes (what you do), consider promoting your brand’s benefits (how it makes your customer feel).

* Looking at the track listing for this album, many essential Bob Marley songs are missing.  It wouldn’t be a children’s album if songs like “Legalize It” and “African Herbsman” were included.  Part of your brand story is what you leave out.  When telling your brand story, carefully choose what you include.  And even more carefully choose what you leave out.

By the way, Ziggy Marley also released a great album last year called “Family Time” which features Paul Simon, Jack Johnson, and Rita Marley.  The album is geared for kids but sounds sweet to ears of all ages.

Here’s Ziggy Marley talking about the album “B is for Bob” and the inspiration he drew from his father and his music.

Bob Marley, Jack Johnson, Paul Simon, Rita Marley, The Beatles, Ziggy Marley 1,236 Comments

Social Media: The New Bar – Part II

This post is a follow-up to the earlier piece on the success of Owl City.

Iyaz set up his MySpace account in 2006 to showcase the music he was working on back home in the British Virgin Islands.  Music plays such a vital role in Caribbean culture, and musicians in the “BVI” have been heavily influenced by reggae, soca, calypso, dancehall, hip-hop, and pop music.  The result of all of those influences is an infectious bright sound that has recently caught on in North America in a big way.


One of those “island pop” artists, Sean Kingston, stumbled on Iyaz’s MySpace page and loved what he was hearing.  So he fired off an e-mail to Iyaz.

But he didn’t get any reply.  So he sent another one.

Finally, Iyaz replied. It turns out that at first he didn’t believe he was actually trading e-mail with the chart-topping singer.  He was.  And soon the two became friends, with Iyaz heading to Miami to meet him in person.

A few months later, the collaboration paid off and Iyaz joined Sean Kingston’s record label.  His debut song, “Replay“, is now in the top 5 on the Billboard chart.

Another amazing example of how social media has turned the old business model upside down.

Years ago, record company A&R people would spend long late nights in clubs listening to bar bands play, searching for that one magic sound that they could sign to a record deal.  The record company profited by those bands that became famous and sold millions of records, tapes, and CD’s.

Today, artists themselves can spend time on Facebook and MySpace looking for the next big thing.  Business savvy artists like Sean Kingston or Chad Kroeger can sign these artists to their own record label, and use their experience and connections to launch a career.

Years ago, bands could attempt to record their own music.  But very few had access to the equipment to create a recording that sounded professional enough.  Most home recordings, Tom Sholz of Boston aside, sounded like home recordings.

Today, even the most novice musician can easily afford the software to create a decent recording, and with a little work home studio music can sound every bit as what the major record labels are creating.

But Iyaz recorded his debut song “Island Girls” on his laptop using a microphone he bought at Wal-Mart.  That song was a massive radio hit across the Caribbean and launched his career by catching the ear of Sean Kingston.

This changing of the guard isn’t just impacting the music industry.  It has implications in almost every business.

* The next “big thing” in your industry might not come from where you would traditionally look for it.  Are your eyes and ears open to that?

* Technology make someone on a tiny Caribbean island as close as someone in the next room.  Where will your next customer come from?  After all, even this tiny blog has readers in over 50 countries!

* Social media allows a direct dialogue where one would have never before been possible.  Ten years ago it would have been impossible for this dialogue to happen so quickly and easily.

* Techonology in general has put control into the hands of the crowd.  Anyone can record a hit song, if they have the skill and talent.  You don’t need a million-dollar studio set up or a major label record company.

Today you either attempt to harness the power of social media by joining in the conversation, or your risk perishing in the undertow of fast-changing times.

Change is inevitable.  Growth is optional.

Boston Red Sox, Facebook, Iyaz, MySpace, Sean Kingston, Social Media, Tom Sholz 177 Comments

Leaving A Legacy

Many were surprised that The Who chose to carry on after Keith Moon died in 1978.  But carry on they did. And when John Entwistle died in 2002, most people wrote off The Who.  But carry on they did.

With replacement musicians quickly assembled, The Who hit the road a few short months after Entwistle’s death and have continued to tour regularly since then.

You gotta give credit to The Who, not only for their groundbreaking music but for their sheer resiliency. But has that resiliency hurt their brand?

Evidence shows that their legacy has been diminished by staying together after losing Keith Moon and John Entwistle. It is tough to replace such high-profile personalities and continue on in the same fashion.

Not many rhythm sections were as dominant in their roles as Moon and Entwistle were. Keith Moon played louder and faster.  He literally destroyed almost every drum kit he played.  During the band’s first gig with Keith Moon, they actually tied his drum kit together to prevent it from coming apart on stage.

Some say it was Keith Moon’s style that influenced the way John Entwistle played.  He was one of the first bass players to use Marshall stacks, in order to hear himself over the racket Moon was making behind him.  Entwistle played the bass like a lead instrument, and he often played a percussive style not unlike a second drum kit.  He is regarded as one of rock’s greatest bass players ever.

The Who still rock.  They still command and deserve attention.  But they aren’t the band they were, and they know it.  But give Pete Townshend full credit for recognizing that “The Who is just a brand name now, two old fuckers with wrinkles and tricks”.

What would the legacy of The Who be like if they had quit making music together when Keith Moon died? 

Would they carry the kind of magical aura that Led Zeppelin carries today?  While 2007′s Led Zeppelin one-off reunion was a worldwide event, The Who’s 2006-2007 tour did well enough but didn’t generate nearly the hype of one Zeppelin show.

Sure, the catalog of Who classics would be a little shorter. We would never have heard songs like ”You Better, You Bet“, “Eminence Front“, and “Athena” (all personal favorites).  But the vast majority of the catalog would remain.  The songs that truly represent The Who would all be there.

My take is that The Who’s legacy would be much greater if they had taken a different road and quit back in 1978.  A reunion tour would be an incredible event.  Even mere rumors of a reunion would get the attention of the world.  By limiting their exposure, they would have created a much greater demand for their music.

But that’s my two cents.

Then again, judging from this 2006 footage of The Who playing Liverpool, they really do have “tricks” as Pete said.  They definitely sound great!

By the way, thanks to Joe Heuer from for sharing that classic Pete Townshend quote.

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The Challenge of Changing Minds

After nearly 40 years, it may be the end of the road for Aerosmith.


Reports surfaced over the weekend the band is planning to meet, without lead singer Steven Tyler, to discuss their future.  Tyler was injured when he fell off the stage in Sturgis, ND last summer and the band was forced to cancel their world tour.  There are conflicting reports that the singer has also fallen off the sobriety wagon. Drugs and alcohol addiction nearly tore the band apart in the early 80′s.

As for Steven Tyler, he told Classic Rock Magazine that he doesn’t know exactly what he’ll be doing next, “but it’s definitely going to be something Steven Tyler, working on the brand of myself — Brand Tyler.”

My guess is that, assuming sobriety, ”Brand Tyler” has potential.  He’s been the voice and face of the band for nearly four decades.  He could quite possibly reinvent himself as a solo act and be successful.  Lead singers have a long history of successful solo careers.  It isn’t beyond comprehension to envision Steven Tyler putting together a string of movie soundtrack hits in the vein of ”Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” for years to come.

Brand “Aerosmith” on the other hand, has to be worried.  Without Steven Tyler, the band would be better off calling it quits and moving on to other projects.  They should be smart enough to know this, although guitarist Brad Whitford left the door open to finding a new lead singer.  He noted that Steven Tyler “leaves big shoes to fill but, if somebody was willing to do it and the chemistry was right, why not?”

Why not?  Because Brand Aerosmith is too valuable to damage with a new lead singer.  Get a new lead singer, and became a parody of yourselves.  Break up now, and leave with your dignity.  And keep the door opening for a multi-million dollar reunion tour when you eventually bury the hatchet.

Brand Fleetwood Mac, without Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks?  Didn’t do so well.  But they just completed the above-noted multi-million dollar reunion tour with Lindsey and Stevie in top form.

Brand CCR, without John Fogerty?  Not even close to the real thing.

Brand Guess Who, without Burton Cummings?  A scam every time they take to the stage.  These guys should be ashamed, almost as much as Creedence Clearwater Revisited.

Even the kings of the revolving lead singer routine, Van Halen, eventually learned the hard way. After Sammy Hagar successfully replaced David Lee Roth, the next two guys, Mitch Malloy and Gary Cherone, failed miserably.

The lesson: you just can’t easily change people’s perceptions.  Once they’ve given you a spot in their brain, you are stuck there for better or for worse.  You might as well ride it.

You can’t deny the expectations of your customers and expect them to keep buying your brand.  When you stand for something – when you own a piece of their mental real estate – you either honor that or you quit.  It is Ries and Trout 101.

Success comes from living up to expectations and delivering on the promises your brand makes.  There is no job harder or more painful in marketing and branding than trying to change minds.  In the case of Aerosmith, they would be smarter not to even try.

Aerosmith, CCR, Fleetwood Mac, Guess Who, Lindsey Buckingham, Ries and Trout, Steven Tyler, Stevie Nicks, Van Halen 456 Comments

Is Social Media The New Bar?



No question that social media has, to some degree, replaced in-person communication as a means of interaction.  You hear stories all the time about first-love couples who get married after reconnecting on Facebook.  Frighteningly, there are well documented cases of people who have left spouses and children behind for “lovers” that they met on Second Life.  And certainly Craig’s List and other sites like it are filled with ads for people looking to meet others, for profit and otherwise.

Maybe social media has replaced the bar as the hook-up spot of choice.

But has social media replaced the bar as the means by which new music is exposed?

In the music biz, the story has been pretty much the same for over forty years.

You start a band, write some songs, and hit the road.  You tour relentlessly in bars and pubs. And with each passing gig, three things happen:

1. You get better at your craft.  As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in “Outliers”, The Beatles got pretty damn good by playing for eight hours a night, seven nights a week, in Hamburg bars.

2. You develop more fans.  Playing in front of 100 people for 200 nights a week puts you in front of 20,000 fans.  That’s like playing The Staples Center in LA once.  You won’t ever play there for real without having a fan base.

3. You increase the odds of being noticed by someone who can make a difference.  Bands who play live in bars night after night develop a “buzz”, and a buzz gets noticed by the music industry.

But the times have changed, and Adam Young knows it.


Adam lives in Owatonna, Minnesota, a city of 25,000 people in Southwestern Minnesota.  It is not the center of the entertainment universe.   And Adam hasn’t toured town to town across America playing bars.  Yet his song just reached #1.

Adam’s song is called “Fireflies” by Owl CityOwl City is the name Adam gave to his musical project.  It isn’t really a band, since Adam makes his music electronically.

In 2007 – that’s two years ago – Adam created Owl City and recorded an album of songs he created on his own while battling insomnia in his parent’s basement.  He posted the music on his MySpace page.  Over the course of a few months, the song “Hello Seattle” generated buzz.  In fact, it has been streamed over 6 million times on his MySpace page.

Two years after putting the project together, Adam released a major-label album through Universal Music.  But the marketing strategy remained grassroots.  The album was released on-line.  The video was released on his MySpace page but “leaked” to sites like YouTube.    The song was available for free as the soundtrack to the iPhone/iPod Touch app game “Tap Tap Revenge 3“, which exposed the song to millions of potential fans.

The song is now the most downloaded song on iTunes and the #1 song in the US, Canada, and is being touted as the fastest-selling electronica/alternative song ever.

Only now can you see Owl City on tour, and he won’t just be playing smoke-filled bars downtown.  Upcoming Christmas season shows have Owl City playing the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN and the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville, TN.

The marketing landscape for your industry is probably shifting just as fast as the music business. How can you tap into the power of social media to engage your customers?

Here are three lessons learned from the story of Owl City’s Adam Young:

1. Adam wisely gave some of his music away, essentially for free.  You could listen to his songs on MySpace or on “Tap Tap Revenge 3″.  If you liked it, you could buy the album right there on-line.  What can you give away for free in order to create an appetite for what you offer?

2. Adam created a community of music fans using MySpace and Twitter.  Thanks to that network, he became friends with people who could help expose his music to influential people in the music industry.  He also developed alliances with other artists who have collaborated on his new music.  Are you using social media to create a community of like-minded people?  Don’t sell them anything.  Just interact.

3.  At some point, you become your own story.  Adam’s rise from the family basement to the top of the charts is a great story that generates additional interest in the artist and his music.  What great story do you have to tell that will engage people and get them talking and thinking about your product?  Almost every business has a story hidden somewhere, waiting to be told.  We are storytelling creatures and crave the drama of a good story.  Let your story become your marketing.

Facebook, Malcolm Gladwell, MySpace, Owl City, The Beatles, Twitter 133 Comments

Keeping Your Act Fresh

Jon Bon Jovi has always understood the power of marketing.  He’s developed a reputation as a shrewd businessman who takes a hands on role in how his music is marketed. He has always maintained control over his brand.  He owns an arena football team.  He’s been courted by the Kraft family to become a part owner in the NFL.  He is a philanthropist, giving generously to many charities.  He has been politically active, working hard to make a difference.

This month, Jon is taking a new and innovative step becoming the first “Artist in Residence” at NBC.  He will appear each Wednesday on “The Today Show” to not only play songs from his band’s new album, but also to discuss his life on and off the stage.  Expect a very personal look at Bon Jovi.  To promote his appearance, NBC will use not only the main NBC network, but also the many media channels of NBC Universal to promote “Bon Jovi Month”.  You’ll even see Jon Bon Jovi as a guest on a political town hall in December hosted by Tom Brokaw.

You won’t be able to avoid Bon Jovi this month!  That will undoubtedly pay off for the band.

The old rules don’t apply anymore.  Rock star brands today:

* Explore fresh partnerships that provide mutual benefit.

* Are willing to share more than just their music, and get up-close-and-personal.

* Understand that in 2009 and beyond you need to do something different in order to get noticed.

Jon Bon Jovi should know! After all, he’s been playing “You Give Love A Bad Name” for 25 years and manages to stay relevant and keep his act fresh.

Bon Jovi, Jon Bon Jovi, NBC, NFL 173 Comments