Crowdsourcing, Twenty Years Ago

I just finished the very good book “The Chaos Scenario” by Bob Garfield.  Read it.

One of the topics covered is the idea of “Crowdsourcing“.  This apparently new concept takes the work once done by a single person or company, and invites contributions from a larger community or even the world-at-large.  It has become a very important tool for journalists, including the recent earthquake in Haiti and the disputed elections in Iran.  It has also become popular with artists and designers who seek contributions and input from fans, customers, and other like-minded people.

Crowdsourcing’s rise to fame is in large part thanks to social networking, which has made it feasible to cast a wide net across a community to seek input.

But don’t be fooled.  Crowdsourcing isn’t a new idea.  Not if you are Jamaican.

Crowdsourcing is one of the foundations of modern reggae and dancehall music, and has been for many years.  They don’t call it that, of course.  They call it “riddim”.

Riddims are instrumental songs.  Musicians and producers create riddims, and then invite numerous artists to write lyrics and melodies to fit the riddim.  Often enough different songs are recorded using the same riddim to release entire albums, as VP Records has done for a decade with their “Riddim Driven” series.

Same concept as crowdsourcing.  I create something, and ask my community to improve upon it, alter it, and own it.  And eventually, thanks entirely to our collaborative efforts, we all profit from it.

Kinda cool to think that Jamaica, an developing nation plunked in the ocean far from Silicon Valley, was on to crowdsourcing long before the first high speed internet connection ever reached the Caribbean.  They’ve been recording riddims since the 80′s!

Sometimes the future is clearly visible, in the rear-view mirror.

Speaking of Jamaica, I’ll probably not be posting until after February 6.  I’m headed to Negril for 10 days of relaxing, listening only to the waves and the island riddims.

Bob Garfield, Chaos Scenario, crowdsourcing, Jamaica, riddim, VP Records 1,572 Comments

Let It Be

The rumor is that next week, after the Grammy Awards, a group of modern-day musicians will gather to re-record the song “We Are The World”, originally recorded by USA For Africa in 1985.  While the original raised money and awareness for hunger in Africa, this one will do the same for the Haitian earthquake relief.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m all for helping the victims of this horrendous natural disaster, but “We Are The World” should never be re-recorded.  It is a perfect example of a time-and-place brand that deserves it’s rightful spot in music history.  The magic that was “We Are The World” can never be recaptured.  So many factors work against it… the original and legendary veil of secrecy that no longer exists, the element of surprise and “oh wow” when it finally arrived, the extremely dated song itself, and the simple fact that we’ve been there, done that.

Need more evidence?  I present to you the re-recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”,. first in 1999 as “Band Aid II” and then again in 2004 as “Band Aid 20″ (a reference to the 20th anniversary of the original).  Anyone request those two versions on their favorite radio station over the holidays?  Nope.  Everyone loves the original from 1984. Both remakes are considered failures for two reasons:

1. They lack the earnestness of the original, both in sound and in purpose.  The original was a novel idea, and the remakes inevitably lack that impact.  Somehow, the earnest nature of the original still resonates.

2. Magic like that just can’t be rebottled.  You can’t just do it again.  The proverbial toothpaste doesn’t go back in the tube.  Lightning doesn’t strike twice.  Insert your own cliche here.

Outside the music realm, there are plenty of examples of brands that try to recapture former glory.  In some instances, it works.  The VW BeetleThe NHL “Winter Classic” outdoor hockey game.  Coke Classic.

But many times, it fails.  Most end up being shells of their former selves, relegated to novelty status among hard-core fans.

“We Are The World” part deux, should such a travesty happen, will be exactly that.  Hopefully in the short term it does it’s job and raises millions of dollars for people who need it.  But 5 years down the road when someone mentions “We Are The World”, everyone one of us will think of this original version.

Band Aid, Beetle, Coke, haiti, NHL Winter Classic, USA for Africa 1,281 Comments

Five Key Cause Marketing Questions

Hollywood celebrities and musicians are lining up to be part of the upcoming “Hope for Haiti” benefit organized by George ClooneyJustin Timberlake, Sting, Bono, Christina Aguilera, and Alicia Keys are confirmed so far. On January 22, Clooney will co-host the benefit along with Haitian-born Wyclef Jean.

Wyclef, it should be known, has worked tirelessly for his impoverished home country for years now.  His Yele Haiti foundation has done tremendous work in the country, and his music has brought worldwide attention to Haiti.

Social causes have long been a part of rock ‘n roll.  In the 60′s and 70′s, rock music trumpeted the socially relevant causes of racial equality, gender bias, and the war in Vietnam.  In the 80′s, the Live Aid concerts were a milestone in understanding the immense power of popular music as a vehicle for social change and raising change in the form of cash.  More recently, rock stars have helped instigate political change.  There’s no question that the support of Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, and had an impact on the 2008 Presidential election!

Cause marketing” is the umbrella term given to brands that align themselves with causes.  These partnerships generally have mutual benefit, giving the brand the PR and the warm glow of helping out and giving the cause added publicity and money.  While it may sound mercenary on the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with cause marketing.

Rock star brands should ask some key questions when it comes to cause marketing:

1. Does the partnership truly benefit the cause?  Embarking on a cause marketing campaign in the name of your brand’s own selfish gain never works.  If you partner with a cause, work hard to understand what they hope to gain and work hard to make it happen.

2. Is there any consumer benefit?  Creating a cause marketing partnership will only work when the consumer stands to benefit.  It is the consumer benefit that drives sales and brand awareness, and drives benefit to the cause.  No consumer benefit, and everyone involves usually loses.

3. Is everything transparent?  Even the great work Wyclef Jean has done with Yele Haiti has come under scrutiny.  If you can’t disclose everything about your cause marketing partnerships, you shouldn’t be in them.

4. Is the campaign authentic?  Nike’s “LIVESTRONG” campaign has worked brilliantly because it is wonderfully authentic.  Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor who has conquered the Tour De France seven times.  Nike’s alignment with Lance and their promotion of “LIVESTRONG” as a brand itself has been very powerful.

5. Is the partnership congruent?  Great cause marketing campaigns involve brands and causes that make sense to the consumer.  Aligning brands with causes that share similar values, goals, and missions is vital.  A Rihanna campaign to reduce violence against women would make perfect sense.  But an Ozzy Osbourne alliance with animal rights might not.

bono, Bruce Springsteen, cause marketing, Dave Matthews, haiti, justin timberlake, Lance Armstrong, Ozzy Osbourne, Rihanna, sting,, wyclef jean 125 Comments

Long Live The King


Elvis Presley would have turned 75 years old this weekend.

There’s no doubt about the incredible impact that Elvis had on music. He was the first to bring the raunchy mixture of blues and country to the mass mainstream of America.  There were others before him who melded “black” and “white” music together, but Elvis was the first to reach massive recognition and acceptance.

The short Elvis story: his career skyrocketed in the late 50′s and early 60′s.  However, in the 60′s his choice to perform in and endless string of formulaic movies accompanied by rather formulaic music resulted in his star fading.  At the same time, rougher-edged music by The Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Doors, and many others had become popular.  By the time the 60′s ended, Elvis was widely regarded as a musical joke.  Even as he attempted a comeback in the 70′s, his addiction to prescription drugs worsened and his health continued to slide.  Although he was playing a record number of concerts, his weight ballooned and his health deteriorated.  His short concerts became incoherent and his paranoia increased daily. When Elvis Presley died in 1977 he was hugely obese and generally sedated by painkillers.


There is hardly a musician alive who doesn’t owe credit to Elvis Presley.  Since his death, Elvis has regularly topped Forbes magazine’s list of the highest-earning deceased celebrities.  He remains the biggest-selling solo artist of all time.  He has been rightfully inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.  His home at Graceland attracts over a half million visitors a year.
Think about how his legacy might be viewed if he would have survived to 75.  How would we look at the King of Rock ‘n Roll if he would have had 33 more years of battling drug addiction, obesity, and musical irrelevance?

Dying took away any opportunity to further destroy his legacy.  It put an end to the circus show, and made Elvis music suddenly rare and valuable.  His death gave Elvis Presley the chance to be remembered firstly for the musical brilliance of his youth, and secondarily for his later-life excesses.

It took his passing to save the brand.

That’s not really all that unusual.  Quite often we crave what we can no longer have.

“Family Guy” was cancelled for 2 1/2 years before Fox TV brought it back based on massive DVD sales.  It was only being without “Family Guy” that convinced Fox that it was worth having after all.

Volkswagen brought the Beetle back in 1998, after being out-of-production in most of the world for many years.  Thanks to the Beetle, VW sales spiked dramatically in subsequent years.  Having no Beetle at all made the Beetle valuable.

McDonald’s has successfully brought back the McRib sandwich on a regular basis, each time giving it a “Farwell tour” and stirring up plenty of “Save the McRib” publicity.  Taking this otherwise forgettable food away makes those who appreciate it stand up and wave the flag.

“New Coke” may go down in history as one of the biggest marketing mistakes ever, but there is a school of thought that says it was all a well-planned strategy to increase passion for the brand.  Planned or not, it definitely did dramatically increase the visible passion for the brand!

Often being rare, or even gone for good, is the only thing that can save a brand.

Beetle, Elvis Presley, Family Guy, McRib 139 Comments

Negative = Positive

When is bad press actually good press?

When your core customers (and potential customers) won’t be offended or turned-off by the nature of the negative press.

Take  The dating website is set up in such a way that only people voted to be “beautiful” by other members are allowed to buy memberships.  Elitist?  Absolutely, and they are proud of it.  Last week, the website kicked over 5,000 members out because of weight gain over the holiday season.  Those given the boot were also e-mailed a list of weight loss boot camps in their area.

The move instantly set off a firestorm in the media, so much so that when you do a Google search of “”, the site itself is no longer the first hit.  News stories about the site lead the way.  It seems like every major news outlet in the world covered the story. Message boards and blogs were alive with people angry at the site’s actions.

How did all that negative press impact

Traffic to their website is up 660% in the past 7 days, and overnight the site became one of the 1000 most-visited websites in the world.

Let’s be honest… those who were offended by’s actions were probably never likely to sign up for an account at an elitist vanity-driven dating site like that.

Madonna experienced first-hand how negative press can be a positive, as long as your fans don’t mind the controversy.  Her 1989 video for “Like A Prayer” featured burning crosses, stigmata, and what some interpreted as Jesus Christ played by black actor Leon Robinson.  The video angered Catholics for its religious imagery and was banned in several countries.  In the end, “Like A Prayer” went on to win the Viewer’s Choice Award at the MTV Video Awards and was later named one of music’s most groundbreaking videos by Rolling Stone, MTV, and VH-1.

Elvis set off similar insanity in 1956 when he appeared on the Milton Berle Show singing “Hound Dog” while suggestively gyrating his hips.  What happened when all that controversy broke out?  Elvis became a worldwide sensation.  Although Ed Sullivan made sure those suggestive hips stayed off-camera!

What happened to the career of The Beatles in 1966 when John Lennon declared that they were “more popular than Jesus”?  They got even more popular!  Sure, they took some short term heat, but their next album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, went 11x platinum.  Two years later, the “White Album” went 19x platinum.  They sold more albums in the two years after that comment than their entire career before it.

Keith Moon’s quirky passion for blowing up toilets didn’t hurt The Who.  In fact, being banned from all Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and Hilton hotels worldwide actually fueled The Who’s reputation for being the loudest rock and roll band on earth… a reputation that outlived Keith himself.

Vince Neil of Motley Crue even killed a man while driving drunk. You’d think that would hurt the band, but once Vince got out of jail, the band’s career continued on track like nothing had happened.  In fact, their next album, “Theatre of Pain”, was their biggest seller to date.

Sure, it doesn’t always work out. Milli Vanilli didn’t recover from lip-synching.  Michael Jackson’s pedophile scandal damaged his career and dogged him until his death last spring.  Phil Spector’s murder conviction didn’t help him, and he’s likely to be behind bars for the rest of his life.  All of those scandals actually offended core customers!

When the controversy doesn’t offend the core customers, negative press is as good – or better – than positive press. 

How can a brand maximize the opportunity when they make the news in a scandalous way?

1.  Have one message. 
Appoint one spokesperson, and tell one story.  Make your message unambiguous. has done a great job of consistently being unapologetic for their actions, and they’ve used the opportunity to explain what their website is all about.

2. Get ahead of the story. 
Don’t let the media catch you off guard.  You are making the news, not just reacting to it.  As a brand manager, you should have a pretty good sense of what is going to play and not play with your audience. has been right there, ready to comment and move the story forward in the news cycle.

3. Use your own network to feed the fire. 
Through your Facebook fan site and Twitter feeds, keep your customers up to date on your side of the story during a scandal.  After all, those who support your brand are not likely to be put-off by the controversy.

Uncategorized 148 Comments

Marketing to Masks


People are never exactly who they think they are.  We are all wearing “masks”.  In the branding world, “masks” are the personalities we aspire to be.

White suburban teens are the biggest consumers of hip hop music.  Does gangsta rap really speak to the average white suburban teen?  Nope.  It speaks to their “mask”.

Growing up in the early 80′s, my  spirit was summed up in Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.    But I took it anyway, and went to school and listened to my parents and got pretty good grades.  My mask – the person I aspired to be – was  a teenage rebel who wouldn’t take any sh*t from anyone.

Music speaks directly to our masks.

Jimmy Buffett is a perfect example of an artist who markets to the mask of his fans.  When they listen to his music or go to his concerts, for a few minutes or hours they are beach bums with no cares in the world aside from how the fish are biting and when the next tropical drink will arrive.

Smart brands tap into those masks too.

Harley-Davidson has done a masterful job of convicing middle-aged men and women that they are far more rebellious than they really are.  On weekends they strap on their designer leather gear and fire up their Harley for a jaunt around the neighborhood.  They are law abiding, productive members of society, even if their mask says otherwise.

Jeep markets itself as the perfect vehicle for the generation that lives in the now and wants to seize every moment for adventure and excitement.  Yet most Jeeps never leave the safety of a paved road.

There’s nothing wrong with masks.  They are aspirations, and we all have them.

Rock star brands like Jeep and Harley-Davidson wisely market to our masks.  But they also live up to the brand promise, appealing to both the mask and to the reality.  Even if your Jeep spends most of its time in a heated garage, it is still built to handle the Rubicon Trail.  Likewise, every Harley ridden by a middle-aged CEO on a Sunday run to Dunkin Donuts could just as easily be straddled by a bad-ass Hell’s Angel speeding away from the cops.

For more reading on this topic, consider downloading the free e-book called “Refining Your Brand Personality” by David Freeman. David’s 15 page pdf on the topic helped inspire this post.  It is a free download from Wizard Academy Press and is available here.

And now, enjoy a little 80′s rebellion with Twisted Sister.

Harley Davidson, Jeep, Jimmy Buffett, Twisted Sister, Wizard Academy 141 Comments