What’s Your Crap Worth?

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When you’ve built an incredible brand that leaves behind a massive legacy, even your scraps are valuable.

John Lennon’s toilet sold at auction on Saturday for over $14,700 USD.  John used the throne from 1969 to 1971. When he had it replaced, he told the workers to plant some flowers in it.  Instead, builder John Hancock stored it in his shed, where it sat for nearly 40 years until he passed away.

Although the price tag shocked the organizers of the auction, it is clear that everything attached to The Beatles carries a premium price tag.  Because they are scarce and in high demand, Beatles items will continue to increase in value.  Investing in Beatles memorabilia is probably a much safer bet than any stock market today!

A few weeks ago my family spent a week at my parent’s farm.  My 15 year old son was ecstatic when he rummaged through the attic and stumbled across an Apple Powerbook Duo 210, circa 1992.  It’s old and clunky by today’s standards, but the computer still runs perfectly!


Apple carries a similar brand legacy to today’s youth as The Beatles did to generations previous.  My son’s new 18 year-old Powerbook Duo probably isn’t worth that much cash, but it certainly carries nostalgia value! It has already gained him bragging rights amongst his tech-smart friends in the same way owning John Lennon’s toilet would make Beatles junkies envious.

When even your old junk starts to increase in value, you know your brand truly is a rock star!

Apple, John Lennon, The Beatles 196 Comments

Beware Of Your Legacy

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Sometimes great brands are remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

George Michael had an incredible run of hits in the 1980′s.  He was part of the massive success of Wham! and then went solo, selling over 100 million albums on his own. He’s had 8 #1 hits in the USA.  During the 20 year span from 1984 through 2004, George Michael was the single most played artist on the radio in the UK.

Yet what is George Michael most remembered for?  His penchant for getting arrested while cruising parks on drugs looking for anonymous gay sex.  His legal troubles are far from over.  This week he received a six-month driving ban and will face further sentencing next month.  Also next month he will attempt a comeback of sorts, rereleasing his debut solo album “Faith” 23 years after it’s initial success.  We’ll see…

Despite being one of the great musical successes of his generation, the George Michael legacy will be forever colored by his personal life.

Brett Favre is on a similar path.  No, Favre doesn’t get high and look for sex in the park.  Instead, he habitually retires and then returns, and keeps the entire football world waiting to find out what his plans are.  He turns his annual arrival at training camp into a media circus.


Brett Favre owns or shares most of the high-profile NFL records for his position.  He will be in the hall of fame, when he eventually retires.  You can see a list of his career accomplishments here.

Last year, when he eventually came out of retirement to play with the Minnesota Vikings, he had one of his best seasons ever… at 40 years old!

Yet what is Brett Favre most famous for now?  Retiring.  And then un-retiring.

First in 2006, when he gave an teary interview to NBC saying his future was in question.  But he returned for the 2007 season.  In early 2008, he formally retired, announcing that “I know I can play, but I don’t think I want to.”  A few months later, he came out of retirement and ended up playing for the New York Jets.  He played for the Jets for the 2008 season.  After the season, he formally announced his retirement once again. 

Rumors started in June of 2009 that Favre would sign with the Minnesota Vikings and come out of retirement – again.  However, Favre told the Vikings he was not returning to football.  Yet a month later, he signed with the Minneosta Vikings.  He had a great season in 2009, and at the end of the year left his future in question.  This week he returned to the Vikings and will play a 20th season in the NFL.

Is your brand famous for the right reasons?

Brett Favre and George Michael are proof that you can be among the very best at what you, and still have your brand lose equity thanks to bad decisions.

Brett Favre, George Michael 1,497 Comments

Finding Your Inspiration

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Inspiration is everywhere.  For Tom Johnston, one of his musical masterpieces was inspired by a road sign, and he didn’t even know it.

As my friend Joe Heuer the Rock and Roll Guru tweeted, it was 37 years ago today that the Doobie Brothers released their classic song “China Grove“.  The story goes that Tom wrote the song while the band was on tour, and as was their routine, he named the demo after the brand of cigarette he was smoking at the time.  Hence the working title of the song was “Parliament”.

Producer Ted Templeman thought the keyboard lick sounded oriental, and suggested that Johnston write something Asian-sounding.  He came up with China Grove, about a fictional town “down around San Antone.”

It was three years later, while riding in a taxi cab in Houston in 1975, that Tom found out that there really was a town near San Antonio, Texas called China Grove.  He had seen the town sign while on tour, filed it away somewhere, and subconsciously reached for it when he needed an Asian-sounding name.

Every great brand begins with inspiration… an idea… a crazy thought… a way to change the world.
The funny thing about inspiration is that you never know where it will come from.  Finding it is simple, but seldom comes easy.

You need to watch the world around you.  Notice the unusual.  Be aware of the patterns before you.

You need to get out of your comfort zone.  Leave the box if you plan to think outside of it.

Go somewhere you’ve never been before.
Go see a movie starring actors you’ve never heard of.
Buy a magazine about a field you’ve never thought of.
Surf the internet for topics you’ve always wanted to read about.
Keep a journal of dreams, thoughts, and ideas.
Visit a historical site, museum, zoo, or art gallery.
Then get a good night’s sleep.  Let what you’ve seen sink deep into your unconscious mind.

Finally, trust yourself.  If you’ve given yourself the freedom to be inspired, your very own “China Grove” will be waiting for you when you need it… and you’ll probably never know where it came from.

Doobie Brothers 1,167 Comments

Celebrating The Brand, Not Recreating It: Jason Bonham

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For a far-too-short moment, it looked like it might actually happen. 

Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham performed as Led Zeppelin for one magical night in December of 2007.  It was one of the rock era’s most anticipated shows, and the post-show buzz about a long-term reunion wouldn’t go away. Even after Robert Plant clearly stated he wouldn’t be part of a reunion tour, Page, Jones, and Bonham continued to jam together with various lead singers.  Eventually, after months of speculation, the project fizzled.

Behind the scenes, Jason Bonham was devasted.  He had come to anticipate being part of a reunion project, and having it fall apart was a major blow to the son of original Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.

Jason spent a few months wondering what to do, and then it hit him.  He isn’t Led Zeppelin, but as the son of one of the band members, he is intimately familiar with the band.  His perspective is unique and intriguing, and it is about to come to the stage in “Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience”.

According to Bonham, this will not be a tribute show.  Nobody will be dressed up like Page and Plant.  Instead, Bonham plans to tell personal stories about growing up surrounded by the madness that was Led Zeppelin.  Using technology, he will have a chance to jam with his late father on “Moby Dick” and “When The Levee Breaks”.  The show will include intimate stories, video, and audio from the young life of Jason Bonham and will celebrate the life of his legendary father.

From a branding point of view, I think this is interesting – in a positive way.

“Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience” is not being sold to anyone as Led Zeppelin, so nobody is buying fake goods.  Instead, it is a fresh perspective on a band that the world just can’t seem to ever get enough of.

As long as Jason Bonham never tries to pass this off as the “new” Led Zeppelin, this should be an interesting project.

Like last year’s Star Trek movie, which never pretended to be the old Star Trek.

Like pro sports teams who wear special retro-jerseys to pay tribute to old teams, yet never try to be those old teams.

Like ABBA creating the “Mamma Mia” musical, but never trying to capture the same on-stage magic from the 1970′s.

Sadly, some bands fail to respect it.  Creedence Clearwater Revisited tries to pass off CCR without John Fogerty.  Can’t be done.  The Guess Who fraudulently tour around without Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, who instead play together under their own names.  That’s exactly what Jason Bonham won’t be doing.

Brands that can respect the past, without trying in vain to recreate it, can revive interest and passion.  Brands that attempt to fool us with fake ingredients or replacement parts usually serve to further damage the brand.

This video of Jason and John Bonham shows just how engaging this tour could potentially be.

ABBA, Jason Bonham, Led Zeppelin, Star Trek 217 Comments

Letting Time Heal Wounds

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Brands in a state of crisis can learn a little from hip-hop star Chris Brown.

Chris Brown was one of music’s biggest stars until February 8, 2009 when he was arrested by LAPD for assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna.  Immediately his sponsors and partners bailed on him to put some distance between their brand and his.  He was replaced on the 2009 Grammy Awards broadcast by Justin Timberlake, and many radio stations stopped playing Chris Brown’s hits including “With You” and “Forever”.

For nearly two years, Chris Brown has been away from the limelight.  He has appeared on Larry King Live and 20/20 discussing the incident and he has consistently appeared apologetic and regretful for his actions.  One of his more public appearances was at the 2010 BET Awards, where he broke down in tears while performing a tribute to Michael Jackson.

It appears that the world is ready to accept Chris Brown once again.  His new song “Deuces” is climbing the charts, and he is set to star in the movie “Takers” due out August 27.

For brands like Chris Brown who are facing controversy, the equation is simple:


When your brand has been scarred – rightly or wrongly – you cannot instantly recover.  It takes time.

And all the time in the world won’t make a difference if your behavior doesn’t match. 

Tylenol went through major crisis in 1982 when seven people died in Chicago after taking the medicine.  They watched their market share drop from 38% to 8% nearly overnight.  It took almost a year before it rebounded, a performance that surprised many people and was directly attributable to how the company handled the crisis.  They apologized.  They took responsibility.  They pulled all of their products, everywhere, just in case.  They helped the police investigate.  They communicated with the media regularly.  They helped create new tamper-resistant packaging to prevent future problems.  Tylenol faced things head on in a way that connected with consumers.

Chris Brown committed a serious crime that nobody should ever forget take lightly.  However, it looks like his remorseful behavior combined with the passage of time has given his career a fresh start.

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The Brand Environment

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The Washington Post did a fantastic experiment a few years ago.  They played world-renowned violin player Joshua Bell in a busy rush-hour subway station.  He played for almost an hour on his million dollar violin, playing back some of the most intricate violin pieces known to man.  Nobody knew that the unassuming man wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap and playing violin in the subway was one of the finest classical musicians in the world.

Surely they would know once he started playing.

Joshua Bell played while over 1,000 people walked by.  Only 6 people actually stopped to pay attention and listen.  A few tossed him money, earning the virtuoso of his instrument a meager $32.17.  One person recognized him and introduced herself.  You can watch the video below.

The lesson is that out of context, beauty is hard to recognize.  Greatness isn’t as easy to spot.  Brilliance doesn’t always shine through when you are focused on catching the next train into work and fighting the crowds on your morning commute.

Another similar experiment happened recently when the team at placed a disguised Jewel in a karaoke bar with a group of supposed work comrades.  One by one they all got up to sing, until only “Karen” (Jewel incognito, pictured above) was left sitting.  After much convincing, shy little “Karen” sheepishly made her way to the microphone and picked out “Who Will Save Your Soul” by Jewel as her karaoke choice.

Almost instantly the bar was silent, mesmerized by her voice.  A few people commented that she sounded like Jewel.  Nobody recognized her, but everybody recognized the talent.  That video is also linked below for your enjoyment.

The Jewel experiment was different from the Joshua Bell experiment in that the performance happened in a place where people naturally go to watch and hear music.  By virtue of that, their radar was tuned in to a potentially great singer.  When presented with one, they recognized it.

Had Jewel, in deep disguise, taken an acoustic guitar into a DC subway station, chances are pretty high that the results would have been similar to Joshua Bell’s underground violin concerto.

This is a vital lesson for brands. 

Your brand will looks, sounds, feels, and tastes different based on the environment. 

Reaction to your brand will be different based on the conditions.

An obvious example: even mediocre cold beer is going to get good reviews when it is sunny and 90 degrees, but will you fully appreciate the world’s best beer when it’s served at room temperature?  Warm weather makes cold beer taste better.

Starbucks.  The environmental conditions are a major part of their brand.  The Starbucks atmosphere – the colors, textures, sounds, and smells – plays a big part in the experience.  If you pour a Starbucks coffee into a generic cup and serve it on the street, it isn’t likely to generate quite the same response.

The Apple Store.  The stark white and silver lines. Gadgets begging to be sampled.  The Apple store is all about the environmental experience.  Apple stores are in high profile upscale malls, not the neighborhood strip mall, because the environment that surrounds the brand also contributes to it.

The Jewel “Funny Or Die” video cannot be embedded, but you can watch it here:

Here’s the Washington Post video with Joshua Bell:

Apple, Jewel, Joshua Bell, Starbucks, Washington Post 1,520 Comments

Jeep, Coke, and Twisted Sister: Your Brand Repurposed

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Jeep didn’t start out making the urban soft-tops you see on the interstate every day.  The genesis for the Jeep was a World War II military request to have an all-purpose light truck for reconnaissance.

Coke wasn’t originally created to be the world’s best-selling cola.  It was initially an alcohol based drink called coca wine.  When the first prohibition rules were passed in Georgia, the non-alcoholic drink was created and marketed as a medicine.

And rock singer Dee Snider didn’t start off as a TV star.  He began as the lead singer of Twisted Sister, and in full big-hair and make up he belted out the massive 80′s hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  Twisted Sister didn’t have a wealth of other hits, although they did attract a strong following in the hair band scene that supported them over the years.  When the audiences started to dwindle, Snider evolved into a radio host with his syndicated show that paid tribute to his genre, “House of Hair”.  That led to a full-time radio gig hosting a morning show in Hartford and then Philadelphia, keeping Dee Snider employed and in the public light long after his band had folded. Later, Snider’s voice became the soundtrack to many movie trailers, video games, and VH1 music specials.

Now Dee Snider is about to invade your home on TV with his reality show “Growing Up Twisted”, which follows Dee and his family around as they go about their business day to day.  A&E has signed the show for seven episodes this summer to test the waters.

That ability to adapt and navigate is the artistry of entrepreneurship, and you see it in great bands and great brands all of the time.

Like Jeep, Coca-Cola, and Dee Sinder, most great Rock Star brands and bands didn’t start out in the same form we see them in today.

Is your business plan nimble enough to change direction at any moment to take advantage of competitive opportunities?

Is your radar on to the trends and fashions that could open up new doors?

Dee Snider’s show runs on A&E on Tuesday nights this summer.

Coke, Jeep, Twisted Sister 126 Comments