Kings of Glee-on

While nearly everyone in the music industry jumps at the chance to have their music used in the hit TV show “Glee”, two artists have stirred up a fight by saying “no”.

When approached about licensing their music for the show, Kings of Leon turned down the opportunity. That moved sparked angry comments from some of the stars of the show, claiming that artists who refuse to license their music are uneducated and doing a disservice to the cause of music education.

Slash also turned them down, saying the show is “worse than Grease”.

On one hand you have a chance to have your music heard by millions of people who watch “Glee”. On the other hand you have your brand and what it represents, and that may not go hand-in-hand with what “Glee” is all about.

Making tough decisions to say “no” to partnerships that could damage your brand is a sign of as brave and strong brand. Slash and Kings of Leon believe that their brands are not congruent with “Glee”, so they choose to walk away from both the money and the exposure.

It can be tempting to partner with anybody at all to gain money or exposure, but it isn’t always worth it. Smart brands measure the benefits and risks carefully, and choose only to partner with brands that have similar values. Otherwise, the short term gain isn’t worth the long term erosion in your brand’s equity.

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Uncategorized 391 Comments

Buffett’s Brands & Bruises

First, an update on the blog/book. I’ve had numerous people inquire about the slowdown in posts to Brand Like A Rock Star, and the reason is quite simple. I’m doing final touches on the book, and finding time to work on the book and the blog simultaneously is difficult. The good news is that things are progressing nicely on the book front and it looks like it will be published in September 2011.


A few days ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Scott Nickerson. Scott is the man responsible for the massive network of clubs worldwide known as “Parrotheads in Paradise”. The organization has raised millions of dollars for charities in each chapter’s community as well as global charity initiatives. They are an amazing model for how a brand can inspire more than just simple product loyalty.

Each year when Jimmy Buffett would play in Atlanta, Scott found himself recognizing the same faces at each show. Every year he would hang out with the same very cool Buffett fans, and then not see them for another 364 days. So instead of letting another year go by without seeing his friends, Scott organized an informal get-together of Jimmy Buffett fans and formed the first chapter of the “Parrotheads”. Today that group is a massive connection of people brought together by a common love of music and lifestyle, and the desire to do some good work in their community while having fun at the same time.

What makes the “Parrotheads in Paradise” story so cool is that Jimmy Buffett has nothing to do with the group. He has signed legal documents that makes it clear that he is not involved whatsover in their activities. His legal team has cooperated with the “Parrotheads in Paradise” group to allow them to use (and not use) certain trademarks of Jimmy’s, and Buffett himself has shown up at their annual meeting in Key West more than once.

Imagine having a network of literally millions of people, spreading the word about your brand in a positive and productive way… without you doing any work or spending any money?  Incredible.

That’s why the Jimmy Buffett brand is able to support restaurants, casinos, hotels, clothing, housewares, footwear, radio, publishing, and a record label. All of this without any major hits on the radio, save for a late 70s top ten song called “Margaritaville”.

Jimmy’s role in all of this is brilliant. Keep being Jimmy. Don’t let us down. Sing the songs we love and write new ones we will love. Be consistent. Be real. Be uniquely you.

Great advice for any brand.

As I write this, Jimmy is in the hospital in Sydney, Australia in stable condition after a serious head injury. He apparently was unconscious for several minutes when he fell off the stage during his encore. On-site reports say he has a large cut on his head from when he hit a metal support beam as he fell. We wish Jimmy Buffett the very best in his recovery.

For Buffett fans, the book Brand Like A Rock Star will include a full chapter on business lessons learned from Jimmy and the Parrotheads experience.

Jimmy Buffett, Parrotheads, Scott Nickerson 155 Comments

How Controversy Can Benefit Your Brand


This past week, a 26 year-old song by Dire Straits became a top-seller in Canada. “Money For Nothing” found itself once again on the charts as people downloaded the song in droves after Canada’s broadcasting content regulator issued a ruling effectively banning airplay of the unedited version of the song.  The issue at hand is Mark Knopfler’s use of the word “faggot” three times in the song, which the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled was in violation of their codes of conduct.

The vast majority of people – gay, straight, and otherwise – were perplexed by the ruling, and many of them instantly went to iTunes and paid 99 cents to hear what all of the fuss was about.

Dire Straits hasn’t had a significant hit since the early 90s, and the band broke up in 1995.  Today, after years of relative obscurity, they are once again on the charts thanks to the power of a good controversy.

Controversy, in certain circumstances, can be a great thing for a brand.

Throughout the years, Calvin Klein has been the subject of controversy because of their sexually suggestive advertising.  Their ads have not only featured revealing and suggestive images, but they have also blurred the lines of age, sexual orientation, and even gender identity.  They have consistently been the target of complaints for their ads, yet they continue to be a very successful clothing brand.  The complaints only serve to make their brand identity stronger.

Red Bull has been beaten up many times over.  In 2009, Red Bull exported from Austria was discoverd to contain trace amounts of cocaine.  A 2008 study reported that drinking even one can of Red Bull had negative impact on blood coagulation and raised cardiovascular risks.  The drink was even banned in France, Norway, and Denmark, although the bans have since been lifted in Norway and Denmark.  Today, despite it all, Red Bull is the most popular energy drink in the world.

On the other hand, the list of brands that have been damaged a great deal by controversy is long. Tiger Woods. British Petroleum. Union Carbide. Gary Glitter. Certainly nothing good can come to any brand that destroy’s the environment (BP), kills people (Union Carbide), lies to people (Tiger Woods), and hurts children (Gary Glitter).

So when does controversy benefit the brand?

1. When the controversy speaks to the brand’s image. Calvin Klein fashions are all about sex, so generating controversy over sexually-suggestive ads is perfectly in-line with the brand’s image. Red Bull is most popular with young, edgy consumers who thrive on danger. Controversy that positions Red Bull as dangerous is perfect for the brand’s image.

2. When the controversy doesn’t (directly) hurt anyone. The impact of hearing Dire Straits say “faggot” isn’t instantly measurable and is certainly up for debate. Viewing suggestive Calvin Klein ads might be detrimental to someone, but it is impossible to determine who and how. Red Bull has only been indirectly link to deaths such as a 2009 instance where a 21 year-old woman died after drinking four cans of Red Bull.  But the drinks were mixed with alcohol, and it was later determined that she had a rare heart condition and epilepsy.

3. When the controversy is temporary.  Soon we’ll all forget about “Money For Nothing” again. Calvin Klein ads will be taken down and new ones put up. Some future research will show that Red Bull is safe. For all of these brands, the controversies will come and go and come again. While controversy is good for each of these brands, it cannot be the only thing driving them forward. They can thrive on temporary controversy, but seldom can controversy form a brand’s primary directive.

Controversy, handled properly, can be a great thing for a brand.  For the right brand at the right time, it can quickly help build brand identity, create excitement, raise awareness, and move product.

BP, Calvin Klein, Dire Straits, Gary Glitter, Red Bull, Tiger Woods, Union Carbide 251 Comments

Emimem and Your Brand: The Age of Honesty


He was written off by most of the music industry.  But in 2010, Eminem came back in a major way.

After establishing himself at the top of the hip-hop heap with music that tapped into the psyche of the day, Eminem seemed to miss a turn on the pop culture highway.  His earlier work relied on skits (“My Band”, “The Real Slim Shady”, “Without Me”) and shock (“Cleaning Out My Closet”).  While those songs fit in well with the cultural tone a decade ago, it sounds blatantly out of place today.

Eminem peaked with two albums that sold nearly 40 million copies.  The Marshall Mathers LP in 2000 and The Eminem Show in 2002 both sold 19 million copies worldwide.  Sales fell off sharply for 2004′s Encore with 11 million sold, and then plummeted in 2009 as Relapse moved a mere 3 million units.

The comeback began with Eminem making successful guest appearances on two massive hit songs from 2009, “Airplanes” by B.o.B. featuring Hayley Williams and “Love The Way You Lie” by Rihanna.  Those two songs brought Eminem back to the forefront, setting the table for the release of Recovery in 2010.

Recovery shows off a new, honest, and more real Eminem, with songs about insecurity, fear, and love.  The songs have a human quality that fans have embraced in today’s age of honesty.  Thanks to Recovery, Eminem led the industry in 2010. In July of 2011, Recovery became the first album to surpass 1 million (legal and paid) downloads.

The world is definitely different now than it was in 2000 when Marshall made his mark.

We are more connected than ever before.  Social media has made more, well, social.  Celebrities are more exposed than ever before, finding it difficult to hide behind their fame.  We indeed are living in an age of honesty.

Roy Williams created a powerful presentation called “The 40 Year Pendulum” that illustrates how North American culture shifts from idealist values (self) to civic values (community).  This shift has happened, over and over, with stunning regularity, every 40 years.  According to Roy, we are heading into the peak of a civic cycle.  Instead of James Bond, we celebrate Jason Bourne.  Instead of going to see Wall Street we go to see The Inconvenient Truth.

Based on the 40 year pendulum concept, it makes sense that Eminem’s early music would come across as self-important and bloated in today’s environment.  It makes total sense that his comeback music is more honest, real, and connected than his previous work.

How can your brand learn from Eminem and the 40-year pendulum?

You are part of a generation that rejects hype and embraces honesty.

You no longer need to get it done alone.  We can accomplish greatness as a community.

Scripted stuff is passe.  Today we want to watch reality unfold before us.

Selling your crap to me won’t work.  Sharing your vision with me will.  It is about what you stand for, not what you sell.

If you stop and pay attention to the cultural shift going on around you, your brand stands to benefit.  If you listen to the changes, you might find yourself like Eminem, once again on a tremendous wave of success.

The honesty that drove Eminem’s comeback is the central tenent of Chapter Nineteen of Brand Like a Rock Star.  You can pre-order your copy here, and then download Chapter One here for free so that you can get started reading right away.

And if you’d like to discover more about the 40-Year Pendulum, you can read Steve Jackson’s impressions of Roy Williams “40 Year Pendulum” here.  Roy’s 2008 posting about the pendulum is an interesting one, and well worth exploring. It will also become a book in 2012.

Eminem, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Roy Williams 163 Comments