In the 1990′s, a country singer was arguably North America’s biggest rock star.
In the fall of 1991, Garth Books had three albums in the POP music top 20 album charts at one time. In ’93 his album “In Pieces” peaked at #2 on the UK pop album charts and the song “The Red Strokes” went to #13 on the pop charts over there. He covered songs by Billy Joel (“Shameless”), Aerosmith (“The Fever”), and even “Hard Luck Woman” by KISS.
So what happened?
I think Garth Brooks tried to extend his brand too far.
His success on the pop charts came because he was such a massive country star, not because he was a true pop star. He simply became so big in one area that his stardom spilled over to another.
But when he made a conscious decision to expand from country into pop music, things went all wrong.
In 1999 he released an album that was supposedly the soundtrack to a yet-to-be-made movie called “The Lamb” about a fictional rock star named Chris Gaines. Garth was to play Gaines in the movie. To create buzz for the movie, Garth began to take on the persona of Chris Gaines. In October 1999 he released an album called “Garth Brooks… In The Life of Chris Gaines”. VH1 even did an episode of “Behind The Music” on the fictional Chris Gaines. Brooks did a massive amount of promotion in order to create enthusiasm for the project.
But the reaction from the world was… “huh”?
People just didn’t get it.
Garth Brooks was/is Garth Brooks. That’s some very expensive and valuable mental real estate to own in the mind of the public! Being Garth Brooks, the biggest country star on planet earth, meant millions and millions of dollars. It meant country hits that transcended country and spilled over into pop music. In meant taking an American form of music, and reaching the charts in the UK and Europe, where country music hardly exists.
By trying to be something other than Garth Brooks, Garth effectively gave up that incredible piece of mental real estate he owned. Quickly Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, and others filled the void left by Garth.
After the Chris Gaines fiasco, Garth Brooks officially retired from playing live. It has been a decade since Garth Brooks ruled country music.
Garth Brooks deserves huge credit for taking a risk. Branding like a rock star means having the guts to step outside the rules and attempt something brave and new.
Garth also deserves credit for making a smart move in the decade since the fall of Chris Gaines. He has made himself obscure since then, playing live only a handful of times. Being “rare” has made him valuable again, although not nearly as valuable as he once was.
But Garth made a very bad decision to attempt to extend his personal brand beyond country music. Both his career, and country music itself, have suffered because of it.
For more reading on the dangers of extending your brand beyond it’s means, check out Laura Ries’s blog Ries’ Pieces and this particular piece on line extension gone mad.