Rock ‘n’ Roll Marketing

Or Gene Simmons Taught Me Everything I Know.

When I was younger, my taste in music was (as I liked to think of it) independent or alternative, when 'independent' and 'alternative' actually meant something.

Rock 'n' Roll, as far as I was concerned, had taken a disagreeable nosedive into hippie trite and stonewashed, ostentatious nonsense like Boston and Pilot. I was into the Clash and the Sex Pistols, Radio Birdman and the Scientists. But I still harboured a secret love of pure pop like Daddy Cool and Richard Clapton, and this included (to my embarrassment at the time), KISS. My secret shame.

It's no great surprise that the most successful rock 'n' roll bands are, mostly, those that market themselves well. Terms like 'brand' and 'merchandise' and 'commercialisation' may seem antithetical to the spirit of rock 'n' roll, but that's a conceit reserved for teenagers: by the time you're 30 you realise that, in most cases, marketing and branding and commercialisation are the only things that have kept most of your favourite bands alive and kicking. From the Rolling Stones positioning themselves as the anti-Beatles to U2's recent free release of Songs of Innocence on iTunes as, presumably, a loss-leader, the history of rock 'n' roll can be read as a history of marketing.

So are there lessons to be learned from Rock 'n' Roll? You bet. Or as Joey Ramone put it, Gabba Gabba Hey!

  • Give your customers what they want.

    It's often said of AC/DC that they've been putting out the same record for 40 years. Like that's a bad thing! 

    Sure, there's a lot to be said for innovation and change, but equally there's merit in sticking to a formula that has proven successful.

    I can still recall the air of despondency in the wake of Bon Scott's death and the subsequent announcement of Brian Johnson as Scott's replacement: the feeling among AC/DC's fans was that the band just wouldn't be the same. Johnson was of course the perfect choice: his voice, delivery and energy were not that different from Bon Scott's, and so the formula AC/DC had developed through to Highway to Hell was maintained.

    Despite the naysayers, the first Brian Johnson album, Back in Black, sold more than 10,000 copies per day in its first week, and remains the band's biggest-selling album.

    More to the point in terms of brand consistency, there are AC/DC fans I know who genuinely believe that Back in Black is a Bon Scott album.

  • The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

    When punk rock first hit the air waves of the UK, many radio stations, notably Capitol Radio and all of the BBC-managed stations, refused to play any punk music whatsoever.

    The Sex Pistol's God Save the Queen was banned by every radio station in the UK, making it the most heavily censored song of all time.

    None of which seemed to do any harm to the likes of the Pistols, the Clash and the Dead Kennedys. Far from strangling these bands, the enforced radio silence helped feed a perceived notoriety that was soon building album sales and dominating pirate radio: despite the radio ban, or more likely because of it, God Save the Queen went to Number 1 in all of the UK's singles charts.

    Thereafter, the likes of Joe Strummer and Jello Biafra made a point of spectacle and sensationalism. As Biafra said, "Don't hate the media, become the media."

    With blogs and social media, this is easier for you, the business owner, to do than at any other time in history. Use your blog or social media to break through the white noise of your competitors and make an impact; try something new, adventurous or unexpected and give people something to talk about. It's better than them not talking about you.

  • The only stuff worth studying is stuff you can steal from

    I stole that line from David Bowie and stole the idea from Austin Kleon.

    When asked the source of his 'originality', Bowie quickly replied that he didn't consider himself 'original', but more like a 'tasteful thief'.

    This idea (that Kleon expands in his book, Steal Like An Artist) is that most creative work builds on what has come before, and that nothing is completely original. If that is so, then best be stealing, borrowing or adapting from the best. Right?

    If your marketing includes a content stream like a blog of newsletter (and it should), then make sure your research and reading is from the best materials your industry has to offer. And then, instead of racking your brain for something completely original for your blog or newsletter or other content stream, take inspiration and direction from your readings and research and re-imagine them and re-purpose them for your own content and own audience.

    No, I am not suggesting plagiarism: I am suggesting that it's often your spin and your application for your audience and your market that is the important bit.


  • Know what success looks like. And then act it.

    I can't recall where I read it, but that one phrase has stuck with me.

    One of my favourite stories about KISS's early days is of their playing near-empty gigs but surrounding the stage nonetheless with mountains of empty speaker shells. Despite the lack of audience, they knew what they wanted their stageshow to look like and produced it even if they were only performing for a dozen people.

    To be the biggest, hardest, rockingest band in the world (their words, not mine) they had to act like the biggest, hardest, rockingest band in the world.

    That's not a bad act to follow: often people's perception of your success will help fuel real success. In a marketing sense, make sure your promotional materials are the best they can be. Better to get a business card with real zing such as gold leaf and lamination (if it suits your market) and only get 100 of them, than to get a thousand so-so business cards at the same price. In six months time, you'll have 900 of the so-so cards still sitting on your desk and a hundred missed opportunities to make a good impression.  And yes, punters do notice.

  • There's a fine line between stupid and clever

    Learn to spot the difference.

    Staying abreast of the latest events and issues, even if they're only tangentially aligned with your business, is critical to the creation of timely and relevant content for your marketing and content streams.

    Newsjacking (finding an angle to a given news story that you can exploit to generate media coverage of your own business) is the apex of using news to your own business ends.

    But what sounds like a good idea (and often is a good idea) can involve jaw dropping stupidity. Take, for instance, 2012's Hurricane Sandy: within 24 hours, Hurricane Sandy had killed more than 100 people in the US and Caribbean. Unfortunately some companies didn't see this superstorm as the tragedy and disaster it was.

    • American Apparel, for one, thought it a good time to peddle a 26-hour sale, leading with the unforgettable strap line, "In case you're bored during the storm." (WTF?)
    • The Gap tweeted, "All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We'll be doing lots of shopping today. How about you?" (WTFx2).
    • Urban Outfitters tweeted, "This storm sucks. But free shipping doesn't." (Please, tell me you're joking.)
    • And, at a time when a good percentage of the US east coast was blacked out, Groupon sent out as their daily deal a meal at Dans Le Noir restaurant whose selling point is that they give you a meal in complete darkness. (Annie, I'm getting my gun.)

    These bungles where made by marketing professionals; you don't have to be that stupid. Listen to the patron saint of quality footwear, David St Hubbins (Spinal Tap): "There's a fine line between stupid and clever."

  • Don't dilute your brand

    Your brand is one of your business's most valuable assets, and you need to value it accordingly.

    I've always liked the Beatles and, for that matter, Michael Jackson, but Say, Say, Say makes me want to cry, cry, cry. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach: legends both, but please, No. David Bowie and Mick Jagger: for all the world it should have worked, but it didn't. Primal Scream and Kate Moss — Bobby Gilespie, what were you thinking? And anyone approached by Huey Lewis should just run away.

    You work hard to establish your brand: don't abuse it.

In brief

  • Rock 'n' Roll is a business

    Take some tips from some of the most successful artists

  • Give 'em what they want

  • Learn what success looks like

  • Be clever

    But not so clever it comes across as stupid.

  • Maintain your brand

Let’s rock!

Have you got ideas for your marketing but don’t know where to start? We can help make them a reality.

As the most experienced and versatile creative team in Coffs Harbour, we work with you to ensure your campaign is rock’n’roll, not easy listening.

Print or online, talk to the experts at saso.creative to give your campaign the edge that will get your pitch noticed.

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