Ready, Steady, Brand

Brands That Rock
By Roger Blackwell and Tina Stephan
240pp. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. $27.95.

Everything you ever needed to know about marketing you can learn on MTV.

Implausible as that may sound, it’s the implied premise of a new book looking at the business of rock and roll. The music business, like any other going concern, needs to market its goods. Contrary to popular perception, the secret to success in popular music isn’t all just lips and hips.

Why is it some bands are one-hit wonders, while others resurrect themselves phoenix-like over the decades? The answer, of course, is good marketing. Hoping to tap into some of the techniques used by the masters of rock marketing, the authors of Brands That Rock have collected a series of music marketing stories that make for entertaining reading.

Looking at some of the legends of rock, including The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, the authors draw interesting, if somewhat strained, marketing lessons. When, for example, we read: “If the stereotypical classic rock band were reincarnated as a portfolio of consumer brands, it would be Kraft Foods,” it’s difficult to see the connection between Velveeta and Mick Jagger. Pushing the analogy further, the authors continue: “A little bit of Rolling Stones and a whole lot of Neil Diamond, Kraft’s brand umbrella embodies what it takes to get onto retail shelves and stay there for decades. Its string of number-one hits rivals that of Elton John, just as the qualities and personality of its products rival his professional persona.” Undoubtedly flattering for the brand managers at Kraft, but one wonders if consumers feel the same way.

In all fairness, bands and popular artists enjoy certain advantages denied to, say, consumer packaged goods. Try as they might, marketers have yet to come up with a cereal character that induces teenagers to fling their undergarments on stage and gyrate wildly. Perhaps the surprise inside is the next best thing.

While the authors offer up a good deal of sound advice and draw many useful lessons from music marketing, the reader is left with the sense of not really learning anything new. Concepts such as brand equity and making an emotional connection with consumers are hardly revolutionary. To be sure, the artists described in Brands That Rock have applied these tools to perfection, and that undoubtedly merits attention. But in the end, one suspects this should really be a book about how music producers should use classic marketing techniques, not lessons learned from bands.

Overall, Brands That Rock makes for good marketing case studies. It could even be used to rouse laconic marketing students to discuss the complex subject of branding. And most important, it reminds us how essential good marketing is to any business.

Brand on!

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