The Lady Is A Brand

8 06 2012

Throughout the history of rock and pop music, there have been a handful of artists who completely understood that music is a business, not just a hobby or lifestyle. It is much more than merely selling records or CDs (or in this era, downloads). It is about image. It is about positioning. It is about a promise. And, most importantly, it is about branding.

Among the best in the music business are Jimmy Buffett (who is synonymous with margaritas), KISS (whose album and merchandising sales put Max Factor’s kids through college), and Sammy Hagar (there’s really only one way to Cabo). They understand that, with proper strategy and planning, their brand can be bankrolled far beyond just getting platinum status. Merchandising. restaurants. Liquor and beer brands.

But while artists like these leveraged old-school methods to their benefit, the playing surface has changed. Today it’s all about how one uses social media. I know a local dude who is a ghostwriter for several artists, writing their tweets and status updates. And while that is certainly all part of the picture, it goes far beyond just a periodically dropped 140-character social blasts.

Say hello to Lady Gaga.

Say what you will about her music and appearance (heck, my parents though KISS was pretty bad as well), but Lady Gaga has among the very best handlers in the industry. Her social media strategist, Jaunique Sealey, recently came clean on how she orchestrated the release of the fastest-selling album of 2011.

How does 1.1 million copies in the first week work for you?

While music industry critics and pundits will argue that there’s no money to be made in album sales, and that the real money is in concert tickets and merchandise, the fact remains that each album sold reinforces the brand. It draws people in. It gives them one more reason to shell out $100 or more for tickets, and $35 for a t-shirt. Oh, and it may spur them on to join Lady Gaga’s fan club, more glue to keep it all together.

So how did Sealey manage this coup? Simple. She not only knows what can be done, but what should be done. And the two are often different. Specifically, she worked with social gaming company Zynga to create a parody game called Gagaville. It resonated with Gaga’s key demographics, provided the stickiness needed to retain eyeballs, and then rewarded players with special access. Score!

Of course, it takes money to just whip together a new social game, so indie bands are probably not going to be hopping on this train.

Naysayers might also argue that the “other” lady in the house…Lady Antebellum…has not resorted to such marketing shenanigans, letting their music do the selling. For that matter, the very ladylike Taylor Swift has done equally well without pretense or smoke and mirrors. Maybe Lady Gaga is just a brand, kind of like The Monkees were a brand in the 60s, along with all the many boy bands to follow (and to be fair, let’s not forget Spice Girls either).

So will we one day crawl Las Vegas’s Strip and enter Gagaville for dinner and drinks? I bet she could find a vacant spot somewhere between Margaritaville and Cabo Wabo. Is there enough to her brand that can give her staying power? Or is her brand just a bunch of very effective marketing covering for a playlist full of hook-laden pop music that will be forgotten by 2015?

Call me Dr. Buzz Kill, but I was born that way.

Still, I must give credit where it is due, and Gaga and company (for she is a company) have struck pay dirt. Sealey scored a grand slam with the release of Born This Way. I may cringe every time my oldest daughter gets on a Gaga kick in the car, but it’s a successful and viable brand for today.

It just makes me wonder if things would have been any different for Buffett, KISS and Hagar had social media existed in the 70s and 80s. Or would they let their music do the build the foundation for their brands and subsequent endeavors? For that matter, the Baby Boomer in me likes to think that Gaga is just the Pop Rocks of the moment, while the above messieurs are the Snickers bars that have stood the tests of time. You know. Real brands. Real music.

And real artists who don’t play games.

Dr “Poker Face” Gerlich

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