Pop Music’s Lessons for Marketing
post # 139 — July 21, 2006 — a Client Relations, General post
There are some mysteries about my hobby – pop music – that I would love to know the answer to, because I’m sure that if I understood them better there would be some interesting business lessons: a) What really ARE the marketing lessons of Madonna’s career? How did someone of her (shall we say modest) talents become the lasting global phenomenon she did?
b) Why is there such a dichotomy between “hip” and “professional?” McCartney was always clearly the most talented musically, but he could never approach the reverence that Lennon achieved thorough his “attitude” and “persona.”
c) On a related point, most of the (I think) truly talented pop music artists I like – Abba, Beach Boys, Bee Gees, etc, – are viewed as terminally unhip, no matter how well they sell. I know that says a lot about me, but beyond that, what does it say about the role of “hipness” in marketing?
d) I like the Eagles, I really do – but how does one explain the fact that their Greatest Hits volume 1 is the best selling album of all-time (rivaled only by Thriller.)? Does that teach us more about marketing and management or more about musical tastes?
e) So much of pop music success seems to be about “catching the cultural wave” – which is what a lot of businesses would like to know more about (and which ‘The Tipping Point’ only just touched on.) Has anyone developed any general lessons? Anyone want to co-author the book?
Mark Gould said:
I think our tastes are very different, David, but I have noticed this phenomenon too. There are other manifestations of the disjunction between coolness and popularity.
For example, Apple Mac computers are seen as hip by their makers and owners (Apple’s latest commercials play on this to an almost unbearable extreme), but they have never been and probably never will be a dominant force in the personal computer market. Perhaps this is a deliberate act on Apple’s part—after all, it is still a very profitable business.
Another example—in the UK, the most popular car colour by far is silver. The police have even started buying silver cars in order to preserve the resale value of their vehicles. Yet, I understand that silver is actually the second preference for most new car buyers. It has become a default safe choice because there is no “most popular first choice”.
I think there is a snobbishness about the hip and cool. I know that as an adolescent, I tended to prefer music that many of my peers shunned (apart from a selected few, whose similarity of taste I could tolerate). I wonder whether there is an old tribal instinct at play here.
There might also be a natural tendency to evangelise that leads people to select the less obviously popular choice. Where is the fun in persuading someone to enjoy something that the majority already appreciate. It is more fun to convince them of the rightness of something that is challenging because of its unfamiliarity.
I think the reason why people buy Microsoft-based PCs—rather than Macs—or silver cars—rather than Dayglo pink, shocking pink, deep blue, or whatever other colour they really love—is safety. The definition of what is safe will depend on the product—it might be resale value, interoperability or something else—but wherever safety outweighs even a strongly-held personal preference a basis for popularity can be built.
I suspect that is one reason why our musical tastes diverge (judging from your earlier post: http://davidmaister.com/blog/72/). Whereas I think you appreciate the subtleties you find in different versions of the Great American Songbook, I am too easily bored by that. One or two of the Cole Porter and Harold Arlen classics will suffice for me (probably sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan). Other than that, my tastes are catholic to the extent that they encompass bebop, delta blues, reggae, punk, indie, dance, pop, folk, rap, and so on.
The lesson for marketeers might be that for every few loyal proponents of the Great American Songbook, there will be a follower of the eclectic taste of the late John Peel. For every ten silver car buyers, there will be one who chooses to follow their primary choice. For every 100 Microsoft purchasers, there will be a Mac devotee.
(For the record, my Volvo is not silver and my PC is a Mac. Is there a pattern?)
posted on July 21, 2006