Monday, March 26, 2007

"If you're building brands, go work for Procter & Gamble." Bob Lefsetz

Tom Teuber
sent me an article from ENCORE Magazine. A writing by Bob Lefsetz titled Branding?!?. Today's quotation is taken from that writing. Here's more...

"Have you ever heard someone wax rhapsodic about TIDE? THAT'S a brand. The Beatles were a BAND! It's not about the peripheral chozzerai, but the MUSIC ITSELF!

The music is its OWN brand. The music should be able to speak IRRELEVANT of what the players look like, irrelevant of the sell.

The old executives knew this They searched for excellence. Look at A&M, they didn't sign the same vapid pop crap again and again just a wide variety of stuff that SOUNDED GOOD! Same deal with Bob Krasnow's Elektra."

You may read the entire article here. My thanks to Tom for sharing the article. Bravos to Bob for his writing and for raising an important issue. Seems to me that we have a leadership problem combined with a massive failure of imagination. The brilliant David Mamet said it best when he suggested everyone working in Hollywood is a bit of a fraud, they were all making it up, no one really knows how to make a hit, no one honestly understands the secret to box office gold. The truth be told there is only one rule in the performing arts - there are no rules. There is no magic formula. American Idol, CSI, Lost and Desperate Housewives each got on the air by mistake. Each was a surprise hit. Turns out few besides the viewers liked those shows until they became hits. The folks leading the TV industry go to work everyday and make it up. The same holds true in the music business, the publishing business, the radio business, any and all of the hit driven enterprises. 146 MP3 players on the market yet only one captures significant share. Hundreds of search engines yet only one is consistently favored. Lots of browsers are available to you yet the odds are you are reading this using some release of IE. The market is beautifully irrational.

We need more Clive Davis, less six sigma.

Clive Davis has the golden ear. He is the legendary gentleman with a rare gift. He understands potential, he is sensitive to the possible. "The plays the thing" said Shakespeare and Clive Davis gets that. He gets that it's in the grooves or not. It's binary. It's off or it's on. You need to first have a show before you can have a show business. This is more art than science. What drives the accountants mad is the inability to reduce hit making to a science. Their goal is to structure hit making in a way that is economically efficient removing the mess, waste and chaos from the process. Entire industries suit up daily and spend millions to crack the code. The soup of the day is branding. The popular wisdom holds that one can use the tenets and disciplines of successful package goods marketing to sell anything including music. What gets lost in this approach is the obvious. Before you can sell something you have to create something. Investing focus and resources on building demand sounds reasonable, using the fast moving consumer goods playbook seems logical. Thinking one can just manufacture buzz is kinda cool. Only the facts get in the way of this elegant simple logic. The reality is P&G fails. Not every sku is a winner. They're making it up.

A great product creates its own demand.

The silver bullet is the silver bullet itself not some process. The "process" of music happens in your head. In his excellent book This Is Your Brain on Music Daniel Levitin writes...

" in visual art, music plays on not just what notes are sounded, but which ones are not. Miles Davis famously described his improvisational technique as parallel to the way that Picasso described his use of a canvas: The most critical aspect of the work, both artists said, was not the objects themselves, but the space between the objects. In Miles's case, he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between the notes, the 'air' that he placed between one note and the next. Knowing precisely when to hit the next note, and allowing the listener time to anticipate it, is a hallmark of Davis's genius."

Want to watch an MBA meltdown? Tell them the secret sauce is what you don't put in. Brandon Tartakoff knew how to watch for what was not on and, in a manner similar, Kevin Weatherly, Jack Swanson and Brian Kelly understand how to listen for what's not there. One can certainly argue that what makes Tide successful is what they leave out, what is not in the soap, what is not a part of the look, feel and smell of the soap itself and what is not found on the package. You can say that Tide buyers are emotional about the product, you can go so far as to say that some love Tide more than any other soap. However as Bob Lefsetz has said Tide is an inanimate object. Music, entertainment, the performing arts involve our emotions at levels higher than package goods. I will stipulate that emotions are involved in the purchase of soap but in the majority of cases the relative intensity of those emotions involved in music are far greater, deeper, more complex. This is not to suggest that selling soap is easy, it's not. My thought is hit making is exceedingly difficult. Understanding why one track is a hit and another is not remains elusive. Why the majority of new stuff fails to connect, fails to become a popular hit is still a mystery. Don't tell the accountants but we really are making this stuff up, all of us. Honest.

At the beginning and the end of the day the best marketing is the product itself. We live in a cool new world of permanent beta. Before you believe that accountants and bankers have all the answers you may wish to remember those are the same folks who extended loans to guys with guns in South America. Guys that said "covenants, we don't need no stinking covenants." The bankers wrote off hundreds of millions. Same can be said for the bankers and their VC pals on another big occasion. They actually bought into the now clearly goofy and silly notions of NASDAQ 5,000...all the way to the bank (OPM, some of mine and perhaps some of yours). Bankers and the various players in the professional investment communities should not be viewed as being especially smart. One need only to look at their record.

I am reminded of something Dwight Case once told the RKO program directors. We were all geeking out on music research during one of our annual meetings and Dwight stood before us and said "Every once in a while I want you guys to tell me that you put a song on the radio just because it sounds great. I want you to remember that the turntable is one of your best research tools." Of course, Dwight was right. To succeed sooner one must learn and appreciate how to fail faster. The plays the thing not the marketing, not the branding.

Bonus: Zany Brit fresh from sxsw goes off. Our A-list blogger who draws cartoons on the back of business cards (mine included) has taken to full rant. A wonderful thing to behold. Highly recommended. Check out Hugh here. Closed circuit to Hugh - bravo! More sugar!


Anonymous said...


Brilliant post. Branding is BS. The bean counters and lawyers are killing more than one industry. Give us ratings so we can convert that revenue. We don't need buzz word jaw jacking just give us the eyeballs and ears.