Double Albums, Musky Grandmas & Fairytales
by Scott Maney
I’d sooner gouge my eyes out with a dull plastic spork than spend more than 38 seconds browsing the racks inside an Abercrombie & Fitch store. The cacophony of mind-numbing dance club music blasted above jack hammer levels combined with the overwhelming scent of some bizarre mixture of the potpourri in my grandmother’s guestroom, cat shit and musk, have me running for a breath of fresh Auntie Anne’s pretzels in the mall atrium faster than you can say holy teenage softcore porn. How Abercrombie went from J.Crew’s hotter younger sister on the docks of a pristine lake in the Adirondacks to a plaid ecstasy rave is beyond me. But I will give them this: Abercrombie has created a textured brand experience that goes way beyond a piece of apparel to include sights and sounds and smells that literally envelope you when you interact with their products. Are they the sights and sounds and smells for me? No, but I’m an old codger and clearly not the target (my teenage kids live in Abercrombie). As we get deeper and deeper into the digital age, that sense of oneness with a brand is falling more and more by the wayside. It’s the companies that can figure out how to engage and transport you that will emerge on top of the heap.
Climb into the wayback machine and set the dial for Saturday, February 22, 1997. What happened on that day? Who the hell knows. But whatever happened, I bet you read about it on Sunday, February 23rd, in the big, fat newspaper spread out across the living room floor. But you didn’t just read the newspaper—you experienced it. The smell of the newsprint. The ink on your hands. The soft touch of the paper and the damp corner that accidentally dipped into the milk in your bowl of Boo Berrys. The newspaper engulfed you. Physically and spiritually. It was a powerful connection. And that gave brands like the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle power. It went way beyond reporting the news. It was smart and funny and sad and personal, but most of all it had feeling. Real, textured, how’s your father, feeling. How much feeling do you get from reading the newspaper online now? How powerful are the newspaper brands now? Technology offered up another solution and nary a paper could create a branded experience that engaged their audience in any meaningful way. They became a commodity—the death of a brand.
The digital age has clearly wreaked havoc on the music industry as well. There’s an entire generation of kids that will never know what it’s like to pore over the liner notes of a CD, reading every lyric as if flipping the pages of the locked diary of a tortured artist. They will never study every picture of its mini scrapbook, run a pencil over paper to trace the embossed logo of their favorite band, or separate the stems and seeds from their weed on an open, live double album. Those connections are emotional and indelible, critical for brands that want and need to establish long-term relationships with their consumers, something that is a lot more difficult to do with a ripped BitTorrent file and the click of a YouTube video.
But the music industry is also rife with smart marketers that are engaging with their fans and creating brand experiences in ways that are at once personal, memorable and unprecedented. The brilliant launch of Jay-Z’s autobiography Decoded revolved around a worldwide cat-and-mouse game of discovering, documenting and sharing the location of every page of the book that was printed and displayed in some oversized, unusual and usually profound way. A printed page on a Cadillac. Sewn into the lining of a Gucci jacket. On the backboard of a hoop in the Marcy Projects. At the bottom of the pool in the Delano Hotel. Fans posted locations and digital images of the pages, shared clues, exchanged stories and put the entire puzzle together. It galvanized a worldwide community, with the Jay-Z brand at its epicenter.
Electronica phenom Deadmau5 has been crafting an even more personal relationship with his fans by live streaming his creative process, posting tracks for feedback, hosting Q&A on video chats and sharing his studio techniques. One fan took it upon himself to add vocals to a work-in-progress track that ended up being so dope, Deadmau5 offered him a publishing deal, via twitter, while live streaming. There isn’t a more powerful brand fairytale than that. By the time the tracks are released, his followers have a vested interest in the backstory, the process and the final product. Sold.
Brands can’t afford to offer a mediocre experience anymore. There are far too many options and information is shared much too quickly. Evangelists become evangelists because something moves them. Religion. Artistry. Cat shit potpourri. If it moves them, they will come.
Can you feel it? ca