One definition of a brand is what people think of you when you aren’t there. Sadly, this is something that can now be applied to David Bowie on a permanent basis. So what to make of him, as a brand?
First, an admission, I was never a massive fan. I tried to be on many occasions and I guess this already suggests the man’s appeal and power. In a world where there are so many music choices and also where time and attention are so limited, why did I keep coming back to the guy? Why keep wanting to like this one individual when so many others were all so briefly tried and swiftly discarded forever?
Part of this can be attributed to his ever-changing repertoire and constant reinvention. He invited the world time and time again to re-consider him. If you liked Aladdin Sane then great but if you didn’t here’s Ziggy. Or was it the other way around? And all the time, with every reinvention, the David Bowie ‘master brand’ kept building regardless of the commercial and popular appeal of each individual character phase. His quest for discovery, experience and the new, transcended anything as trivial as whether one actually liked the song or the character singing it.
The other source of his mystique and allure is perhaps the sense he gave me that I was somehow missing out – the sense that I ‘should’ like David Bowie or at least ‘get him’ a bit more. After all, people who got music got David Bowie. Hearing Noel Gallagher talk about the influence Bowie had on him left me feeling both inadequate, musically, and determined to attend to my Bowie appreciated efforts once again. The influencers influenced by Bowie are too numerous to mention but their collective impact and propagation of the Bowie ‘brand’ mean we can reasonably expect a whole new era of Bowie-mania soon.
It’s hard at this time not to also consider another recently departed music great – Lemmy. Like Bowie, he was able to appeal to an audience way beyond those who’d actually heard a Motorhead song. People wanted to like him, even if the music wasn’t their thing. Even my dad likes Motorhead.
Unlike Bowie, Lemmy never changed. A gentleman to the last, he wore the same clothes (hat, jeans, boots), sang at the same speed and volume (very fast, very loud) and drank the same amount of bourbon (a bottle or so) almost every day until his last.
Two music greats, two great ‘brands’ with two completely different approaches.
The one thing, though, that they both shared and that all great brands share is a commitment to be themselves, whatever the cost or consequence. Popular appeal and commercial success were a consequence never an objective.
Bowie and Lemmy had very different ways of approaching this but, at core, they were the same. They did things their way and on their own terms. They served their own purpose first and foremost and this is what has endured them both until now and will continue to do so into the future.
Jon is Chief Strategy Officer, Europe at FutureBrand. He is responsible for the development of our strategy teams, content and thinking across FutureBrand’s EU region. His brand strategy experience includes design, innovation, engagement & architecture across an international mix of consumer and corporate client brands and in sectors including FMCG/ CPG, leisure, retail, luxury, sport & media. Prior to this, he worked in advertising and direct marketing and has a Masters degree in Marketing.