Programming the planet
It would seem that we have reached a level in popular culture in which we – paraphrasing the words of Marshall McLuhan – have begun to program the planet itself. Evidence of this cyberspace-made-flesh can be found in the increasing use of celebrity endorsement, in the interplay between music video and TV commercial, rendering the two virtually indistinguishable, and especially in the product placement marketers use to buy into street credibility and authenticity for their products.
An Australian study from 2002 has shown that the super model is now in demise as a means of promotion in favor of other types of celebrities such as athletes and entertainers, who can provide far more interesting models with “real” lives and “the blemishes and flaws that consumers can relate to their own experiences.”
Advertising is tapping into the interest in “real” lives, in real people, with real stories. Just as, at another level, television has done with a string of reality TV shows like Big Brother, Pop Idol, and Survivor. And players in the music business have accordingly upgraded their attention towards new sources of authenticity for their products to be associated with.
The creation of a street level buzz has proven much more effective than traditional, old school marketing. As David Lewis has shown, buzz is created when cool hunters pick up on things and spread the interest to early adopters, who again influence an early majority to follow and spread the buzz even more. Next step is the late majority, from where the trend finally reaches laggards – by which time the following trend has largely become the latest buzz (cf. David Lewis, p. 107). To a large extent, cool hunters and mavens define themselves against the mass-produced and mass-consumed, just as they are extremely skeptical of advertising.
That means, that in order to reach this audience advertising needs to create an authentic vibe. This is the added value in the brand equation. And music seems to be instrumental in shaping this vibe. Vibe is about youth culture, and youth culture is about vibe. It is tempting to quote Quincy Jones when he summed up Vibe Magazine with these words: “Vibe is the voice and soul of urban music and culture.”
Frank Mort, “Cultures of Consumption: Masculinities and Social Space in Late Twentieth-Century Britain”, Routledge 1996.
Greg Myers, “Ad Worlds: Brands, Media, Audiences”, Arnold 1999.
Frank Mort, “Boy’s Own? Masculinity, Style and Popular Culture”, in R. Chapman & J. Rutherford (Eds), “Male Order: Unwrapping Masculinity”, Lawrence & Wishart 1988.
Mark Robinson, “100 Greatest TV Ads”, Harper Collins 2000.
Andreas Huyssen, “After the great Divide”, Indiana University Press, Bloomington–Indianapolis 1986.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, “The Raw and The Cooked”, Harper and Row 1969.
“Searching for the Global Consumer: A European Study of Changing Lifestyles and Shopping Behaviour”, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, 2002.
Peter Doyle, “Marketing Management and Strategy”, Prentice Hall 2002.
David Lewis, “The Soul of The New Consumer”, Nicholas Brealey Publishing 2003.
Sarah Thornton, ”Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital”, Polity Press, 1995.
Seth Godin, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Do You Zoom Inc., 2000.
Christina Schlect, ”Celebrities’ Impact on Branding, Columbia Business School 2003.
John Grant, “The New Marketing Manifesto,” Texere 1999.
Kodwo Eshun, “More Brilliant Than The Sun”, Quartet Books 1998.
Marshall McLuhan, ”The Emperor’s old Clothes”, in Gyorgy Kepes (ed.), “The Man-Made Object”, Studio Vista 1966.