Bowie and branding
Keeping it changing
The careers of Prince and David Bowie, along with the alarming ascent of Donald Trump have one thing in common: a very traditional brand journey ensuring attention and longevity. Here's how it goes.
Shock to get noticed
Establish difference through outrage. Prince wore lingerie and suspenders in his early days, Bowie got a frock. Trump has made enemies of most sectors of American society. It got them noticed. It built space and distinctiveness around them, explaining what they are and what they are not. Madonna and Lady Gaga have done the same. For outrage, read disruption. It’s simple, cuts through the noise, but only gets you so far…
Tone it down
Become cuddly and friendly. In the early 80s, the mainstream saw Boy George as threatening. But he soon revealed himself to be a witty, thoughtful chat show guest, famously quipping that he’d rather have a cup of tea than sex. Having got the attention, it’s necessary to win approval. Bowie got a tan. Trump, who’s been famous for 30 years, is the exception to the rule. And then some.
Prince did tortured rock star, hedonist, funkster and sensitive songsmith. Bowie essayed alien rock star, poet of apocalypse, tortured soul king and proto-ambient genius. All different, all reinforcing the main brand message. Trump does angry insensitive bluster-meister and, um, angry insensitive bluster-meister. Well, you can’t make every argument work.
Prince went through many backing bands and made a point of making stars of others such as Sinead O’Connor, as did Bowie in his heyday, working with Mott The Hoople, Lou Reed and (gulp) Lulu. Kellogg’s Cornflakes and Special K do the same. This reinforces the main brand message.
Kill it, reprise it
Bowie ‘retired’ Ziggy Stardust in 1973, only to enjoy another 40 years at the top. Prince stopped being Prince, instead a symbol and the artist formerly known as. So strong was their identity that they could destroy it and still make it stronger. It remains to be seen whether Trump can do the same. A frock might help.