Thursday, December 1, 2005

Be Careful How You Sell Out

A few days ago, my colleague posted an obituary for Paul McCartney's reputation, which sprung U2from  McCartney's decision to shill for Lexus. Sure there was some financial gain for the ex-Beatle, but at what cost to his personal brand?

If only Paul had talked to U2 before his decision to partner with a car company, for the Irish rockers have shown the way to become ubiquitous without "selling out." A recent article in the New York Times makes the case that U2 has stood the test of time partly because of their music, but mostly because the are one of the smartest multimillion-dollar, multinational media companies around.

Indeed, they are. The article, entitled Media Age Business Tips From U2, has one tip that would have been useful to McCartney before the deal was inked with Lexus: "Be Careful How You Sell Out." Under that headline, David Carr writes:

U2 has been offered as much as $25 million to allow a song to be used in a car commercial. No dice. They traded brands, not money, with Apple. Bob Dylan may wander around in a Victoria's Secret ad and The Who will rent "My Generation" to anybody with the wherewithal, but the only thing U2's music sells is U2. Just because it will fold and go in someone's pocket - The New Yorker publishing ads illustrated by its cartoonists comes to mind - does not mean it will be beneficial over the long haul.

The article is full of useful advice for everyone, not just musicians. I especially enjoyed their advice on embracing technology. But the bottom line is this: it's not enough to simply make a good product (in U2's case, their music). You have to pay attention to every part of your brand. If you do, the payoff can be enormous. At the end of the article Carr states, "Bono can command his audience to do anything." Can McCartney say the same? Can he even get them to buy a Lexus?

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