eddie vedder

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A lot of brand planners talk about “voice.”  The voice of the brand. It’s a metaphor, of course, and one marketers easily understand. If I close my eyes and listen to Eddie Vedder sing, I know it’s him. Voice is an identifier.

As someone who has run gazillions of dollars of radio and TV ads, I know the power of a distinct voice. It’s smart marketing, if sometimes a crutch.   

The voice metaphor falls apart when the delivery of the message outweighs what’s delivered. In branding what is delivered needs to be the brand strategy (one claim, 3 proof planks).  Brand strategy is content-related not piping or music. Building a brand by organizing a limited number of key values in consumers’ minds (and employees’ minds) is the fastest, most efficient way to marketing success.   

Years ago when a St. Louis focus group attendee looked at an AT&T videoconferencing ad and exclaimed “AT&T would never talk to me like that.” It was a comment about voice. When another said “If it’s from AT&T, I’m sure the videoconferencing quality will be excellent,” that’s brand strategy.





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scott-weilandI went to see Scott Weiland the week before he died. It was his second to last show. I suggested my son go to see him; Scott being one of the great rock voices of all time. Mr. Weiland’s gravelly pipes and larger than life presence on the rock scene couple of decades ago was an American dream.  His Stone Temple Pilots were right up there with Nirvana (Kurt Cobain), Soundgarden (Chis Cornell) and Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder) as vocalist-centered superior bands that walked Grunge to the fore of the American consciousness.

But Mr. Weiland’s voice was not the same toward the end of his life. My son scratched his head a little when hearing Plush and other songs sung in a higher register. Sans gravel. Sans primordial ooze.  

Mr. Weiland’s voice was his brand. Addictions aside, it must have been hard to lose his most important performance asset. Pitchers lose their fast ball, football players lose their legs, finger-pickers lose their dexterity. So when we refer to people as brands (it’s a thing) we aren’t being fair. People age and their skills diminish. Beauty Kim Novak aged. Patty Smith aged. Some do so gracefully and allow their sso-called brands to do so as well.

People are not brands, however. I just wish Mr. Weiland had realized it and allowed himself to evolve and reinvent before his final act. He was a great. A historic great.



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There are two kinds of brand planner: theorists and doers. The theorists have done a great deal of research and brief writing, but tend to spend much time writing papers, slideshares and posts about the process of creating strategy. The language they use is peppered with words like “transformation,” “disruption,” “authenticity” and “culture.” Theorists speak before groups, hold webinars and index high for sharing. But when their night job (theory) becomes their day job (actual brand planning), the luster can come off.

“Doer” brand planners live in front of theory. They are often theory breakers. Always on, they constantly dig into products and consumer behaviors – attempting to see them as no one else does. Dissecting product context, use, role and behavior. Seeing products in situ.

It’s a curse really. Wives, husbands, boy and girlfriends, children and pals suffer through it as doers observe all the live-long-day. Temperance for the doers planner is important. Shhh. But the electrical charge for the doer planner comes from the act of exploration, from insights, from “the decision” and closure (as if). And then, as Eddie Vedder sings, “He’s off again.”

Theorists have done the fieldwork and earned their stripes. The doer’s life is the fieldwork. Is an empty piece of paper. Peace!

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Left Backs.

Here’s a new Millennial segment (Millennials being late teens and twenty somethings), I call them Left Backs.  Left backs are kids who leave the home for the first time, mostly to go to college, and don’t know how to do anything because their parents (often moms) did all the heavy lifting for them.  All that was left was the drama. Many have been immersed in sports to keep them busy, they’ve gotten good grades, perhaps had a job at the bagel shop – but mostly for show. Left backs have few street smarts though they may have seen some on MTV.

Left Backs are rarely late because parents are up their iPhones, have no sense of direction (too embarrassed to ask for help at a gas station), mom is #1 on speed dial, and Google is their daddy.  These kids don’t do too well with adversity, though high school sports helped, and when at college seek friends who are also somewhat socially behind. There was a giggle I learned at college that the rich kids didn’t know where toothpaste came from.  Somehow, at home, it was always in the medicine cabinet.

Kids that leave home with some independence tend to hit the ground running at college. They’ve been less protected and have the scars to show for it. Moms and dads need to “cut the leash” as Eddie Vedder sings.  Do so and your kids will start college without a parent-enhanced essay, but with some life chops. Peace!



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 When Eddie Vedder sings “Daughter,” which according to the movie Pearl Jam 20 started out as a song called Brother, he sings the headline of this post about a girl at a breakfast table. To Pearl Jam fans, this song makes the world spin. If a guy, the song has meaning. If a woman, even more meaning. The lyrics speak to us in many, many ways. Personally. On behalf of a friend. On behalf of a neighborhood.  This is Pearl Jam at its best.

Reading The New York Times this morning I encountered 4 “young girl” ads in the first few pages. They were silhouetted in white or surrounded by big retail type and pictured beneath headlines telling other girls and non-girls about products and services. “Experience the finest education on 3 continents.” Stuff like that.  If I had a dollar for every girl ad without a narrative, I’d e a much less busy man. When Pearl Jam plays Daughter in concert 85% of the audience knows 95% of the words. And they sing.

When marketers, tiny ad agencies, and in-house communications departments put a girl in the ad, she is no one’s daughter. There are no violins.  She isn’t alone, listless, sitting at a breakfast table in an otherwise empty room.  She’s not even selling shit.  No wonder every other new TV show is about zombies.  Can we fix this please? Hee hee. Peace!


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TV is back, baby.

There’s a big media conference in NYC this week and attendees and reporters are surprised to learn that TV viewership is growing. One conference attendee said:

 “TV is, by estimates, still gaining share of the overall advertising market, to 40.7% in 2010, from 37 % in 2005.”

 Another chimed in, “TV will be adding about half of all growth next year.”

 The web ad market is growing for shizzle, but the 30 second spot is not dead (Joseph Jaffe).  In fact, the Super Bowl is kind of off the charts. Another conference attendee suggested TV is growing because of the need for viewers to have something to Tweet about or post on their Facebook pages. Yah think?

 The fact is, TV programming is just getting better. The networks are working harder for our eyeballs. The Emmy bookcases at CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX are not growing as they once did thanks to cable properties such as Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Chelsea Handler, Men of a Certain Age, etc. The big networks are beginning to pay attention — feeling the fire. As Eddie Vedder might say “It’s evolution baby.”  Weed out the weak genes in favor of the strong.  Won’t be long now and reality TV will start to secede from the union. Peace!

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Better Man


Eddie Vedder sang “Better Man” last night at Madison Square Garden and it was extraordinary. Though there are lots of songs written by PJ that incite sing along, Eddie seemed to want to sing this one by himself. He stopped the song after a few bars and was motioning to the crowd to let him do it.
Sorry. As soon as he started up again, the 19,000 really started singing. My friend turned to me and asked “Why do they do that?” My response: “It’s not his song.”  Were Eddie more sensitive and a prima donna, he may have taken offense. He didn’t.  He knows Better Man is no longer his song. It’s our song. And that is the highest compliment fans can pay an artist. He was euphoric from that moment on.

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