james brown

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An entertainer contacted me about a year ago, inquiring about branding. Pretty smart inquiry. 

I remember pushing back when Kim Kardashian and others referred to themselves as brands – and I’m still a little leery. That said, this entertainer did need some help. As I thought more about it, the job really is about packaging. He had a stage act and from what I was told it was quite good. So what kind of packaging would set this act apart?  If we delved into “good-ats” and “care-abouts,” as we would with any brand strategy, we could certainly craft a name.  We’d obviously need a brief for that, buoyed by a claim.  (I thought of James Brown’s claim “The hardest working man ins show business.”) Then we’d define his proof planks – another part of the personal brand strategy to help organize everything – act included.

Lastly, we could dabble in his stage clothing (costume?), intro music, color palette and persona.  Have you ever seen Sebastian Maniscalco? That’s a persona. 

I’ve never done a brand strategy for a person. For a product, service, company — sure. But a  person, no. Looks like I might get a chance.  He called yesterday.  



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I’ve been thinking about two brand strategies lately. One for the Madison Square Garden the other for James Brown. Madison Square Garden’s is “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” James Brown was “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”  These two sentences are brand claims.

A claim is only good when it’s believable. If you’ve ever seen James Brown, you know his claim to be true. As for MSG, the same, but you may have to take their word for it to a degree.  There have been 4 Madison Square Garden’s and none in Madison Square since 1925. There have, indeed, been some amazing events in the 4 gardens, but it’s no Roman Coliseum. What The Garden is is a well-tended brand. At every major sports event the announcer welcomes one and all with “Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.” The halls are bedazzled with black and whites of Ali-Frazier, George Harrison, and Mark Messier.   Hanging from the rafters are aging championship banners from the NY Rangers.

MSG works hard to prove its claim. James Brown used to sweat his claim.

Claims are the basis of brand strategy. With claim in hand, all that is left are the deeds and the proof. Peace.


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Ladies and gentlemen, we are growing up. In social media, that is.  I sat through a panel yesterday at the Social Upfront in NYC, listening to some really smart skinny jeans from the Barbarian Group, Tribal DDB, Kirshenbaum, Bond, Senecal and Partners, Mekanism, and Co: and did not once hear the words “authenticity” or “transparency.”  Thank you Jeee-sus!

The event was excellent, save for the elevator (singular). And when I texted my son Nits (nickname) that Q-Tip from a Tribe called Quest was spinning at the after party he was all “that’s cool.” But not as much as I was when James “the Godfather” Brown tunes started bouncing off the West side rooftops.

Sponsored by Efficient Frontier and Kontera, the event really did show how far we’ve come.  People were comparing where they were when Facebook was 20 million users, the geezers in the audience didn’t stick out, and there were two TV news anchors on stage. Some people actually put away their iPads and started writing in paper notebooks because they preferred the user interface. Grown up.

Good Stuff.

  • Someone made the point that a viral effort without an activation budget (read promo/media budget) is a bad idea.
  • Jonah Peretti, CEO of Buzzfeed suggested viral efforts are best concocted and propagated when supporting “an idea.”  Find your idea, stay true to it and you’ll have a much better chance of social pass along.
  • Colin Nagy of the Barbarian Group made a funny: “Client come to us asking for something that has never been done before. Then they ask for case studies and metrics.” A sense of humor suggests maturation, no?

One step back though, some speakers still found it necessary to refer to the Subservient Chicken. What was that, the 80s? Peace.

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In a brief created earlier in the year for a social media music product I wrote “a musician is never more in touch with his or her art than when performing on stage, looking into the eyes of fans.” You’ve heard the expression “You feel me?,” well, unless their vision sucks (physically or metaphorically) artists should be able to look into the eyes of fans and tell if the song is any good.  If it’s connecting. Even with an audience of suburban white kids, many of whom couldn’t find the beat in a James Brown song, an artist can tell.

This ability to “watch” the target is missing from much of marketing today. If creative teams, as they are coming up with words and pictures, envision the facial expressions of consumers hearing or seeing their messages, it will help them sell. It’s a projection exercise.  The strategic ideas (science) are hard enough to come up with, but the creative ideas that actually touch peoples’ souls (art) are where the money is. 

While I do my strategic rant about “What’s the idea?,” creative people should be asking themselves “What’s the expression?” And if they can’t visualize consumers’ responses to their selling messages — if it’s too hard — then they are writers and designers, not communicators. 



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