Devon Dawson has been a copywriter and digital/content strategist for just under a decade, with experience in the marketing and branding agency settings, as well as with influential startups throughout the country. Prior to advertising, Devon worked professionally as an audio engineer and producer, and still runs a small Boston-based recording studio in his free time.
The collective internet worked itself into a frenzy a couple of weeks ago when a YouTube clip emerged that reportedly featured a Britney Spears’ song that had yet to be auto-tuned. The isolated vocal take from the song “Alien” is, without a doubt, off-pitch and an un-enjoyable (albeit humorous) listen. Spears’ PR team claims the […]
The collective internet worked itself into a frenzy a couple of weeks ago when a YouTube clip emerged that reportedly featured a Britney Spears’ song that had yet to be auto-tuned. The isolated vocal take from the song “Alien” is, without a doubt, off-pitch and an un-enjoyable (albeit humorous) listen. Spears’ PR team claims the track was a vocal warm up, and that the actual take is the one heard on the record. Still, it’s hard to listen to the finished track without noticing the large amount of audio processing.
This isn’t the first time the former pop star has been accused of lacking skill. Even at the peak of Spears’ stardom, most assumed her talents lay in her stage presence, dancing, and good looks –– not her musicality. For many, “Alien” only confirmed what they already believed: Britney cannot sing without the help of complicated algorithms that adjust inconsistencies in her voice.
Yet this isn’t about the merits of Spears’ talent, it’s about how the lack of a strong brand position and willingness to evolve makes your product more susceptible to critique.
First off, Britney Spears is undoubtedly a brand. A global phenomenon, Britney, Inc. has made millions of dollars and impacted countless listeners. Her “product” is consumed, and in high quantities. When her brand was at its peak, it didn’t matter that she used auto-tuned –– not enough to deter her career, anyways. Yet as her star started to fade, so did the public’s tolerance for cracks in the façade.
If Britney had initially established herself as a tour-de-force vocalist, most of us would brush off the recent clip as an abnormality. We’d say, “I’m not sure what’s going on with that track, but I believe Brit can sing.” And it wouldn’t be fandom; rather it would be the power of a strong and unshakeable brand position influencing our collective thought. But because Britney’s identity never started with our foundational belief that she was a stellar talent, it became increasingly easy to knock her off-center as her popularity waned.
As marketers, we also have to be cognizant of the constantly evolving perceptions of consumers. Spears’ stardom came during an era where there was a heightened focus on charisma and looks over performance. Eventually, people tired of the influence digital had on music, and started to critique acts for their lack of authenticity. In truth, Britney didn’t change… we did. And now her brand is suffering because of it.
Other brands have suffered this fate as well. Many unhealthy food items that were once revered have become publicly ridiculed; as interest in organic and health-conscious food options increased, so did society’s intolerance for fatty, sugary, processed foods. Brands like Sunny D and Twinkie –– both of which have always been engineered out of products humans should never, ever consume –– spent decades as a go-to treat for kids. However, in the last five years alone, both brands have become poster children for the cause of the obesity epidemic.
Fair? Probably not. Bad for the brands? You better believe it!
So in the end, what have we really learned from the Britney Spears fiasco? When mob mentality kicks in, any mistakes or challenges are heightened, and often times, it’s your brand’s established identity that saves you from ridicule, or worse. Without a strong position, your brand’s ethos may be empowering one minute and shameful the next.
Yet, if your brand starts out with a foundational belief, and then uses that starting point as an ethos to evolve and find new ways to meet the values of consumers, you’ll be in good shape.
Otherwise, you’re just singing with auto-tune, hoping the world doesn’t notice.
Fun Editor’s Note: Until writing this blog, I’ve had zero feelings about Britney Spears one way or the other. (After all, I am a nerd who literally listens to 50s jazz on vinyl for goodness sake.) However, this whole ordeal makes me feel for the singer, and now I’m hoping she makes a comeback.
Hugh Kennedy, Partner, EVP Planning, Healthcare Practice Lead. Hugh joined PJA in 1992 and still loves coming to work. He also writes The Secret Life of the Life Scientist, a blog about marketing to those who discover. Hugh has three Swiss Mountain Dogs, two children, and one husband.
This month PJA’s radio show and thought leadership publishing venture The Unconventionals makes its Season Three premier. We spoke to PJA President Mike O’Toole about what’s coming this season. The Unconventionals: What’s your approach for the new season of The Unconventionals? Mike O’Toole: This year we’re posing conventional wisdom then using a conversation with […]
The Unconventionals: What’s your approach for the new season of The Unconventionals?
Mike O’Toole: This year we’re posing conventional wisdom then using a conversation with a guest to turn it on its head. Conventional wisdom exists for a reason and shouldn’t be ignored. On the other hand it shouldn’t be a straightjacket. Life is short, people are ambitious, and they want to do something different with their business vision than just generate profit.
The Unconventionals: Why a theme-based rather than business-based show?
Mike O’Toole: We’ve seen a number of consistent themes emerge over our first two years. Successful businesses are connecting to passion-driven movements rather than just marketing. They are becoming much more useful to customers and less purely promotional and self-interested. And they’re becoming truly open—freely sharing IP with customers, partners, even competitors. Putting the theme first is a nice way to extend the discussion beyond just one company. You’ll hear more from David Rogers at NYU’s Stern School of Business on this direction.
The Unconventionals: What are a few examples of Unconventional companies overturning conventional wisdom?
Mike O’Toole: Business exists—particularly public companies—to create return for shareholders. That’s an article of faith. But many of the companies we’ve interviewed in our first two seasons take a much broader view of return. Big Ass Fans sees itself as a 200-year company. Warby Parker has multiple stakeholders: not just their shareholders, but their customers, their employees, and people in the developing world who partake in the buy one/give one program for eyeglasses.
The Unconventionals: Who is overturning conventional wisdom on Season 3?
Mike O’Toole: Small Business Saturday is one, and Story is another. Small Business Saturday is a great example of transforming business culture to put a focus on the local. Story is reinventing the retail model by mashing up retail and narrative-driven media models. Unconventional brands are playing a much bigger role than just selling things.
Take a listen to the first episode of The Unconventionals Season 3 here
Doug Parrish, Associate Creative Director. Doug joined PJA in 2003 as a junior designer. He scored very high on his SATs, has incredible penmanship, phenomenal design skills and an unmatched ability to make everyone laugh. He also wrote this bio. Doug is awesome.
The user interface has been around for as long as I have, even longer, and it’s kind of fun to see what’s changed over the years visually and stylistically. Mind you, interfaces and icons are just a small part of your digital life, but they play a huge part of what you remember clicking on and moving […]
The user interface has been around for as long as I have, even longer, and it’s kind of fun to see what’s changed over the years visually and stylistically. Mind you, interfaces and icons are just a small part of your digital life, but they play a huge part of what you remember clicking on and moving around on your own computers. If anything, it will spark some nostalgia and some wonder at just how far interfaces have come in the past 30+ years. Enjoy.
Icon Key – 1981: Xerox 8010 Star • 1982: Apple Lisa • 1983: Apple Lisa • 1984: Apple Macintosh 1.0 • 1985: Atari TOS • 1986: Amiga Workbench • 1987: Windows 1.0x • 1988: NeXT GUI • 1989: NeXTSTEP/OPENSTEP 1.0 • 1990: Windows 3.0 • 1991: Macintosh System 7 • 1992: IBM/Microsoft OS/2 • 1993: Microsoft Windows NT 3.0 • 1994: Mosaic/Netscape 0.9 Beta • 1995: America Online • 1996: Netscape Navigator 2.02 • 1997: Mac OS8 • 1998: Internet Explorer 4.0 • 1999: AOL Instant Messenger • 2000: Windows 2000 Professional • 2001: Mac OSX Cheetah • 2002: MSN Messenger • 2003: Microsoft Office Professional • 2004: Microsoft Word:Mac • 2005: Mac OSX Tiger • 2006: Windows Vista • 2007: Apple Safari “Reflective Dock” • 2008: Mandriva Linux • 2009: iPhone OS 1.x • 2010: Android Mobile Froyo OS • 2011: Blackberry Mobile OS • 2012: Windows 8 OS • 2013: iOS 7 • 2014: Android L Mobile OS • 2020 & 2030: ???
Matt Magee, VP Digital Strategy. Matt drives the strategy behind integrated digital campaigns and helps make sure they deliver results for our clients. He’s otherwise occupied playing loud guitar in a band and marveling at his twin daughters.
Whether you love content or hate it, you need it. And you definitely need a strategy for it. Check out the new trailer for PJA’s latest presentation: Yeah It’s Content. But Is It Marketing?
Emmanuel Ording, Multimedia Producer. Emmanuel makes videos and raises toddlers. Some of his finest videos feature toddlers quite prominently. That's about it.
We’re not sure how this web platform for storytelling passed us by, but this week I want to share Zeega with you. According to our friends at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, ”Zeega is an open-source HTML5 platform for creating interactive documentaries, open archives and inventing new forms of storytelling. Zeega makes it easy to collaboratively […]
We’re not sure how this web platform for storytelling passed us by, but this week I want to share Zeega with you. According to our friends at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, ”Zeega is an open-source HTML5 platform for creating interactive documentaries, open archives and inventing new forms of storytelling. Zeega makes it easy to collaboratively produce, curate and publish participatory multimedia projects online, on mobile devices and in physical spaces.”
Zeega is hillarious. Zeega is powerful. You string together animated GIFs that are already on the Internet, add a soundtrack, add type, and presto: you just made a film. Check it out at http://www.zeega.com.