Strong Foundation, Lasting Brand: What Britney Spears Can Teach Us About Marketing Strategy

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.

 

Antares Auto Tune

 

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!

This negative perception created huge dips in sales, to the point that Hostess briefly stopped selling Twinkies altogether! The unwillingness to evolve the brand has led to its near demise, something that even the best marketing couldn’t fix.

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.

 

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