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Weekly Wrap – Sue Little, CEO, McCann Erickson Communications House

The Day The Music Died or the Day The World of Branding Changed Forever?

Whatever your opinion of Michael Jackson, for the vast majority of us, one of his songs was probably the soundtrack to significant events in our lives and his untimely passing represented a seminal day for organisations that extend way beyond the music industry.

For the media it was probably the biggest death-of-an-icon story since Princess Di.

For media commentators it was a fascinating view of how we consume information and flip between new channels to air our views yet resort to traditional outlets to validate the news. Equally intriguing was how this behavioural back flip drove the way the media covered the story.

For the music business, sales inevitably went into overdrive, as a vast consumer audience who’d either forgotten about Jackson’s talent or had never experienced it sought out downloads on the back of the story.

And for the digital world it was the day the Internet fell over on the day the music died.

But what about the worlds of branding and marketing, what will be the echoes from Jackson’s death and how will they impact on the way we market products and services?

He was clearly a massive brand in his own right that has been carefully massaged, manipulated and developed over many years.

Granted there have been a number of times when things have gone seriously off the rails, but brand Jackson was very much a product of careful control and orchestration by ‘his people’ and music industry moguls.

So it represents the ultimate irony that his death was the point at which consumers took ownership of the brand on a scale not previously witnessed.

The news broke online and the web slowed down to a snails pace as everyone rushed to find out whether there was any substance behind the rumour. Yet despite the initial rush for information online, most of us turned to traditional channels like the BBC to get the details behind the breaking news.

And once we’d got the news, we then all crashed Twitter as a result of us wanting to air our views

And the views and conversations people were having about the story reflected the way the media covered it.

While there was the usual procession of glowing tributes to Jackson’s contribution to music and shaping popular culture, many media outlets focused on the opinions of fans, and it will be they who ultimately define the legacy.

The idea of consumers taking ownership of a brand on that scale either represents a marketeer’s nirvana or his or her worst nightmare.

Most marketers would give the earth for the kind of consumer advocacy we saw with brand Jackson, but for a large proportion of people currently employed in marketing, relinquishing that level of control over their carefully crafted brand would scare the living daylights out of them.

Whatever your view of Jackson, the reality is his death has created a tipping point that means consumer advocacy is in an irreversible ascendancy and that will change the way we look at brands forever.

It will probably also result in many more of us going out to buy his music before the story slips off the media’s radar.

Sue Little

Chief Executive

McCann Erickson Communications House

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