Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Perhaps not forever and ever, amen - how to damage your brand

The Empoprise-MU music blog has previously touched on the topic of a band in which the actual membership may not be all that important. My early June post, Forever and Ever, Amen, discussed several bands (such as the Temptations) who have had all sorts of members over the decades. I also wrote a post in October 2009, Editorial comment in biographies, which covered a biography writer's irritation at the fact that the present-day Sugababes includes none of the original members.

Clearly, the biographer felt that a band consisted of a particular set of members, and while perhaps a member or two may depart over the years, you don't completely change the entire band. Others, however, presumably feel that Sugababes the brand is the important thing, and it doesn't necessarily matter who is in the band as long as they continue to produce Sugababes music.

(I could go into the stories of Peter Gabriel and David Lee Roth here, but perhaps I should save that for another time.)

Like it or not, music marketing is heavily brand-dependent, and the band names are very important brands. And the brand managers need to control the brand, its image, and its product, and must also guard against things that could damage the brand.

Enter the Pussycat Dolls. For those who are not familar with this band, they're a bunch of half-naked women who sing and dance. Actually, the Pussycat Dolls band is an extension of the overall Pussycat Dolls brand, which initially started as a dance troupe before any music was released. Now this sounds like it could be a formula for disaster, but they've actually put out some pretty good music. As members of the Empoprise-MU Facebook group (all one of us) already know, my clear favorite is "I Hate This Part."

However, it seems that all was not well between the various Dolls. As Wikipedia documents, there was a long period of speculation about the band's future, which boiled down to the question, "Is the band breaking up?" On the one hand, a July 2009 item in Hollyscoop quoted Ashley Roberts:

“This is the last time we'll be in the UK as a band. We've broken up. We're sorry.”

On the other hand, you have Robin Antin, the "brand manager" of the Pussycat Dolls, emphatically saying that the band was not breaking up. From the same Hollyscoop item:

"The Pussycat Dolls r NOT breaking up…. & IF they ever were, u would hear it from ME 1st, NOT GOSSIP…Album #3 on the way!"

Despite Antin's emphatic statement, comments continued to be issued from several of the Pussycat Dolls that seemed to cast doubt on the unity of the group. By early 2010, every member of the Pussycat Dolls except for one (lead singer Nicole Scherzinger) had left the group. Antin, however, still maintained that the group had not broken up, but had merely undergone a change of membership.

Note the semantic difference. If the Pussycat Dolls had broken up, then they would no longer exist and the brand would be dead. If the Pussycat Dolls merely changed 80% of its membership, then it would still be a going concern, no different than before.

But how are the fans reacting? I don't have permission to view actual posts in the Pussycat Dolls forums at Generation Network, but when I looked at the forums, it seems that there were a lot of posts about Nicole...and Kimberly...and Melody...and Ashley.

But why are the fans concentrating on these people? What about Kherington, Rino, Vanessa, and Jamie, all of whom performed in Los Angeles with Nicole back in May?

If I were the Pussycat Dolls brand manager, I'd be extremely worried right now. Antin would clearly prefer that fans focus on her official group of half-naked women who sing and dance. However, there's a good chance that the fans will concentrate on other groups of half-naked women who sing and dance - something which potentially decreases Pussycat Dolls revenue.

And even if Antin successfully broke the legs and vocal cords of all of the former Pussycat Dolls, there are other troupes of half-naked women who sing and dance, such as Coyote Ugly. And since pop culture tends to follow fads anyway, there's always the danger that the Pussycat Dolls will be yesterday's news, relegated to a theater in Branson, Missouri.

Perhaps the outcome couldn't be changed, and perhaps Antin should be praised for assembling a new set of Pussycat Dolls, rather than shutting down the musical side of the project. But this just goes to show that a brand can only be stretched so far.
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