Last Saturday night I saw the future of branding. My wife and I participated in an event where every part of the experience was carefully designed, tightly controlled, and beautifully managed. The marketers scripted everything, from the attire of the attendees to the refreshments to the activities to the entertainment.
Was I at an Apple Store? No, Apple is fastidious about controlling the look and feel of their products and experiences, both online and in-store, but not the look of their customers. Plus, they don’t serve snacks or drinks.
Was I at a political rally? No, political campaigns do control the messaging and perhaps the demographics, but they don’t provide a 360 degree experience.
Was I at Disney World? No. Even though Disney does control their 360 degree environment, the experience is landlocked in Orlando and this new experience travels around the world.
His distant cousin Warren might get all the credit for business acumen but Jimmy Buffett is an honest to goodness branding genius, the true future of marketing. Let me walk you through our evening and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll even see ideas you can use to build and promote your own brand.
When you first arrive at the arena, you don’t get in line or go to your seat, you go to a party. Right outside the main hall a band is playing, drinks are pouring, and everybody is having a raucous good time. Beats the hell out of those velvet ropes every time.
Thousands of Parrotheads (what diehard Buffett fans call themselves) are dressed in Buffett’s tropical Margaritaville clothing or are buying tour tee shirts to pull over their already casual outfits. They’re guzzling Buffett’s own Landshark Lager or margaritas made with Buffett’s Margaritaville brand tequila. And they’re having lots of fun.
When the time comes to get started, the party moves into the arena. There are lights, music, and a couple of cheerleader types on stage shooting tee shirts into the crowd. Big colorful beach balls are bouncing around while screaming fans bat them back and forth.
Even the opening act has been well planned. Instead of some “no name band” that nobody wants to see, this show featured a couple of guys with guitars and a saxophone player. They played Buffett-esque tropical party music to keep the party going while the crowd filed in. When their stage time was up there was no equipment to change. They just walked off and The Coral Reefers (Buffet’s band) strolled on. Easy peasy.
Talk about demographic profiling! The band looked exactly like the audience. No tattooed rock star hotshots in ripped jeans and leather jackets, but a bunch of middle-aged folks in shorts, khakis, tees and Hawaiian shirts. Buffett even kicked off his flip-flops before he bounded up to the microphone.
Everyone in the crowd knew the words to every song, which should come as no surprise since they’d been singing along for the last 30 years. And while the crowd may not have had the rhythmic sophistication of the audience at a Black Eyed Peas or Beyoncé concert, they danced along to each tune just the same.
Each song, comment, and photo was strategically chosen to sell the Buffett brand experience of tropical leisure, middle-aged irresponsibility, and boat drinks. No wonder, either, when you realize that besides his touring machine, books, CDs, and DVDs, Jimmy Buffett also owns or has licensed liquor and beer brands, tropical clothing, Margaritaville-themed restaurants, a recording studio, and much, much more.
And what if you couldn’t make the concert? No worries, Mon! It’s was all recorded live and uploaded to Margaritaville radio on Sirius’ feed. Just pay for satellite radio and the party goes on 24/7.
All of it — the music, the signage, the outfits, the parties — are designed to sell a singular, aspirational experience, Buffett-style. Yeah, your life in Union City, New Jersey or Dead Fish, Montana might be gloomy and gray but Jimmy’s here to take you away from all that. All you have to do is pay up.