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The Good, the Bad, and the “What Were They Thinking?”

As mentioned in my previous New@NAMM2015 articles, I have been to enough NAMMs to start paying attention to more than just new gear.  I have quickly learned that everyone who has been to 10+ NAMMs has a list of grievances that have more movements than “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.  This article is not a list of grievances (okay, it kind of is), but more than anything, it is an evaluation of event marketing in the music industry.  The really good and the bad… really bad.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my articles/background, after spending several years in the studio, I got fed up with horribly written radio spots, so I took some ad classes and found out that I was a better marketer than lead guitarist.  Now, I’m not claiming to be a marketing genius by any means, but I do have a couple of degrees in the subject, have worked in advertising, marketing, and sales for the past decade+, and teach a college course or two each semester.  So for what it’s worth, I have at least a little understanding to base my soapbox on. 

The Really Bad…
Booth babes are so 1960’s – 1980’s… Now I get it, everyone has heard the phrase “sex sells”, and in the era of Don Draper there was a lot of truth to that phrase.  Why?  Well for starters, anything sexy was total taboo.  You couldn’t even show a married couple in the same bed on TV (think Ward & June Cleaver, or Ricky and Lucy).  Consequently, anything with the slightest innuendo was shocking and memorable.  Fast forward to 2015, basically everyone has a smartphone, or at minimum an internet connect.  Within a fraction of a second, an individual can see anything they can imagine, and a lot they can’t imagine.  Whenever. Wherever.  The whole morality of this is an entirely different topic.

The point here is that sex isn’t shocking.  Heck, violence isn’t shocking either (how many skulls were crushed in the last Walking Dead episode?).  Without the shock appeal, the memorability is also lost.

Case in point.  This year at NAMM, some guitar company hired a Playboy Bunny to sign autographs, and you know what, they had a long line wrapping around their booth.  Great marketing, right?  I can hear the marketing guys’ Monday morning meeting, “Dude, we had 2000 people hit the booth on Saturday.  We knocked this one out of the park!”  Now the reality, everyone I talked to could remember that someone had hired a Bunny, but no one could remember the brand.  Traffic means nothing if it isn’t associated with brand recognition.

The Bad…
Shredfest 2015 (let’s see those devil horn hands)!  The reason you hire a guitarist, or drummer, or keyboardist, or bassist, or vocalist, or whomever else you can think of, to work at your booth is so that you can demo your new gear.  You don’t hire them to have a pissing match on who’s the fastest.  Yet the halls of NAMM are full of longhaired, shirtless, shredders who I’m pretty sure arrived from the 80’s via phonebox, or possibly Delorean…

I get it, every player wants to show some signature licks, and that’s fine, but keep it at a minimum.  Let a few chords ring, let people hear the product that is being demoed, and then throw in something fancy as you transition to the next feature.  32,000 bmp doesn’t allow me, or anyone else to hear the product.

Not every company suffers from this, in fact, there were several companies who had great demoers.  One notable player was demoing for EHX.  He was clearly very talented, yet he played slowly, clearly, and used lots of sustain so everyone could hear the charistics of the effects.  Likewise, I saw several demos on Fender’s new American Deluxe guitars and Eric Clapton series amps, and guess what, the demoers allowed me to hear the instrument instead of forcing me to hear their latest tasty lick.

Okay, enough ranting on the bad.  Not all music industry marketing departments are stuck in the stone age.  As a matter of fact, there were several companies that truly impressed me.  We’ll get to them in just a moment.  First, a little nugget of wisdom I learned in ad school.  I once had a professor say something to the extent of, “The best ad campaigns rarely includes celebrities and huge budgets, instead they are creative, meaningful, unique, and leave a lasting impression.”  Great advertising uses simplicity to tell a complex story.

Best Swag:
Taylor is one of the most forward thinking companies in the music industry.  In fact, they don’t advertise like a music company.  They truly use their advertising to tell stories.  I have several Taylor ads that I have pulled from magazines and keep in my “awesome ads” folder that I pull out when I need inspiration.

Taylor_CoasterNAMM is full of companies giving out promo products/swag.  I spent several years working in the ad-spec industry, and have seen logos printed on pretty much everything you can imagine.  Taylor has taken swag to a whole new level.  They aren’t going out and buying swag, instead, they are branding their logo on the leftover wood from sound holes and passing them out as coasters.  And you know what, everyone wants one.  Taylor is literally giving away garbage and musicians across the globe are proudly displaying their piece of a Taylor on their desktop.  Mine is graced daily with a Diet Mtn. Dew.

While I don’t know the actual cost of branding scrap wood, I can guarantee it costs a fraction of what most companies spend on swag.  Simply put, this was a pure genius move from Taylor’s marketing department.

Best Apparel:
Continuing along the lines of swag, let’s talk tee-shirts.  It seems as though half of the companies at NAMM had logoed tee-shirts.  Some for free, others for a minimal price.  While I get the concept behind promotional marketing through apparel, most companies miss the mark.  All too often, companies think that they need to make their product/brand incredibly prominent on their apparel.  After all, if they’re giving this away, they better get a walking billboard out of it.  Additionally, the majority of companies opt for the cheapest tee-shirt option their printer has, I mean, it’s just a tee-shirt, right?  Here’s the problem, promotional apparel is only effective as a marketing tool if people actually wear it.  As for me, 9/10 promotional tee-shirts I receive are either kept around long enough to be my next house paint tee or end up at Goodwill.

Shure_TeeEvery once and a while I see a company who not only effectively uses promotional apparel, but truly impresses me.  This is where Shure steps up to the plate. For years Shure has given out tee-shirts, and they have always been good, but this year’s was great!  To begin with, Shure ponied up an extra few dollars to purchase a high quality tee, something that can be washed multiple times without completely losing its shape.  Then there’s the design, it is spectacular, yet subtle.  The Shure name is prominently displayed, but in a classy way, making it appear to be a clothing brand name.  If you look closely inside of the circle on the front, there is a lightly silhouetted vintage microphone.

The subtlety of the shirt makes it something that I can wear every day without screaming, “This is promoting a microphone brand!”  Sure, my musician friends will get it and love it, but everyone else will walk past me without being distracted.  Classic, classy, and brilliantly executed.  Well done Shure.

Best Brochure:
Ever since Gutenberg created movable type, brochures have been a tool in every marketers arsenal.  But, printing can get extremely pricey, especially if you’re using a glossy cardstock with 4 color press.  While I’m absolutely a fan of creating beautifully designed/photographed brochures to display your new gear in their best light, often times, brochures are tossed in the garbage can before they ever have the chance of being read and appreciated.  This is especially true at trade shows.  Since most attendees have traveled to the event, space and weight limitations almost always ensure that heavy paper products won’t be heading back home.

AT_Coloring_BookAudio-Technica found an awesome solution to this problem, coloring books.  Yes, your read that right, instead of handing out brochures of all of their latest items, AT was handing out coloring books with wireframe coloring pages of their new gear and action shots of their gear in use.  They even included a small box of crayons.

Why was this brilliant you may ask?  Well first off, I can guarantee that the printing costs were a fraction of the cost of a brochure.  Even if they were tossed, AT “threw away” a whole lot less money.  Secondly, their approach on handing them out hit the mark.  I was having a discussion with L2P’s Rev Bill about how I needed to run to Downtown Disney to pick up gifts for my kids.  The AT Rep overheard our conversation, so she politely interrupted us with something like, “It sounds like you could use a few coloring books.  No need to walk all the way over to Disneyland.”

Sunday afternoon as we were headed to our church services, my 4 year old opted to bring his new microphone coloring book, instead of his Bible stories coloring book.  Now, I may eternally burn for this, but I didn’t have the heart to deny him.  And guess what, his beautiful microphone artwork is now gracing my refrigerator.

Color_Book_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Coloring courtesy of my awesome 4 year old)

Best Endorsement:
Endorsements are a tricky and risky route to go down.  The right endorser can take a brand from obscurity to an industry leader (Gatorade and Michael Jordan), but often times they are an expensive flop (Seinfeld and Microsoft).  Whenever paying a celebrity, athlete, or musician to hawk your product, there is a good chance you may be throwing away a few million bucks.

Cort_BellamyI think the biggest thing that surprised me from my first NAMM was the number of washed up, has-been musicians, signing gear.  I no longer need to watch VH1, I know what happen to all of my favorite 80’s guitar heroes.

While I generally ignore endorsements, Cort caught my eye this year.  Cort is, in many ways, the most underrated guitar manufacturer, at least here in the US.  Yet, many of us have Cort made guitars.  If it was made in Indonesia, there is a good chance Cort made it.  I think we have all met that one diehard Cort fan who owns 15 of their guitars, and makes fun of you for owning an Ibanez, Squier, G&L Tribute, etc.  Well, that Cort fan is about to become even more prolific.  Cort has managed to reach an agreement with Matthew Bellamy (Muse) and Manson Guitar Works to bring the world the Matthew Bellamy signature MBC-1.

Why is this such a cool move?  Well, first off, Matthew Bellamy has become the mainstream Guitar God of the last decade.  Sure, there are other great players who have arrived, but name one who has reached the same level of success and exposure as Bellamy?  Muse’s past 3 albums (starting with 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations) have all debuted at #1 in the UK and top 10 in the US).  Additionally, unlike most modern acts, Muse is sticking to the stylings of the 70’s and 80’s with killer riffs and monster solos.  Go to any Guitar Center and ask the teenager guitarists who they idolize.  Bellamy almost always shows up.

Secondly, most of us are never going to own a Manson guitar.  Heck, most of us won’t ever see one in person outside of going to a Muse show.  Manson guitar’s are very high end, hand-built, boutique guitars coming out of the UK.  To date, Manson has offered 4 different runs of the MB-1S Matthew Bellamy signature.  In these 4 runs, they’ve made just over 100 guitars.  All of which are ranging in price from $5500 to $6500.  That is out of the range for most of us, and especially out of the range for the teenagers who worship Bellamy.  This is where Cort comes in.  With a list price of about $750 (so $500ish street price), the MBC-1 is positioned at a price point that most of us can afford.  Additionally, many of us scoff at the Cort evangelist, but is anyone going to scoff at a Matthew Bellamy signature guitar?  I for one, would be reaching to test it out, regardless of the manufacturer on the headstock.

Now I realized that many companies in the music industry are small and don’t have budgets to give away 10,000 tee-shirts or sign a major endorser.  Honestly, sometimes the best forms of marketing are the least expensive.  Sometimes, the best way to Stickerspromote your brand is to give away something that, once used, is hard to get rid of.  With several years experience in promotional marketing, I have to say that my default giveaway items are stickers.  Why?  Because they’re cheap, they get your brand name/message out there, and once placed, they’re hard to remove.  How many musicians do you know who have an instrument case, pedal case, or bumper that is covered in stickers?  Personally, I have two cases that feature a plethora of stickers.  If I worked for any of the companies that showed up to display at NAMM this year, I would insist that every product shipped included a sticker with my brand’s logo on it.  If it made sense, I’d also include a tagline.  It would only add a few cents to the packaging and would ensure that my brand would be remembered by that musician for years to come, even if the piece of my gear they purchase had long since been sold, lost, or indefinitely borrowed.

If I were to give you a take away from this article, it is this: Whether you are promoting your own music, your band, or an actual product, think outside of the box.  Don’t follow the flow or the norm.  Think creatively.  Think of something that will leave a lasting impression.  The music industry prides itself on its level of creativity.  As musicians, we take the stage to pour out our hearts and souls to the audience.  Let’s not have the creativity start and end with the music. Let’s apply it to every aspect of what we do.

Until next time,
-“GuitarGuy” Tim

About the author

Tim Hemingway

I want to be a rockstar when I grow up, at least that is what I have been putting down as my career goal ever since I was first introduced to the Beatles at 11 or 12 years old. Shortly after my introduction to the Fab Four, I picked up an old classical guitar and started learning every Beatles song I could. It was right around that time that the nickname "GuitarGuy" Tim originated. While I don't remember the exact origin, it was basically how kids at school differentiated me from the other 4 or 5 Tims in our class. Starting in Jr. High, with an arsenal of Weezer and Green Day covers, my friends and I began "performing". Over the next 10 years I played guitar or bass in various alternative, punk and acoustic bands. Somewhere mid-way through college I realized that although I had the desire to be a rockstar, maybe I didn't have the songwriting abilities, so I moved my passion for music behind the console. I then spent several years working in a studio by day, and at night running everything from local concerts to community musicals. Without all of the boring details, my studio work eventually led me into advertising and marketing which is what I now do during the day. But when I come home at night, I still pull out my guitar and put on concerts for my kiddos (I’m raising up the next generation of Guitar Gods). I met up with the Rev while I was in grad school and was working on my thesis: Turn it up to Eleven: A Study of Guitar Hero and Rockband gamers. Why they play and how marketers can use this information. Yes, it is true. I have several academic publications about Guitar Hero. At that time in my life I had decided to pursue a career in marketing within the music industry, but the Rev had a better idea. He gave me a shot at reviewing gear, and ever since then I have been a regular here as part of the Live2playNetwork dysfunctional-family. When it comes to music, I'm a jack of all trades. While I'm not an expert at anything, in a pinch I can play guitar, bass, drums, sing, or I can mic up the drum kit, edit in Pro Tools, or solder up a new patch cable.

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