Talking about their work-hard, play-hard lifestyle, Keith Richards has expressed more than once his amazement that he and his Rolling Stones bandmates are still alive. The observation could just as easily apply to the remarkable longevity of the band itself, which is playing a handful of concerts in London and the U.S. in the remaining weeks of this year -- their 50th as The Rolling Stones. “You can't get away from that number,” Richards told The New York Times about the milestone.
Unlike most other bands that formed in the 1960s, which have either broken apart or lost relevance, the Stones remain an extraordinarily powerful cultural and musical force. The upcoming shows coincide with the release of a new CD, “Grrr!”; a documentary on HBO; and a retrospective of the band’s films and videos at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Let's face it: The Rolling Stones aren't just a band, they're a brand in the same pantheon as Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz and Chanel. In fact, they’re downright respectable, to borrow one of their song titles. How so? My 1-year-old son has a "Sticky Fingers" onesie. I kid you not.
To appreciate how far they've come, consider that 50 years ago, it would have occurred to nobody to refer to a rock band as a "brand."
If anything, the Stones were an anti-brand because they were thought of as antisocial. If you want to know what I’m talking about, watch the Albert Maysles documentary “Gimme Shelter,” about a 1969 concert in Altamont, CA. The Hell’s Angels were hired to provide "security," and during the Stones’ performance, one of the bikers stabbed to death a member of the audience.
On a side note, there isn't a logo anywhere in sight throughout the film. When is the last time you attended a concert without sponsored signage plastered everywhere? Better yet, when is the last time you attended a Rolling Stones concert that was devoid of brand images and logos?
Interestingly, the band’s first manager deliberately positioned them as the “dangerous,” “forbidden” alternative to The Beatles, and up until the last decade, the band members more than lived up to the concept.
Many other musicians who were once thought rebellious -- Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bob Marley -- have softer images when viewed in the light of nostalgia. They, unfortunately, are no longer with us.
More than their peers, however, the Stones personified the spirit of rebellion among the youth generation in the 1960s and 1970s, in part, because their music was dark (“Sympathy for the Devil”), overtly sexual (“Let's Spend the Night Together”), and their lyrics sometimes contained violent imagery (“Gimme Shelter,” “Midnight Rambler”).
The new single, “Doom and Gloom,” contains all three of those elements. The band is nothing if not consistent.
While the iconoclastic sound of the Rolling Stones is the main reason for their success, underneath all the rock mythology lies some very smart brand stewardship.
They have existed in various forms for half a century and have top-of-mind awareness for not just baby-boomers but for that generation’s children and grandchildren. There are three brand tenets that the Rolling Stones, like all great brands, have practiced:
1. Adapt without losing your core. The Stones’ sound was built on blues, rock and country containing enough elasticity for wide appeal across decades.
2. Always deliver exceptional quality. The Stones work hard, consistently produce memorable tunes and have carefully controlled how their equity is used. Where their music is licensed has enhanced rather than diminished their brand. Keep in mind that Microsoft was still considered cool when it licensed “Start Me Up” to launch Windows 95.
3. Commit to omnipresence. For years, the band has used all available tools and the latest technology to market themselves and their product.
Just last week [Nov. 20], the band launched a content-rich iOS app that also includes chances to win tickets to their remaining 2012 concerts.
Come to think of it, is there a cooler brand logo than that of The Rolling Stones?