Monday, January 17, 2011

The Brand of a Band

I just read this thoughtful and enlightening article by Damien Kulash about his band, Ok Go.  Ok Go, in case you aren’t familiar, is a fantastic band made famous by their inventive and eccentric YouTube videos, as well as their fantastic music.  I’ve been a fan for years, before they became YouTube sensations.

Kulash’s article concerns how the band markets itself.  Instead of relying upon the support of a major label, who would provide them with intensive marketing but little creative control, the band promotes themselves with videos and other projects that they give their fans for free.

This totally flies against the wisdom that to create demand for your product, you have to create a scarcity mentality, i.e. if there’s less of your product, it will be more valuable.  Inflating the cost of it is one way to do that.  Keeping a small supply of it is another.  But Ok Go doesn’t do that.  It allows its fans to experience its product—its music and videos—for free.

Through this, Kulash says:
Artists have meaningful, direct, and emotional access to our fans, and at a time when capturing the public's attention is increasingly difficult for the army of competing marketers, that access is a big asset.

But how does the band make money?  This was the really interesting part for me.  Some of it is what you’d expect—album sales, merchandise, ticket sales, and the like.  But a new paradigm that hinges on a an old standard is coming into play: patronage.

Ok Go got funding from Range Rover to stage a huge 8 mile musical parade in Los Angeles.  Range Rover didn’t put any cars in the parade.  They didn’t get any signage or promotional spots.  They just asked to be credited at the end.  Samsung and State Farm followed suit with other Ok Go creative projects to widespread success:

We had complete creative control in the productions. At the end of each clip we thanked the company involved, and genuinely, because we truly are thankful. We got the money we needed to make what we want, our fans enjoyed our videos for free, and our corporate Medicis got what their marketing departments were after: millions of eyes and goodwill from our fans. While most bands struggle to wrestle modest video budgets from labels that see videos as loss leaders, ours wind up making us a profit.

I love this so much.  I like that the brand isn’t clubbing you over the head with promotional spots, and instead, taking a hands-off approach to let the band do what they do.  The band gets the money to do what they’d like creatively, without a lot of constraint.  And the brand gets the goodwill of the band’s fans. 

Also, if such a cool brand is supporting a cool band, then there’s also the affiliation aspect: I want to buy from Range Rover, Samsung, and State Farm, because they’re awesome enough to support Ok Go, a band I enjoy.  If Ok Go is cool, and they’re the brand behind Ok Go, then they must be pretty rockin’ too.

Further, Ok Go is considered even more cutting edge and maintains artistic integrity and a fair amount of cred by developing these kinds of relationships.  They're at the forefront of where music is going.  By developing patronage and then writing about it, Kulash positions himself as a pioneer on music's frontier.

I think patronage in the music industry is a great trend and I hope it continues.  If Ok Go is any indication, it ameliorates innovative, exceptional art in a space that’s increasingly crowded with brands jockeying for attention through over-promotion.  This approach feels fresh, new, and current, and as always, the members of Ok Go look like gurus of artistic genius.


  1. Before Ok Go did this sort of thing, there was Radiohead. Not only did they give away the online version of their last album "for whatever you want to pay for it," they also fought Prince when he tried to make fans take down a video of a cover he did of "Creep."

    Then there is always Weird Al, who posted his video for "White and Nerdy" for free on youtube--and ended up with his first platinum-selling album.

    The system is changing--I think for the better--when marketing is handled by someone outside of the RIAA-sponsored system.

  2. Beautiful vision. Not only do they have a deep understanding of the power of positive social media, but they are actively working to engage others in their branding by encouraging everyone to feel like they have a part.

    I'm excited to see what they continue to put out, as well as who they inspire in the future.