Marketing 101: The Madonna Principle

July 31, 2006


If this article by Germaine Greer is any indication, business schools would do well to incorporate a study of Madonna’s career into their curricula.  Madonna, who many people may think is about music, is really all about marketing.  Music is just a small part of her brand, and after more than 20 years in the industry, Madonna’s constant cycles of reinvention encompass so much more than just music:

For years I was on Madonna’s side. I wasn’t exactly a fan, because I am of the opinion, shared by many, that Madonna can neither dance nor sing. What Madonna could do better than any other woman I know of was talk. She might have been a muscle-bound midget on stage, with synchronised squeals and squeaks instead of a voice, but in single combat she was a hero…

Madonna was secure enough then in her sense of herself to pick up a guy in a park and have his baby. Then she got DIY religion, married an Englishman (I could have told her that was a mistake) and crumbled before our eyes. She started telling us that all she wanted to be was a good wife and mother, even though she worked out so strenuously every day that she was honed to breaking point. Huge excitement greeted recent paparazzi shots of Madonna on the beach wrapped in white towelling; she needs the dead-white skin for her current incarnation as the ghost of Marlene Dietrich. Besides, when you’re 48, bruises turn black and green before they fade. As Madonna’s style is all grind and no bounce, she’ll have been getting bruised on the Confessions tour, the European leg of which opens this very night in Cardiff.

People who can sing, dance and act are two a penny. Madonna has the one talent that really matters in the 21st century. The true art form of our time isn’t music or dance or painting or poetry; it’s marketing. Marketing is what makes a rubbish drink of aerated water plus caffeine, sweeteners and synthetic flavourings into a gadzillion-dollar global phenomenon and omnipotent symbol of the good life under capitalism. Dullards can’t do transcendent marketing; it takes genius. It was Madonna’s genius to realise that marketing was where it’s at as long ago as 1979, which was when she registered Madonna as a trademark. Then she had nothing to sell. Now she is reported to be insisting that she be supplied with a brand new toilet seat at every venue on her current tour. The seat, still in its original plastic wrapping, must be unpacked and installed before her eyes, and removed when she leaves the venue so that it can’t be sold on eBay. Now she could sell her used toilet paper…

The entertainment press claims to remain astounded by Madonna’s “uncanny” (that is, very canny) ability to reinvent herself, to rise like a phoenix year on year from her own ashes, but this is what marketing is about. Madonna is like any brand leader, regularly repackaged, constantly “new and improved”. Madonna never wastes time: everything she does is advertising for the Madonna brand. She has always kept an ear out for whatever was happening on the underground; the trick was to recognise what could be commercialised and to go ahead and do it. Better still, find the people who were already doing it and get them to do it for you.

And this, according to Greer, is what really keeps the money rolling in.  The music is only a sideshow.  We tune in to hear Madonna, not so much to hear what she’s singing, but to witness the metamorphosis du jour.  If she keeps using this formula, Madonna will always garner huge amounts of public interest in whatever she is doing, even if she never records another album. 

“Germaine Greer: The Genius of Madonna”  [Independent]


Monday Musings

July 31, 2006

Uma Thurman 

  • Interview with Uma Thurman.  [Independent] 
  • Ashlee Simpson’s nose job causes Marie Claire Magazine to get a makeover, too.  [NYT]
  • Top 50 movie endings of all time, or 50 movie spoilers that you might want to read, but not really.  [BoingBoing]
  • Interview with Gretchen Mol.  [London Times]
  • Has anyone ever tried telling Mel Gibson that Jesus was a Jew?  [Defamer]
  • Nicole Richie’s x-rated pics will probably hit the web just in time to promote her upcoming album release.  [ONTD]
  • Interview with Eva Longoria.  [Observer]

How iTunes and iPod Managed to Put the Music on Lockdown

July 28, 2006


Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing delves into the real effects that Apple’s iTunes has on both the music industry and the consumer, focusing on the way that music/technology is purchased and how iTunes has contributed a great deal to the stagnation of music sales.

Doctorow says that in the music industry’s desperate attempts to prevent consumers from getting their music for free, it has allowed Apple to create a system that only encourages consumers to find “alternative means” to obtain their music.  Paying for low-priced downloads is a good thing, but not when there are licensing restrictions that limit how the consumer can use the music long after the date of purchase.

Steve Jobs and Apple managed to lure the music industry into licensing the copyrights for the iTunes Music Store even though the Store’s use-restrictions are comparatively mild. There’s a bit of region-coding — you pay a per-download charge based on the country your credit-card is billed to. There’s a bit of multi-use restriction — only five CPUs can be registered to a given iTunes account at a time. There are some miscellaneous restrictions, including ones that are genuinely bizarre, like limiting the number of times you can burn a given playlist.

…But there’s one restriction that’s so obvious it never gets mentioned. This restriction does a lot of harm to Apple’s suppliers in the music industry.

That obvious restriction: No one but Apple is allowed to make players for iTunes Music Store songs, and no one but Apple can sell you proprietary file-format music that will play on the iPod.

In some respects, that’s not too different from other proprietary platforms, of course. No one but Microsoft makes Word. But there’s a huge difference between Word and iTunes: Word is protected only by market forces, while iTunes enjoys the protection of a corrupt law that gives Apple the right to exclude competitors from the market.

iPod users are stuck having to purchase music from iTunes.  And other music vendors are losing sales because the iPod is so popular, and it’s users can’t load music purchased from alternate vendors. 

Also, while these licensing restrictions keep consumers loyal to Apple, they also limit musicians or other people who have created works in a digital format (such as writers who have and audio version of their book that has been produced digitally) are not legally allowed to reformat or edit any work that has been downloaded from Apple.

It’s otherwise legal to back up a DVD, or put a song on a home media-server, or quote an ebook in a college essay. But if you have to break through some copy-restriction technology to do this, you’re breaking the law.

It doesn’t even matter if you’re the creator of the work the lock controls! You can’t even access your own work on your own terms if you need to break a lock to do it.

Apple has managed to even prevent the natural competition that comes from reverse engineering, when one company takes all or part of some copyrighted work or technology, and creates something new from it.  So, Apple’s monopoly on the digital music market diminishes competition that would foster new innovations, such as improvements to the functioning and capabilities of mp3 players.  It also keeps price competition out of the market.  The mp3 player has been popular long enough for the market to be flooded with a plethora of designs at different price-points, but there is not much variety available, due to the domination of iTunes and the iPod.

It might seem ridiculous that some company has the right to restrict what a consumer does with property he has paid money for after he has obtained his receipt and completed the transaction, but Apple has extended it’s reach, so that one $0.99 track is still pretty much shared property, between Apple and the consumer:

It’s easy to see how banning reverse-engineering is bad for Apple’s customers. The ban creates a monopolistic lock-in that invites bad behavior that would otherwise be checked by competition. Apple has already demonstrated its willingness to abuse its monopoly over iTunes players by shipping “updates” to iTunes that add new restrictions to the songs its customers have already purchased. The business model of buying music on the Internet is that one buys a “license” for certain uses, but the company that supplies the product to you can revoke parts of the license, and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is just abuse.

Worse still: Apple’s competition-proof music makes switching away from its product expensive for Apple’s customers. The world of consumer electronics changes quickly and you’d have to be a fool to believe that no one will ever make a superior portable music player to the iPod. iPods and other walkmans have a low price-point and turn over often — it’s no coincidence that Apple’s iPods are made out of materials that scratch if your breathe on them and look like they’ve been through a rock-tumbler after a couple weeks in your pocket — which means that you’re likely to be in the market for a new one every year or two.

This is another vivid example of how expert branding has blinded the public.  Consumers, caught up in the trendiness of the iPod, have, for the most part, failed to see how limiting the gadget actually is.  But in a society where disposability is still seen as a technological advance, Apple has managed to dominate the market.  Since people were not expecting the popularity of downloads to explode like it did, many are probably biding their time until the next technological advance will be released to the market.  Until then, they’ll keep their iPods– at least, until they have to upgrade to the newer model.

The rest of the article can be found here.  [link via BoingBoing]

News and Nonsense

July 18, 2006

 America's Most Famous Lesbian Couple

  • Oprah and Gayle King may not be in a lesbian relationship, but they sure do sound like they are…  And if they aren’t lesbians, well, they’re just really bizarrely symbiotic.  [] 
  • Janet Jackson insults by Mariah Carey by comparing her to her sister, LaToya.  [Contact Music
  • Has Barbara Walters’ brain cracked in an attempt to catch up to her face? [BWE]
  • Dr. Phil + Harvey Walden IV = Mr. T’s new talk show.  [Celebitchy]
  • Hip Hop fashion is taking off in the UK, but since most people actually walk and ride public transport there, instead of stepping in and out of cars like Americans do, the British favor smaller sizes.  [Hip Hop Ruckus]
  • Carson Daly looks like he’s on the Nicole Richie Diet.  [D Listed]
  • A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in a paparazzi blog, its only worth about 50.  [Jossip]
  • Now that Star Jones has been fired and erased from the archives at ABC, is Al Reynolds filing for divorce?  [Queerty]

Musical Musings

July 18, 2006

Corinne Bailey Rae 

  • Anyone who thinks Corinne Bailey Rae sounds remotely like Billie Holiday seriously needs a hearing aid.  [AP]
  • Timbaland refuses to appear in a biopic on Missy Elliott because he enough good sense to leave the acting to the actors.  [Concrete Loop]
  • Beyonce stans fans are really demanding.  Who knew they could actually be less than thrilled by anything that Beyonce does?  [Juicy-News]
  • Nelly Furtado jumps on the sapphosexual bandwagon.  [Contact Music]
  • Parents complain about kids not having enough role models, yet someone thought it was a good idea to have K-Fed perform at the Teen Choice Awards.  [WLC]
  • Ever wonder what happened to Chi-Ali?  Well, he’s apparently managing fledgling rap groups from his prison cell.  [Contact Music]
  • The lead singer of Savage Garden finally comes out as gay, as if the group’s song lyrics didn’t already tell us this.  [Queerty]
  • Essay on modern black rock artists.  [PopMatters]
  • Now we know why Nelly Furtado’s album sounds like it does; she and Timbaland were prone to falling asleep in the studio. Their exhaustion must be the explanation behind why they missed so many things in the editing process, like recycled melodies, tired beats, and bad singing. [Contact Music]

Daily Dish

July 18, 2006

Adrien Brody 

  • Like Halle Berry, Adrien Brody’s career has slipped a bit after winning an Oscar.  Unlike Halle, he doesn’t have the good looks to keep him on the A List.  [BWE]
  • James Woods thinks TV is “more sophisticated” and “more dynamic” than films because TV is what is paying the bills at the moment.  [Cinematical]
  • Naomi Campbell not only needs a restraining order against herself; she needs a straightjacket as well.  [StarBlogs]
  • Interview with Jamie Kennedy.  [AHH]
  • CBS hopes that stamping eggs with ads for its TV shows will miraculously get more people to watch The Early Show. [Defamer]
  • Wesley Snipes has made the same movie over and over again for the last decade.  [Cinematical]
  • We all knew the day would come when YouTube would be sued.  [BoingBoing]
  • Katie Couric has lost her sense of humor, now that she’s going to be a “serious” evening news anchor.  [PopWatch]
  • Interview with Owen Wilson.  [CNN]
  • Eminem has been touchy ever since he wrote that “Stan” song.  [StarBlogs]
  • Interview with Bai Ling.  [Cinematical]

Race and the Hip Hop Fanbase

July 18, 2006

Concert Audience 

Davey D investigates the myth that 80% of Hip Hop’s listening/purchasing audience is white:

But is this really true? Granted if one goes to a Mos Def show or even a Wu-Tang concert you will see a majority white audience in many cities, but does that translate to that 80% white audience? How does an all white Wu-Tang show in Northern Cali compare to a sold out predominantly Black T.I. or Yung Joc show in Atlanta or in Oakland? How does that compare to a sold out predominantly Latino Psycho Realm or Sick Symphony show in East LA?

Back in 91 when this 80% first surfaced, there was no study or methodology that that kept track of race when it came to album sales. About the closest one could come was by estimating based upon record stores in a particular area, but that would yield far from accurate results. To start in many areas, folks from different ethnic backgrounds would frequent stores that were in sections of a city dominated by one race. For example, if you came to Berkeley in Northern Cali, you found three main record stores up near the UC campus in an area that was statistically majority white. Folks from all over including predominantly Black South Berkeley and majority Black Oakland shopped at those stores. How were statistics based on purchases by race kept?

The truth of the matter is that this 80% white Hip Hop fan myth has long been a nice marketing tool used by media corporations to justify ad revenues for Top 40 radio stations.

The rest of the article can be found here.