Don't do advertising, create a cultural product: Marketing conversation with Marcus CollinsMar 10, 2023
Marcus Collins: Thank you so much for having me, and you're quite welcome, it's a pleasure.
I'm Marcus Collins, and I have the fortunate pleasure of having one foot in the world of academia and one foot in the world of practice. I am a marketing professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan here in the States and I'm also the chief strategy officer at Wieden and Kennedy in New York, which is a global advertising agency, but I run strategy in the New York office and I get a chance to put ideas in the world as an advertiser and put people in the world as an academic, which is just awesome.
Karine Abbou: Thank you so much for this introduction. Let's go to the first question. You have a special focus on, I would say, two niches - marketing and music. This would be your sweet spot. All the work you're creating is really at the crossroad of both marketing and music. Can you just as feedback, tell us a little bit more about how you came to this and why music over anything else? Is it personal or is it more professional?
Marcus Collins: Sure. I would actually say that music got me to the crossroads of culture and marketing.
I studied engineering for my undergrad at university. I got my undergraduate degree in materials engineering, though I didn't think I really wanted to do that.
Actually, I knew I didn't want to do that. My parents didn't care, so I had to finish my degree in engineering and after I graduated from undergrad, I went into the music industry. I just worked at Universal Music Group, which is an international record label, and then started my own company in the world of music, which was OK until it wasn't.
I decided to go back to school to get my MBA for my master's in business.
And it was at this point that I just got very curious about the world of digital as a disruptor to business. After getting my MBA, I went to work at Apple doing partner marketing for iTunes, which we now know as Apple Music, but then it was iTunes and I managed our relationship with Nike Sports Music.
And during this time it was sort of like the perfect place for me. I'm doing marketing and music, and as you said that convergence is really where I thought my sweet spot was.
And I happened to meet a gentleman by the name of Matthew Knowles, who has a daughter by the name of Beyonce Knowles. I don't know if you guys know her in France.
Karine Abbou: We know Beyonce, of course!!!
Marcus Collins: I met Matthew Knowles and Matthew said:
Let me get this straight, you were an engineer and then you started a music company and you have an MBA and you work at Apple and you're black?!
Dude, who are you? Like, you're a unicorn. Like you don't exist.
And I said I exist. I'm real.
And he says you should run a digital strategy for Beyonce.
I said, Oh, yes, I should totally do that.
So I ran a digital strategy for Beyonce in New York, which was phenomenal. And this is during the I am Sasha Fierce day. So this is like single ladies. This is such an amazing time to be in Beyonce's business.
Well, let's be honest, there's never a bad time to be in the Beyonce business, but this was a special time because Beyonce was going from being Beyonce the recording artist to Queen Bee the icon.
I got a chance to see it, like to see it happen, you know, behind the scenes, which is pretty fascinating. Probably one of the most unique things I've done in my career, having been able to be that close like that close to the sun and see it all happen.
And so now I'm really at the crossroads or in the crosshairs of marketing and music.
And what I realized while at record labels with the biggest artists on the planet, arguably at the time, is that marketers and advertisers were doing a better job of breaking music artists than record labels were. The traditional means by which record labels were bringing artists to market, advertisers are doing a better job at that.
Apple is a great example, you know, the iTunes ads or the iPod ads were breaking new artists like Feis, for instance, or Matt and Kim, and I just felt like one where do you go to work after working with Beyonce? Like, what's next?
Everything goes down from there. Right. So there's that, the second thing, if I was being honest, you know, I look in the mirror and wonder how good am I? Truthfully. I've had so much success working with her, but I don't know how much of that success was due to me.
Like, I felt like Beyonce was going to be successful with or without me. Clearly, without me, she's been more than just fine.
So I wondered, how good am I? And I wanted to test it out to see.
So I decided to go into the world of advertising and went to a pure-play social media agency; the agency only focuses on digital and social media and that was really helpful. It was sort of like a boot camp for social media marketing.
And I really cut my teeth there at the agency called Big Fuel. I was still thought I'm a music guy, but getting closer to this world of digital and social, while also working in marketing.
The big inflection point, rather, the biggest inflection point, happened when I met Steve Stoute, who was an advertising executive. He was responsible with Jimmy Ivin at Interscope for signing Eminem, for signing Will Smith. And actually, this is a really good sidebar story, for a moment.
Marcus Collins: So here's how the legend goes.
Will Smith got signed by Interscope.
He was at Jive, dropped from Jive, got signed by Interscope and he has this movie coming out called Men in Black, and they released the soundtrack to Men in Black and the soundtrack kills. Will Smith has the Men in Black song, the soundtrack goes multiple times platinum, maybe diamond. It's unbelievable, like 10 million records sold. It sold a lot globally.
And the story goes, to my understanding, that the folks at the Labor Party are enjoying this new success with the Men in Black soundtrack when the movie comes out. And while they're celebrating, they see another group of people celebrating.
They go, who are those guys? And they say, oh, those are the folks at Ray-Ban, the sunglasses company. They go, wow, what are you so excited about? It's because they sold like 17 million sunglasses, or some crazy number like that, because of Will Smith wearing sunglasses in the movie Men in Black, where he says, I make these look good.
And Steve immediately thought, oh, my goodness, I sold, say, 10 million records that cost seventeen dollars for people to buy it. They sold 17 million sunglasses and they cost one hundred fifty dollars. I'm in the wrong business, and those sunglasses don't have the ego that's associated with the music business.
So he left music and went into advertising; started this advertising agency with Jimmy Ivene as a silent partner and Jay-Z, who was his friend, and business partner, called Translation.
And I met Steve Stoute and he introduced me to a new way of seeing the world, what I thought was about music and marketing and digital and social, but he widened the aperture for me and said, you know, this is about culture.
And it completely changed the way I see the world, right, and it's really at the convergence of marketing and culture that I operate. I would argue that consumption at its very core is a cultural act. What we buy, where we go, what we do, how we style ourselves, how we adorn ourselves - all these things are byproducts of our cultural subscription.
So at Translation, that's the work that I did, work with brands like Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light, Budweiser, Google, and McDonald's, these are international, massive, massive brands. And I started getting really interested in culture, understanding human behavior.
So I started doing a lot of reading, and a lot of self-directed research and started teaching at NYU while I was at New York University. While I was at Translation, my family and I moved back to Michigan because we had our eldest daughter, Georgia, so I started working in another agency while teaching at the University of Michigan, getting really excited about understanding people. So much so that I started my doctorate.
Karine Abbou: Congratulations. That was amazing. I saw that on LinkedIn. Such an achievement.
Marcus Collins: So I started my doctoral program at Temple University here in the States while teaching at the business school for the University of Michigan.
So working on these things really started to bring academia into the fold as I think about culture and marketing, and now having the doctorate, and having a very celebrated career, which has been great, I joined Wieden+Kennedy who is arguably one of the best advertisers on the planet, the best cultural impact storytellers on the planet when it comes to creativity.
Karine Abbou: What else can you do, even if it's the best marketing agency as of now, after Budweiser, after the State Farm campaign, I'm truly, sincerely wondering what else can you come and create. You explain that the purpose of marketing is to get people to move and start getting into action; which I found absolutely outstandingly done with Budweiser and State Farm. Usually, when a marketer thinks of having people move and do a certain action they're using, they're thinking, OK, how am I going to use social networks to motivate them? So I created this content, and I'm going to share it on LinkedIn. This is the type of audience on LinkedIn and that's basically it.
What was outstanding in your two campaigns is that you created the content that leads other people to move while creating their own content, and of course, as a consequence, not as a cause, everything was spread on social networks at a level that every marketer dreams about.
But creativity is not something that can be learned, so how do you come up with your ideas? What’s the potion? I want to know.
Marcus Collins: You're far too kind, thank you so much.
Karine Abbou: I'm sorry for the long question.
Marcus Collins: No, it’s good, it's good. Well, I'll take a little bit of the lead-up to sort of answer the question. I mean, you're right.
If you ask 20 marketers to define marketing, you get 20 different answers because there is no great language in the way we describe them; I believe that language is so important because it allows us to create some saliency so that we know what we're talking about and we can all talk about it concretely or concurrently.
So ranting about marketing, I think about the definition from the 1455 Oxford English Dictionary, which defines marketing as to sell or go to a market like that, to go to market. The market is people. We have market demand, market response, and market behavior. People demand people respond, and people behave. So we go to the market, we're going to the people, we go to the market to get people to adopt the behavior, for people to move : Don't drink this, drink that; don't go here, go there. Don't buy his shoes, buy my shoes. Vote for him, not for her. Don't throw away your trash, recycle it. Like everything we do is in service of getting people to move.
Well, what influences the most people?
Similarity - people who subscribe to the same cultural characteristics, who subscribe to the same ideologies, are like us.
One puts it this way, that culture must form the basis of one simple question: do people like me do something like this?
The answer is yes, I do, the answer is no, I don't. And we made the decision hundreds of times a day. So the question becomes, how do we activate the network of people in such a way that I see people like me take on the behavior? And when people like me take on the behavior, I'm more inclined to do it.
Because this is what we're wired to do. This is why the network effect becomes so unbelievably powerful we create social proof. We create receipts of identity that are reinforced through the social web that we live in, whether it's in person or zeros and ones or a combination of the two. So we think about how a brand behaves or how the brand taps into this.
A brand taps into this by activating a network of people who use the brand as identity marks, to use the brand as receipts, or as a badge of who they are.
So you take State Farm, for instance.
State Farm is an insurance company, they make the majority of their money through car insurance, but they also ensure homes, boats, and whatnot. They have financial services, etc. But auto insurance is their driver. We had them as a client, and we're looking at it like, what do you believe? If we're to activate, we don’t activate networks based on value propositions, we activate networks because of congruence, of belief, of ideological belief. The brand has a set of cultural characteristics and they would tap into a network of people who have similar cultural characteristics so that people use the brand to communicate their identity. Well, what does this brand believe? Sure we cover your stuff, but, why do we do it in a scientific way? What's the belief? The why, I call it the conviction, the ideology, the point of view of the brand. We did some excavation on what State Farm is all about, and it really summed up to one thing - State Farm helps people make better decisions, they can live life more confidently every day. It was about helping people live life more confidently every day. How do they do it? By having expert agents everywhere, anywhere, however, you need them, whenever you need them, so that you can make better decisions and live life more confidently, and will happen to provide insurance, happen to cover your stuff, happen to provide financial services; so with that as like the foundation, we start looking at where State Farm had sponsorships, where they were showing up, where they were spending money, and the National Basketball Association. The NBA became one really big sort of outlier. They spent an ungodly sum of money with the NBA. They were just wrapping backboards like Jumbotron, like stepping and repeats. They weren't doing anything meaningful and they knew that which was what they said, help us with this. And so fortunately for us, we took the brand's conviction, its belief, the idea of helping people and we said, oh, this is actually kind of easy because there's a statistic in the game of basketball that's a lot helping people. The assist. The assist gives us an entree, gives us a license, gives us permission to be a part of culture through the vehicle that is basketball, through the vehicle of sport. And we're going to do this through the brand's conviction, helping people, and a statistic inside the sport. The assist is when I pass the ball to someone to score. That person gets the score, so you made two points, I get the assist. So I benefit from helping you help the team. So we said, that's great because their assist isn't sexy, it's not cool. No one tunes in to watch the assist of the week. Just like no one thinks that insurance is sexy or cool. That was like rocket fuel to get us going, and in most gameplay, the point guard plays. He or she typically has mostly assisted in the game, typically passing the ball off, getting the gameplay happens. So we thought, well, who is the biggest point guard in the NBA at the time? And at the time it was Chris Paul, he was playing with the Clippers. So we said, OK, let's a partner with Chris Paul on this, what will we do? We were thinking about how we can make this interesting, and we all were like really big fans of The Blair Witch Project, the hand-held Point of View movie, where three kids go in the woods to film Burkittsville, which is a documentary. They don't come out. A year later, you find their stuff, is it real? And this like completely changed, like how movies were made, especially horror movies like completely changed it. Just think it'll cost them sixty thousand dollars to make the film and it grossed like two hundred and sixty million dollars.
Karine Abbou: Crazy, crazy.
Marcus Collins: Unbelievable. We're all big fans of this film and we thought to ourselves, what if we Blair Witch Project this thing? That is, what if we made people believe that Chris Paul had a twin brother named Cliff Paul, but they were separated at birth and Chris Paul went on to be an all-star NBA player point guard who passed out assists. Cliff Paul goes on to be an all-star State Farm agent that passes out assists as an agent.
Karine Abbou: That is so brilliant!
Marcus Collins: George Loewenstein talks about this idea of creating a gap in knowledge. He says that cognitive deprivation, that is this unknowing, not knowing, it forces us to lean in because we have to close that gap in knowledge. So creating a gap in knowledge among hardcore NBA fans allows us to activate these people, to lean in, start discoursed, start a conversation, which allows the campaign to propagate. And it was massive for us, huge.
Karine Abbou: That was unbelievable because the creation at the start is absolutely unbelievable, but the results were remarkable; like, I don't think it really happens that many times in a year or even in ten years of a marketing campaign. And just very quickly also, because this is really like I think it's going to be part of marketing history. And Budweiser, that was absolutely outstanding also, because at some point you got some other content creators with their music like Jay-Z, or a movie with Ron Howard, which is crazy, by the way. I'm usually not a big fan of advertising, I'm really a content marketing person, and I do believe in the hard way of building a brand, you know, blogging every day, sharing a video, a YouTube video, because most of the business, when they grow, did content marketing this way or did marketing this way or did it this way. In France, when you're talking about ads like that, it's still, you know, oh, we're so happy, we've got a great engagement on Facebook, and that usually lasts two or three weeks and then we're done, then the content goes on the YouTube channel of the brand, whether it's super famous brands sometimes, and it stays there and nothing really happens. But with both Budweiser and State Farm, it seems to have lasted for many weeks and months and it's ongoing, which is incredible with advertising today. So what are some of the secrets?
Marcus Collins: So I’m actually in the same camp as you, like, I'm not a huge fan of advertising either. In fact, when I decided to come on-air, when Wieden and Kennedy
met with the guys who run the shop in New York, Neal, and Carl, they asked me, like, why would you want to go back to another agency? And I was like, you know, I don't. I don't want to do advertising. I am excited, however, about making cultural products and those things are very different. Cultural products are the ways by which we make our cultural subscription material, like the brands we wear, the communications that we take on, the way we behave. These are ways that we exercise our cultural subscription and we use cultural products to communicate it. The music we listen to, the dances we take on, the movies we watch, the fashion that we adorn, and the brands and branded products that we consume. That's what I'm interested in. And if that's a 60-second spot, there's a 60 second TV spot, cool. If it's a banner, cool. If it's a tweet, I'm cool with that too. It's not the output that I'm interested in, it's the outcomes. And the outcomes for me are all about cultural impact, and the beautiful part about cultural impact is that there is a ripple effect. There's a cascade effect that happens because of the network propagation that happens with people, it lives on beyond your media; like advertising is very much dependent on the media. You turn on the media, it's there, you turn it off people go on about their life. But when we do things that are culturally impactful, it becomes a way they communicate themselves to the world, not just what they wear, but what they say and how they act and how they behave. This is culture and that's the thing that I strive to impact. I mean, that's what I'm most excited about, creating cultural products. When I think about the Made in America Music Festival, we launched this in 2012, that's nine years ago and it's happening again this year. How many campaigns run over the span of almost a decade? The only time we didn't do it was last summer because of Covid. But this has become a music festival today, a music festival that happens in Philadelphia, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philly, where ninety thousand people descend on Philadelphia to celebrate the makers, the people who make things. And that is unbelievable, one most powerful things that I've ever done, and I have worked with an unbelievable team of people to make it happen. To be a part of this I feel this overwhelming sense of pride because I didn't create an ad, I created a cultural product.
Karine Abbou: So last question about this. It's, of course, teamwork, large teamwork of brainstorming with many people from many different levels. How does it work?
Marcus Collins: Yeah. It's you know, it's just like basketball. Michael Jordan is probably the best player to ever play the game, period, hands down, at least in my opinion, the best place to play the game. But it wasn't until he had a team, a squad of really, really, really talented people that he began to win championships; not just a good squad of people, but a great coach and Phil Jackson. It requires so much, a great organization to support how they're going to run their team; it's not done by one person's brilliance, not by any stretch at all. This is about discourse and conversation. And like, you know, one person adds one thing, oh, man, that's great, let's use that in this. It's the alchemy of brilliance that gets us to these really amazing outcomes. And when I joined Wieden Kennedy, you know, the interesting part, and this is honestly, selfishly, I was like, I want to know the secret. Like, how are they as good as they are for as long as they are? Wieden and Kennedy are responsible for Nike’s Just Do It. They've been the agency of record for Nike for decades. Coke’s Open Happiness, is an institution within an institution, and I was really curious how in an agency globally, right, from New York to Portland to Sao Paulo to London, Amsterdam, Mumbai, and Tokyo, how does this agency consistently prosper? When I found the answer out, I was underwhelmed because of how obvious it was, and then completely in awe, I realized how profound it is. You just try to get the best people at their craft and create an environment that allows them to be great. Get the best people possible and create an environment that allows them to be the best versions of themselves and the world, that is a very simple construct. It's a very simple equation. It is terribly difficult to do.
Karine Abbou: So when you say best people, it could just focus on best marketers? And so my question is, how do you define who is a good marketer and who is not? And it leads to a question that I sent you also, at some point, and that's what I loved in your first episode of Check the Rhyme, you said going to the market means you influence people. So related to the previous question, does it mean that marketing equals influencer marketing today? And does it mean that a great marketer is someone who knows, online or offline, how to influence anybody in his network?
Marcus Collins: Yeah, I like the way you put it. I think that good marketers are curious and they understand people. I often say that the best marketers on the planet are comedians because comedians just watch people, they go, whoa, that was interesting. They pick up on phenomena happening. And then they take that phenomenon. They try to find ways to describe it using theory, like what's going on here, what describes what's happening. They find an interesting way to communicate a slant; like Emily Dickinson says this way, tell all the truth and tell it slant. Right, until they find a way to tell it. A story in a very captivating way. They identify it, they observe behavior, they find a way to describe it, to make meaning of it, and they find a creative way to communicate it with a slant. Then they get on stage and say, did anybody notice that every time you go to the park, you do blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And you go, I totally do that. That's some. Of course, you do. The best marketers understand human behavior and they're very, very curious, but they're always looking for the hmm, that's interesting. Now, I tell my team this, you know, look for the hmm, like you should be stroking your chin a lot. Hmmm. That's odd, that's interesting. And the idea is that getting at that, getting at that observation, helps us get to the truth. And it's the truth that we can leverage to get people to move in a predictable way, in a way that is systemic, but we got to get to the truth, which is why I love academia, because we spent so much time rigorously investigating, interrogating what we observe to get at the truth. And we can leverage that truth as practitioners to influence behavior.
Karine Abbou: One truth or different truth?
Marcus Collins: So there is no objective truth, right? Truth is subjective, depending on how you see the world and the way you make meaning of the world based upon your cultural meaning-making frames, your world view. And the way I think about it is that like if the world is a game, it's like basketball, you're watching the game from your seats but the game you see is different from a game someone else sees in a different place in the arena. So the only way you can get the most accurate presentation of the truth of the game, that is society, is to sit in different places, that is to adopt different perspectives, see the world differently. I had the fortunate pleasure of going to a Boston Celtics game a few years ago with the client. He had four-floor seats, and I'm sitting right behind the team like a whisper in their ear if I wanted to. Amazing seats. And while I'm watching the game, I have never been on floor seats before, it was so hard for me to follow the game because it felt so chaotic. Like how do you even play? If I were on the court, I wouldn't know what to do because it was so chaotic looking at it at the floor level. But when I'm up in the rafters where I can afford seats, I would have higher up, the game looks so much more organized like I could see the plate unfolding. And this is why we need perspective. You need multiple perspectives because the world looks different depending on where you sit. So we've got to change our seats in the arena to observe the gameplay that is society.
Karine Abbou: It's brilliant. It's part of curiosity, that's an element of curiosity. I really loved what you just said. I have a few other questions I'm going to try to go through quickly. I wish I could have more time, but maybe we’ll do a part two. Four years ago, in a great speech, you said marketers sucked at understanding people. They're terrible at this. OK, so question after a year of covid, do you think we improved?
Marcus Collins: No. We’re horrible. Horrible.
Karine Abbou: OK, so why? Please help us, and give us some tips to improve.
Marcus Collins: So the first part is we're bad at understanding people because we put people in boxes that are not representative of who people are, rather they are byproducts of the cognitive ease that we experience by putting people in those boxes, and those boxes are demographics. For instance, meet my friend Deborah. Deborah drives a minivan. Does Deborah have kids? Probably. Do the kids play a sport? You would say yeah obviously, and if I asked what sport you’d probably say soccer or football. And where does Deborah live? You’d probably say the suburbs. And this is what we do, I give you one data point and we map out someone's entire life, not because it's accurate, but because it's easy. And this is what demographics do. Let's go to millennials, one data point. Their birth year is within a 20 year period, and we say they're all the same. That's ridiculous. That's like saying all women love to shop or all black people do something, fill in the blank something racist. This is what we do. We put people in these boxes and because we put them in boxes, we don't accurately represent who they are. Therefore, when we're communicating to them, we communicate in these blunt ways that are not meaningful because they're not representative of who they are. So markets suck at that with the first. Secondly, we also suck when it comes to empathy, but I actually have some grace with it because empathy is really challenging, particularly because empathy, like culture, is a hard word to describe or define. I like the way Michael Ventura defined it. He says empathy is self-aware, perspective-taking. I am purposefully adopting someone else's perspective, and I do it with full intentionality. The thing about empathy is that it consists of three different types of empathy. There is semantic empathy, which is just how our body responds to things. If I see you slamming on the door I go, oh are you okay? That’s how we respond, otherwise, you're a sociopath. Our body just responds. Then there is affective empathy, which is this notion of doing unto others as you want to be done to you, it's the golden rule. But if you're having a bad day, I reach out to you, check on you, because I'm a good person most of all I’d want you to do that to me if I had a bad day. But then there is the harder empathy, which is cognitive empathy, and this is to do unto others as they want to be done unto you, which requires an understanding of what people need. So say when you have a bad day, you don't want people calling, you want to be left alone. I'm calling you now and you're like, please leave me alone, Marcus. I want to be left alone. The other part is that it requires me to take off my lenses and put on yours to say if I'm having a bad day, this is what I want. But you know this is what she wants and she's having a bad day, so I behave accordingly. It requires selflessness. And unfortunately, we as marketers don't do enough of that. And this implies the tragedy of age. Not that men are poor, because we all know nothing about poverty; not that men are wicked, because what is good; not that men are evil, because what is wicked; not that men are liars, because what is truth; nay, that men know so little of men. We just don't know people very well. And because of that, marketing typically sucks.
Karine Abbou: But don't you think we're losing ourselves in those two main characteristics that we don't have, because we have to, at some point, when we define an audience, when we say, OK, we're going to create content for this audience, we're invaded with techniques, personas, data and things like that. And at some point, you know, it's like when you're riding a bike, you're just focusing on I'm not going to fall, but you're not watching the big picture and you lose sight of things. So I'm not defending marketers, but I just found a way to skip this thing, because I SO agree with you that sometimes we're full of jargon and things that are making us lose ourselves by understanding our audience. Don't you think that instead of doing personas, we should focus more on what the audience we want to reach reads, shares, participates in, likes. Would that be a good way to try to fix the problem we're having?
Marcus Collins: Absolutely. The things you just named are all cultural products. What we watch, listen to, where we go, like these things are ways to make culture material. So I would say instead of thinking about who the target audience is because audiences are passive groups of people like when you go to the movies, you're an audience. When you go to a concert, you're an audience, you're just watching information kind of wave over you just being entertained, but we're not passive people in the world, we're very, very active and have a lot more agency than the audience gives us credit for. Instead, I say you should target networks of people. If our job is to activate networks of people to get people to move, then let's target the networks of people who see the world the way we do. So the first question you ask yourself is, well, what do you believe? What's your conviction? For State Farm, it's about helping people feel more confident, for Budweiser it was really about Americana, like what was the new Americana, like the American dream. Like, you know, you can pursue what you want to pursue with your creativity, which is creative endeavors. What do you believe and who are the networks of people who see the world the way you do? It's like finding your congregation, your community, your tribe, people who believe what you believe. Because when there is belief congruence, where there is ideological congruence, those people are more inclined to use your brand, use your content as a way to communicate their own identity. And that's what you want to be.
Karine Abbou: And to share it naturally, as if part of their life, not as a marketing act. OK, I really love that. I want to zoom in on music and behind the music, the audio phenomenon that we are living in, especially after Covid. Obviously, I think you will not disagree with me that audio has made a big boom after 2021.
Marcus Collins: Clubhouse was massive, podcasts shot through the roof. Absolutely.
Karine Abbou: I have two sub-questions within this question. The first one is I noticed that lots of brands are using music as a new type of content. I just made a newsletter about Barillas Spaghetti mixtape with a type of music that you can listen to while you’re cooking. I think it was honestly genius. What would be your advice for brands, but I'm not talking about major brands, smaller ones, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, to use music as a content type to give it a push to either services or products that they sell.
Marcus Collins: Yeah, so the music is super powerful for multiple reasons. One, it acts as a mnemonic, right? We hear the song, we hear the jingle, we can make the association, so it's a memory aid, which is great. But also, you know, people don't think about music as marketing content and that's the thing like someone said before, we only call things we don't like the content. No one goes to the movies and goes man, that was some great content. No one listens to an album and says, man, Drake just dropped some really great content. No one does. Like no one would ever call Ernest Hemingway a content creator. He'd probably punch you in the face. We don't do that, we call things that we don't like, the things that are like their utility, like their marketing content. But music is music. Music is enjoyable. We want to listen to music. We want to find new music that's aligned with our ideological dispositions when it comes to our taste in music, so this is an easy way in. Like, it's an open door and people are receptive to it and finding ways to use music beyond mnemonic avenues for opportunity. So here's a good example, you know Hamburger Helper? It's like a dry good like pasta, dry pasta, and seasoning. And you put it together in a skillet, put some water in it, add some meat.
Karine Abbou: OK, like a crockpot for hamburger or something.
Marcus Collins: Exactly right. Like hamburgers and pasta with seasoning. It's called a Hamburger Helper. I grew up on it. It was big when I was a kid. Hamburger Helper was that deal. OK, but in recent years, not so much, it's not very in vogue. So for twenty-sixteen, April Fool's Day, April 1st, when brands and marketers are like, you know, we're going to do these gags, these pranks, Hamburger Helper decide to release a mixtape called to watch the stove, a play on Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne, and they made a legit mixtape that sounds really, really good. It's like everything on the radio like it's like the Migos like everything on the radio. But the music, the lyrics were like instructions for how to use the product. They were like communicating the value proposition. They're like, I whip it up, but I whip it up. I stir it up, I stir it up, I stir it up. It's like, what's going on here? It was streamed over two million times in the first 18 hours, downloaded over forty thousand times on Def PPIF, which is where you go to get hip hop mixtapes. This is what we mean about cultural products. This was beyond marketing communications. These became ways that people made their culture material and music is an important part of the cultural characteristics that we use to describe who we are, to communicate who we are, and to continue to solidify who we are based on our descriptions. So for marketers music is a perfect vehicle, it's a great vehicle when used well.
Karine Abbou: This makes me think of one thing that you said in one of your speeches. I think it was a TedX and I thought it was brilliant. You said my favorite movie was Avatar. I wouldn't be able to tell you what was the first name of the heroin Avatar, but I can tell you who Elsa is from Frozen because, my gosh, we hear so many times. Considering the audience that I serve today, mostly entrepreneurs and consultants, at the end of the day it doesn't require too much money to set up something like this. You just need to have a good musical culture and know your brands and your audience. But if we relate that to clubhouse today, which could be a great opportunity for many brands that probably didn't use social networks successfully, you can start to build an audience, because everything can be built on the clubhouse. It's like Twitter when it started. How do you think we can build up a sort of recipe using, for example, one guy that is going to make a super musical show on the clubhouse, our brand content building an audience around this, do you think it's something we should spend time and a little bit of money on or should we focus more on blogs, videos on YouTube, and current social networks?
Marcus Collins: To me, I think this is a matter of storytelling and transmedia storytelling. So to your point earlier, this is like what story is the brand telling? Stories are the most powerful vehicle for us to communicate information, which is why music is as powerful as it is because music is a storytelling art form. The stories that we tell, this is how we teach religion, this is how we teach morality through folklore. We teach kids how to be good people through stories that we tell and we communicate with each other through stories. Stories are the most powerful vehicle for marketing. Hands-down stories are a cultural vehicle to make it so powerful. When we think about transmedia storytelling, the idea here is that there are different vehicles, different avenues, different media that provide opportunities for us to tell stories and we tell the right story for the right vehicle or the right media. For instance, I’m a fan of The Matrix, one of my favorite movies ever made and The Matrix wasn't just those three movies; the matrix was this universe, there were the movies, the video games, the anime, the comic books. All of these things told different stories about the Matrix universe, like the video game was about the Nebuchadnezzar, like through the explosions they had before they met Neo. The anime was about completely different characters. All these things together told the massive encompassing story that is the Matrix. Now, we all didn't see all the pieces. Some of us did. Some of us came to the door of the movie and saw the movie was like, well, watch out the anime or watch, have the video game. The same thing goes when it comes to brand. Stories that you tell each one of these different vehicles to become ways by which you tell the broader story of the brand. Some stories are best. Some are based on Instagram, some are based on Twitter, some of the best via blog, some of our best are via podcasts. And the idea is that all these stories together paint this rich tableau of who you are. And the difference between a major brand and your startup is really just money, and let me tell you, money doesn't buy you, love. There are a lot of brands who spend a lot of money trying to get people to love them and to have these brand affinities that don't work, even if they're running television, all these other things because love is about relationships, it's about connection. And every brand, every musician, they all start with band zero. Everybody starts at zero. The only difference for smaller companies is that you've got to go door to door where a major company gets to yell out loud to lots of people. But at the core, we're doing the same thing. How do we make connections and leverage those connections to propagate across the network structure?
Karine Abbou: Amazing story about the brand and about the audience. Also, that could be a good bet.
Marcus Collins: That they're kind of one and the same because of how connected and congruent they are.
Karine Abbou: That's exactly the goal at the end of the day. Yeah. One last question in all your videos and the things you're doing, Campbell's behind. What is it about? May I ask you why?
Marcus Collins: Totally. So this is a Warhol print. So this line of visual art that was social commentary that like, you know, that every fame is sort of a commodity. Right. And just like a celebrity can be famous, you know, even these massively produced products, like kind of a commodity, can be, quote-unquote, famous, very sharp social commentary by Andy Warhol. And so as an advertiser I love this piece. I love pop art to begin with, but I love this piece in particular because it sort of keeps me like, checks your ego, buddy. You're selling commodities. Check your email, get your ego. You're not curing cancer here, guy. This is just advertising.
Karine Abbou: OK, and is there a connection between art, advertising, product story? I was curious.
Marcus Collins: Yeah. It’s another example of cultural product like I'm using the brand in this artistic fashion to communicate something about my ideological subscription,
Karine Abbou: I'm glad I asked them. OK, Marcus, thank you so much for all the time. It was unbelievable. I might ask you to come back in a few months. If you're OK with that, d
Marcus Collins: Yes that’s good, I’d love that. There’s so much more to talk about.
Karine Abbou: Yeah, definitely. I will probably ask more questions about Beyonce. I think people will be very upset with me because I didn’t talk too much about that. But what you say was outstanding and really thank you so, so, so, so much for your time there.
Marcus Collins: With the pleasure.