Friday, September 11, 2015

What Aerosmith's Steven Tyler can teach us about Digital Marketing

If there’s a more old school rock star than Steven Tyler of Aerosmith then please, bring him or her to my attention. Tyler & co. were the quintessential rock stars of the 70s...who are now themselves pushing 70. But even though we live in a time when things couldn't be less like the 70s -- with the stars of YouTube and Vine and Instagram stealing airtime from the usual suspects of years gone by -- Steven Tyler is more than keeping up. And that is today's mystery we're going to solve.

But first, a little history. Over 40 years ago the Bad Boys from Boston made their ascent to the rock and roll pantheon, and they were typical of the dissolute rock stars of the day. Along with the likes of Queen, Elton John, and Thin Lizzy, they lived in an alternate universe, one in which the usual laws of consequences, blood alcohol levels, or ratio of scarves to microphone stands did not apply. Until one day they did, then the band crashed, burned, and disappeared for most of the 80s, a narrative perfect for the Behind The Music treatment. You know the one, where the key of the background music changes from major to minor as band members go through battles with drugs, bandmates, wives, managers, the IRS, etc. But then at the end of the 80s everything changed, leaving skeptics slackjawed as the original band lineup engineered one of the unlikeliest and long lasting comebacks in bombastic rock history. 25 years later they’re one of the best selling bands of all time.

How did they do it? It’s a combination of many things, like their music appearing on mega-selling, demographic-spanning, movie soundtrack power ballads...


Their stalwart classic rock songs getting licensed to the game Guitar Hero, which reportedly brought in more cash for the band than recent album sales...


And in a move that cemented Steven Tyler as the outlandish rock star that every toddler, accountant, and grandparent in America could identify in a crowd, the demon of screamin’ took his place on judges row on American Idol.

Those are all the mass media plays for attention, and Steven Tyler has spent decades mastering those. What’s more interesting is how he has also mastered the micro-moments, the little bursts of promotional activity that require no journalists or publicists. 

This past week, for example, he has netted millions of views across dozens of iPhone-captured videos during a band visit to Moscow. Tyler was hardly inconspicuous as he made his way through the city streets, but it was this impromptu duet with a busker that caught the world’s attention, with this video -- one of dozens of the event that were posted on YouTube -- clocking over 2 million views.


Earlier this summer Tyler did a brief walk on with an outdoor piano, delighting the townsfolk of Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada by tickling the ivories for a few moments as onlookers with their smartphones rushed to grab pictures and video.


...and last year he plinked out one of the band’s biggest hits, “Dream On”, on tuned glass bottles in the middle of Helsinki and hand-jammed with another street musician nearby.


So why is the one of the world's biggest rock stars taking to the streets to perform as a busker version of himself? Or to percussively back up others? Couldn't he be in the hotel spa, enjoying an exquisite meal, or just do one or two interviews with the major media outlets in the city he's visiting and call it a day? Of course he could, but it turns out Tyler intuitively understands the new logics of distributed media well, and these logics are the among the key guiding principles of Internet economics.

As we move from a world of perfect, crafted media moments to imperfect, spontaneous ones Steven Tyler has figured out how to not only go with the flow, but also feed it, and to do so in the most efficient way possible. He deploys his legions of fans, not the press, as his marketers and multipliers and in so doing succeeds on two levels: He satisfies the fans on the street by being an accessible 'man of the people', and he satisfies the mediasphere with content -- amateur smartphone video, selfies with fans -- that come across as authentic and organic, because, well, they are. They are the product of everyday people, not the industry. As hundreds of camera phones do the job that was once the exclusive domain of publicists and the press, Tyler demonstrates that today's unique power is in the thousands of small sparks that make up the always on, anyone-can-post, sharing-is-the-new-broadcasting world of media.

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