THE HORRORS OF INDIE ROCK ADVERTISING
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2010
Marketing and music go hand in hand like an abusive relationship. Usually something cool starts happening in music, and it stays pretty cool for while but then marketers start jumping on it, it gets all cut up and watered down and then 5 or 6 years later it's at Wal-Mart. A good example: remember grunge music? I personally don't, but apparently a bunch of 20 year-olds wore a lot of ugly clothing and played stripped down shoegaze and dissonant punk riffs or something. Either way, it didn't take too long before the whole thing was a cliche and then Creed came out, so that was the end of that.
Things are a bit different nowadays&mdash we can get email on our phones and no ones reads newspapers anymore&mdash but the same cyclic nature of hip is still going strong. The big buzz right now is all about "hipsters".
Their apathy is only matched by their unnecessary eyewear
Like when everyone and your mom was trying to pronounce the word "emo" five years ago (pronounced em-o?). It's now all about mustaches, PBR, skinny jeans, fixed-gear bikes, and Michael Cera being awkward. And maybe none of it is even a conscious decision; maybe there aren't any old white dudes in suits in some darkened boardroom with charts and graphs trying to figure out exactly how much irony per dollar they should invest in their ad campaigns. But I've listened to too much punk rock to not think the opposite seems much more accurate and that marketing firms and mainstream media outlets know exactly what they're doing.
Also, what makes this idea an important one to think about is that underground music cultures and mainstream marketing are now becoming more and more ferocious their in their cat and mouse game. Music because of the internet and social media is becoming more fragmented and communal and judging the "next big thing" is becoming much harder. The "hip new fad" landscape is a treacherous place right now and it doesn't show any signs of getting less rocky.
Of course, all that is just a long introduction for a real discussion about a new MTV show that's possibly the most conscious grab at "the next big thing" yet. My Life As Liz for those that haven't heard of it is about a girl from Texas named Liz who's really alt (aka looks like the chick from Paramore) and hates blonde girls and hits golf balls in her backyard and live action role-plays with her really nerdy guy friends.
It's filmed and set-up like a reality show, but it's not quite reality, it's more: "things as she sees them". To summarize, MTV made an indie-rock version of The Hills and they had the audacity to give it an unreliable narrator (OMG just like Catcher In The Rye, right?).
I was going to watch the whole clip before posting it in this article, but I only made it in 26 seconds in.
Before tearing it to pieces though, there are some things to consider, one being that this girl was in high school when this was made. Also, judging by the way culture seems to make it across the country, the kids in this show might actually believe they're on the same level as Animal Collective (and maybe Animal Collective think they're on the same level as T-Pain).
The AV Club has has an oddly balanced review of My Life As Liz but that's almost assuredly because they're approaching it from a television stand point. From a music point of view&mdash and yes she does sing&mdash they're missing the key thing about marketing to any subculture of arrogant 20 year-olds, empathy doesn't work. Ironic detachment, ridicule, mean-spirited distance, those values have always been cool and will probably continue to be cool. Even if Juggalo culture becomes the next burgeoning music scene, they're still going to want to laugh at whatever they consider uncool and they're probably not going to want a show that claims to "get them" on MTV.
Imagine if this became cool?
But like I said, marketers are shrewder and savvier than they've ever been, largely in part of the internet making communication easier and observation as simple as going to a Myspace page or reading a blog. In a Business Week from as far back as 2005 titled "Getting to the Hipsters" author John Fine talks about the do's and don'ts of reaching that finicky golden demographic. Even car companies like Scion are understanding the power of aligning with "cool" things in a "cool" way.
"The company sponsors art shows nationwide -- its Scion Space in Culver City has shown countless A-list L.A. artists -- and it works with hip-hop heavyweights like Ghostface, DJ Premier and Jazzy Jeff. And, recently, it's started recruiting rising stars of the L.A. music scene to help sell cars. DJ duo L.A. Riots and IHeartComix impresario Franki Chan have both contributed to the Scion CD Sampler series, which has previously featured Flosstradamus and Spank Rock's Ronnie Darko, among others."
What's the most interesting of all of this though is that the real groundbreaker on achieving the least alienating hipster-marketing tone is Apple. Which might be because Apple is run by hipsters and specifically designed almost exclusively for hipsters or it might be that they have a smart enough ad department to realize how to reach consumers.
In 2007 Apple's ad featuring Leslie Feist's "1234" came out and I think it's safe to say that music-tied marketing became a brand new ballgame. Suddenly marketers and mainstream media wanted to be the ones to discover new music and not the ones playing catch up. This has yielded some decent results, like Dentyne Ice's use of Coconut Records' "Summer Day" by Jason Schwartzman.
But at the same time when not put in the right hands it can get really, really stupid, like MTV's My Life Is Liz or this hilarious gem: A rewrite of The Moldy Peaches' song "Anyone Else But You" used in an ad for Atlantis Resorts. The changed the words to be about dolphins:
So in the end, like everything in music it's about integrity. Are we getting closer to a day where advertisers aren't going to condescend to us? Probably not, but it's a good thing that they're listening a bit better than they used to. And the playing field between consumer and company is the most democratic it's been in a long time. So maybe my punk rock delusion of a monolithic company full of old white dudes isn't really accurate anymore.
Maybe instead, it's been replaced with a frantic team of PR people trying to stay relevant. It makes me just as uncomfortable, but certainly less than the old world of advertising.-Ryan Broderick