The Power of Love by @carlpeter

The greatest irony marketeers face these days is that successful online PR and marketing is not about technology but about people. Sure, channels are important but if there is no-one at the end of the process, no amount of fancy technological trickery will bring them to your shop window.

Savvy brands know this and mobilise their communities to achieve their commercial ends. And it is commerce: at the heart of the warmest, fuzziest glow you get from feeling part of the Apple family, for instance, there’s no escaping the fact that your welfare is not their motivation. The process is designed to separate you from your money, and the more of it the better. For them at least.

This, of course, is how it ever was and ever will be. Your brand affiliation is founded on that understanding. Successful brands are like funnel traps – easy to swim into but very hard to escape from. And, to torture the analogy, as long as you’re one of a large shoal of trapped fish, it doesn’t really matter. Separating one person from a large wad of cash is a scam. Doing it to millions of people simultaneously – well, that’s just business.

Sometimes being ‘in the gang’ is its own reward, and is quite enough. You’re buying into that family feeling. The actual product or service that comes with it is almost incidental. Like all fashion, we feel we can only truly express our uniqueness by being all the same. Ask any football fan. If you’re not prepared to pay £60 for the new replica shirt, you’re not fully committed. Other fans will pity and despise you. Or so you think. That’s what they want you to think.

Is there an alternative to this rapacious subterfuge? I believe there is.

But first a quick history lesson. In 1976, up-and-coming Manchester punks Buzzcocks decided that there wasn’t really a need to have to sell your soul to a record company to actually make records. This was the punk ethos after all. Don’t accept the norm, ask questions and do stuff for yourself. So Buzzcocks borrowed £500 from friends and family and recorded and pressed their own record. They needed to sell about 600 of the 1000 records pressed at £1 to pay off their investors. Which they did. In fact, subsequent repressings ran to about 16,000 copies, and the ‘Spiral Scratch EP’, as it was, entered music mythology as the first independent record release.

Flashforward thirty-odd years. Buzzcocks have just announced their ninth studio album and they’re financing it themselves through PledgeMusic. The system is simple. Bands make a shopping trolley full of goodies available to their global family and they pledge a sum towards the cost of the new album. Pledges begin at £8, for which you get advanced, privileged access to the download of the album, plus all the pledgers’ extras, like video from the studio, extra tracks and so on. That in itself is a brilliant deal.

At the top end of the goodies is a signed guitar for £750. Pete Shelley’s own guitar, no less. You couldn’t even buy one like it for that. In between that and the basic pledge is a host of desirable things: lyrics written out by hand for you, test pressings of the album, coloured vinyls, T shirts, meet n greet … all stuff you won’t get anywhere else. And when the album is launched (some months ahead of the general release), you have the warm glow of knowing that you helped make it. And if that’s not enough, once the 100% target is reached, a proportion of the pledges above that go to a nominated charity.

It’s a win all round. The band get to make the record they want with no artistic or commercial interference, the fans get the chance to be involved and to get their hands on stuff they wouldn’t be able to ordinarily. It’s as democratic and involving as the production process can be.

Does it work? It seems to. Stiff Little Fingers reached their 100% in twelve hours and topped out at 231% of their target.

That’s the real power of love. It only works, of course, if you have a critical mass of engaged fans but for bands with a pedigree and a strong work ethos, it’s the perfect way to finance new works without all the politics and without being a hostage to the perceived wants of the public as dictated by entertainment moguls. It looks like a win/win, doesn’t it?

One in the eye of the corporate shitehawks. Huzzah!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Peter Hough is a copywriter and all-round content guy at carlpeterhough.com

Follow his tweets on @carlpeter

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