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Nothing compares 2 Prince – in music or marketing

May 3 2016

Tim Smith

Last Thursday, while at lunch, my phone blew up. Texts and emails and media alerts all pinged at the same time as a friend and colleague rested his hand on my shoulder. That was the moment I found out that my idol was gone and the world had lost an amazing creative soul. Everyone who knows me understands what a fanatic I am about Prince. He was a virtuoso – both from a musical and marketing perspective.

Who else is savvy enough to own a color in the minds of most people? Who else can change his name to a symbol and then reclaim his name, all the while improving his brand? Think purple. Think Prince_logo.svg_. Think Prince.

Prince is an artist who never played it safe, and always came out on top.

Prince leaves behind a legacy of much more than the library of music he released. (Not to mention the hundreds of songs unreleased in his vault!) More than his movies, his Super Bowl appearance, and the other talent he nurtured. Prince inspired people to try something new, to break free of convention. Over the past week, I’ve seen and heard his influence in every place I go. Not only has it reminded me that playing it safe leads to mediocrity, but it has helped to shine a light on those who have chosen a similarly risky and unconventional path.

On this road, I see artists like Misty Copeland and brands like Under Armour, all pushing themselves to the edge – just for the opportunity to play in the sunshine. Would I see you on that path?

Risk assessment

If you’re not sure, I have a quick test that will help you figure it out. Read the following and note whether you agree or disagree with each statement:

  1. In the last month, I tried a marketing idea that made me lose some sleep.
  2. I have, at least once, continued to move forward with an idea I believed in, even after people told me it could never work.
  3. In the last six months, my boss has challenged me on at least one concept that he or she thought was too risky.

If you disagreed with any of these three statements, I would argue that you’re not doing your job properly. You are playing it too safe! The marketing role in any organization is to push yourself and your team to the edge. You won’t know where that line is until you push up against it. But you must be delirious enough to try and fail on a regular basis.

Courage in action

If you want to see a great example of a brand with genius-level marketing, take a look at what Under Armour (UA) is doing. While their competitors are playing it safe with well-known athletes from mainstream TV-friendly sports, UA went against the grain and built an entire campaign called I will what I want with Misty Copeland, a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre.

That’s right, a major athletic apparel brand chose a ballerina to tell their story. Under Armour’s marketing team had the courage to take a chance, and in doing so, they won big time. While the spot ran on limited TV, it racked up over 4 million online views in less than a week, and gained national media attention.

Who could have ever predicted that Misty Copeland would be a successful spokeswoman? His Royal Badness, that’s who.

Before she made her name as one of the premier dancers in the world, Prince brought Misty into the spotlight when she appeared with him on tour in 2009. He saw the genius in her talent, and took a chance on an unknown. Seven years later, Under Armour did the same.

Take a chance

It’s amazing how genius minds think alike. They don’t worry about people being offended or confused. They focus on creating messages that engage and connect. They find the right message, for the right audience, and are bold and unapologetic about delivering it. It’s the mediocre ones – in music and marketing – who are playing it safe.

I challenge us all to follow Prince’s lead. To take risks and flirt with failure. It’s the only way to earn the loyalty and support you deserve. Don’t let the elevator bring you down. Let’s go crazy!

-Tim