I was sitting in a darkened airplane reading the Business section of the “New York Times.” What kind of bizarre world do we live in where there’s more analysis and facts in the NYT than the supposed business paper of record, the “Wall Street Journal”? One in which the President denigrates the press, the liberals decry fake news and those outlets that survive triumph. Even though newspapers have been negatively impacted by the internet, even though word of mouth has never been more powerful, he or she who has eyeballs controls the narrative, which is why the Murdochs’ proposed control of Sky is so serious and scary, without Fox News, the right wing revolution would have happened more slowly, if it happened at all.
And I came across this story on Yoplait. I eat a ton of yogurt, but I hate Yoplait. Secondly, why is the top of the container narrower than the bottom, you can barely get a spoon in. And firstly, yogurt is only beneficial when the cultures are active, and they’re dead in Yoplait, which is what I read way back when and the point is it’s all about the story, the narrative, that’s how Yoplait plans to triumph in Greek yogurt, where it’s failed previously.
You see the data steered them wrong. Data told them a less pronounceable, less obvious name, was a mistake. So they called their new product “Yoplait Light,” and it tanked. Meanwhile, data told them that people didn’t like Greek yogurt anyway, Yoplait was late to the market because they thought it was a fad. And it is true, that at first people dislike Greek yogurt, but they keep trying it until they do like it. Sound familiar? THAT’S THE ESSENCE OF NEW SOUNDS! That’s why radio research is flawed. Turns out people don’t like the new and different until they do, after they hear the authentic story again and again.
Authenticity. It used to be the bedrock of music, now it’s an afterthought. To the degree it exists it’s still in hip-hop, which is why that genre triumphed. Turns out people want to believe in your genuineness, and all we’re selling is artificiality.
People loved the story of Chobani. An immigrant renegade releasing a more healthful product. Kinda like getting into Jimi Hendrix, or even Metallica. At first listen you hate it, but all your friends are telling you how cool it is. So you keep listening till you like it, then the band gets lucky with a hit and they become superstars. This is the artist development of yore. Today artist development is considered to be marketing, which is why we have the flawed concept that breaking an act on its first album is artist development. No, this is not true. It’s when an artist finds its way musically, and on stage, when the act evolves, gaining fans along the way, that you’ve got development. And the reason metal sustains is its adherents believe in its genuineness. Hell, why can the Insane Clown Posse survive when it hasn’t had a hit in eons, its audience BELIEVES IN THEM!
Now I’m not talking about the prepubescent puppy love of the child stars. Yes, there’s a role for that. Good-looking kids singing vapid tunes. If that’s your lane, fine. But once people begin to think for themselves, separate the wheat from the chaff, discern what’s good or bad, they need more.
But the music business stays in the same place using the same songwriters and producers to make the same sound. And there is a market for that, but it used to be that every few years the whole industry would be turned upside down by a new sound, you couldn’t even sell the old one anymore, even though it was a hit only six months or a year before.
So Yoplait went back to the drawing board once again. Named its new product “Oui,” which some recalled as a porn magazine of yore, which is true! And the more negative feedback the company got, the more they knew they were on the right track. Data will tell you where you’ve been, but not where you’re going.
And Yoplait decided to buck the trend, by making its yogurt in individual glass jars, recalling the authenticity of creation in the old country of France. That’s right, Yoplait created a STORY! And it may be fabricated, but this is what used to bond our artists to us, before they were all young uneducated nitwits. They had rough edges, identities, being a fan was a badge of honor. Which is why all those outlaw country and Americana acts survive. Because their fans BELIEVE! It’s just that too many don’t have the chops to cross over. They’ve got the story, but not the music, you need it all. Hell, Yoplait experimented with yogurts that tasted like beers and peppers and nobody liked them, because after all the yogurt itself has to appeal to people.
So what we’ve learned here is the MBAs, the spreadsheet people, can not deal with change. They can run what once was, but they cannot innovate, because the data doesn’t support them. Which is why music blew up so big in the past. It was run by renegades on both sides of the desk, the executives and the acts. The executives had their own money at risk, they had to be nimble. And the acts were not corporations with ten year plans, but people on a lark, looking for an experience, just like millennials today.
Forget selling new music to baby boomers. Only a small coterie are open to new sounds, are not set in their ways. But millennials… They and the even younger generations love to experiment, are into new products, will take a chance.
But the best way to sell to them is via authenticity, genuineness and a story.
But what we’re selling in music are overhyped, two-dimensional singers propped up by old men. Sure, there’s a business there, just like people still want to buy the old, sugary Yoplait, which is still profitable, but has lost $100 million in sales in this decade and a third of its market share.
We’re selling sugar when the audience wants Greek.
THINK OF THE UPSIDE!