Michael Jackson - boy, man, superbrand!

It was a weird start to the day. Having gone to bed very early the evening before (poorly daughter had kept me awake for much of the previous 3 nights) – I had missed all the news on Twitter and so awoke with no idea about the terribly sad news of Michael Jackson’s death.

They say that you always remember where you are when you hear shocking news – and so there I was – in the kitchen, robotically preparing weetabix and bagels.

I turned on the news and the media circus was, as one would expect, in full swing.

From the myriad of documentaries that were given pride of place in the programming schedules (and I viewed 3 consecutively) – they all seemed to have been splitting Michael Jackson’s life into 3 sections:

  1. The early years – how he started, the Jackson 5, the Jacksons
  2. The King of Pop – how he changed music, broke down barriers of ‘colour’
  3. Whacko Jacko – how we went off the rails, his appearance, ‘the court case’, self destruction and his debts

As true marmite lovers know –  all brands, and in particularly with superbrands – thrive on ‘brand loyalty’ – people grow to love their ‘brands’ so much – that they won’t hear anything negative said against them, they become protective of their brand, and no matter what slurs are made against that brand, it takes a lot to switch true brand loyalty.

Superbrands are superbrands because they are able to sustain ‘loyalty’ over a significant period of time. It’s not really about ‘Michael Jackson’ himself – but more about the values, beliefs and feelings we as ‘consumers’ associate with him. What does Michael Jackson mean to you? That’s the loyalty factor.

Michael Jackson as a brand has been growing this loyalty for over 45 years – and so his superbrand status is truly embedded.

In reality, even shocking allegations of child molestation, whilst not great for the brand, didn’t really do much to dent the brand power. The several millions of people tuned into ‘the verdict’ is testament to his brand strength and reach – with people from all over the world screaming and crying at the ‘verdict’ – as if it was one of their closest family members. And personally, I just didn’t believe it. Call me naïve if you wish – but whilst I figured he was clearly a shrewd businessman, I really couldn’t get my head around him being anything other than emotionally ‘innocent’.

And it isn’t surprising – many of us around the 40 ish age – grew up with Michael Jackson. I know in my household – my mother’s Sunday morning cleaning ritual was supported by Shirley Bassey and anything ‘motown’ – and The Jacksons featured heavily – so I was about 7 when I was dancing to ‘I want you back’ with a duster in my hand.

And so it went – each time he reinvented his brand, giving it a new edge or angle – we all followed his journey.

It’s a rare thing to find a person who hasn’t got the ‘Off the Wall’ album (somewhere) or who watched the Thriller video in awe, with a household of friends – video-taped it and then relentlessly endeavoured to replicate the steps in perfect sequence to showcase at the school disco! (Or perhaps that was just me and my friends!).

Thriller was such a ground breaking event in music – treasured by billions of people of all ages. In fact, when my mother died and my sister and I were sorting out the house – we found the Thriller video which she had recorded years earlier, and kept (video cassettes in the era of dvds!) alongside video recordings of our family. She clearly couldn’t part with the tape – even though she no longer had a video recorder! And I took it home with me – dogged and worn with the fingerprints of my family and friends – an old video recording of Thriller – but such sentiment and value – loyalty to the brand.

Prior to going it alone, I worked in a global consultancy – when we did our 3 day intense management training seminars, the supporting music was Michael Jackson’s, ‘Man in the Mirror’ – strategically selected because of his power to connect emotionally with audiences.

Whilst the media are keen to advise us of just how much debt he is in and what a terrible mess he’s made of things – £400 million, (or it is billion!). Then at least from a financial perspective, we can all rest assured that the death of a superbrand is good for business.

The debts will pale into insignificance with new album sales, downloads, memorabilia, tribute concerts – and long may they all continue. It’s a shame it takes his death to give his range of music more airtime, and for us all to remember his outstanding achievements and contribution to music.

As I said earlier – a brand isn’t about the ‘object’ ‘product’ or ‘person’ – it’s about the values that the object, product or person instils in the hearts and minds of the consumer. And over the years, Michael Jackson has given us so much to value – such value builds a barrier which makes it difficult for any negativity to penetrate.

I found the ‘Wacko Jacko’ emphasis in the programmes I watched last night – distasteful, but that’s because they are not part of the values I associate with Michael Jackson – and from a psychological perspective – once those values are embedded, as any brand manager looking after a ‘superbrand’ will tell you, they are excruciatingly difficult to shift.

The tributes from people who really knew Michael Jackson all seem to concur with the fact that he was a genius talent, a genuinely nice guy, shrewd in business, yet gentle and childlike, often introverted – and through pressure, he lost his way. Fame beyond fame – but at what cost? He had so much to live up to – it was interesting when his sister was talking about the pressure surrounding the lack of success of the HIStory album – to learn that even though this was deemed a ‘failure’ – it still had more sales than most recording artists could even dream of achieving. The bar was certainly high!

I may have seen him a few times (in concert), I certainly never met or knew him. And so, my views about Michael Jackson can only be based on what he and his music has meant to me over the years.

Genius talent and King of Pop for sure.  There's no doubt his music will continue to be played forever.  And yes, my children have already been introduced to The Jacksons and Michael Jackson,  as we dance around the house with our dusters on a Sunday morning!

Superbrand indeed - yet also an all time icon!

Michelle Carvill is owner and Marketing Director at Carvill Creative - a graphic design and marketing services agency based in Maidenhead, Berkshire.  The agency covers all aspects of graphic design and marketing - covering social media marketing and website planning and website design.