Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night: What Brands Can Learn From Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger’s recent appearance on Saturday Night Live got me thinking about “Solid Citizen” brands again.

“Solid Citizen” is how I describe aging brands that still garner respect among consumers and the trade but have lost much of the glamor and relevance of their glory days.  They may not have the market shares they once commanded but they’ve maintained widespread distribution and still generate healthy revenues and profits. Right Guard, Bayer, Maxwell House, 7Up and IHOP are all good examples.

When brands or artists start getting on in years, they face two basic choices. Stay in the comfort zone and milk it, or reinvent themselves for a new generation.  Old Spice is a great example of the latter, the transformation of a  “Solid Citizen” – your grandfather’s aftershave – into a compelling, contemporary brand for a younger target.

Of course, brands have the edge over humans here.  They can go on and on, while even the great Mick Jagger, who may still be strutting around the stage like a peacock at 69 years of age, won’t be around forever.

But that’s not to say that the old peacock can’t teach us some new tricks.  He’s still cool enough to host the big season finale of SNL despite his age.  And the way he pulled it off – especially when compared with last year’s appearance of his fellow soon-to-be-septuagenarian Paul McCartney – provides a valuable lesson for Solid Citizen Brands.

Now let’s be clear. It’s not what either of these superstars has done for us lately that enable them keep filling arenas and landing TV appearances.  We don’t want to hear their new material, we want the hits.  When SNL books Mick Jagger, they want him to be, well, Mick Jagger.

Mick stuck to his roots. He didn’t rap, he didn’t dress any differently than he has for decades and he didn’t sing any new songs. He chose three old Rolling Stones tunes, two from the 1960’s and one from the 1970’s, first released years before many of my readers and those tuning in to SNL were even born.

It was vintage Mick Jagger, delivering the timeless, bluesy, hard driving rock & roll that he’s always stood for.  But it was all delivered it with a brilliant twist.

Unlike Paul McCartney’s SNL performance last year, this was no exercise in nostalgia. Even if you’ve heard them all countless times on classic rock radio, it almost seemed like the songs, including “The Last Time” were being performed for the first time.  The music was fresh, relevant and compelling thanks to Mick’s choice of musical partners.

The contrast with Paul is striking. Paul does indeed surround himself with terrific musicians, but they are relative unknowns who could never challenge his legacy or authority.  He wants the focus squarely on him as munificently shares his Beatle presence in a self-reverent celebration of Hey Jude and the rest of the wonderful gifts with which he has graced us.

Mick went a different way on SNL. He didn’t assemble a “backup band” of anonymous musicians and have them play his hits almost note for note, the way Paul does. He invited not one, but two iconic bands of the 21st century to perform with him, Arcade Fire and The Foo Fighters. Then he entrusted the arrangements to the bands and let them have at it.

The chords and lyrics might have been the same, and that voice was sure familiar, but the songs were infused with the fresh and distinctive energy of these two bands.

In other words, he was still Mick Jagger, but not an old, irrelevant Mick Jagger trying to remind you of how good it was back in his day. If he reminded you of anything, it’s what a huge influence he continues to be to today’s musical innovators.  The old man singing the old songs was as relevant and exciting as ever.

And that’s just the goal for Solid Citizen brands. Putting a well-known and trusted entity in an updated context for a new target.  Great brands, like the great Mick Jagger, need not go gently into that good night.


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