There are very few things less interesting to me than Miley Cyrus. On an interest scale ranging from The Location of Carmen Electra’s Latest Tattoo on the high end all the way down to Parenting Tips From That “Kate Plus Eight” Woman, Miley ranks slightly above Kate only because I’m a sucker for a good train wreck.
Yet despite my lack of affection for Ms. Cyrus, I think her recent appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards offers an interesting marketing study. Her performance and subsequent interviews seem to be the manifestation of a well-choreographed plan constructed to move her from the legacy of the kiddie-pop phase of her career into the adult marketplace.
Savvier marketers will agree that the same model has been utilized to launch the adult careers of “entertainers,” and I'm using that term with a great deal of tongue-in-cheek respect, such as Justin Bieber and Britney Spears; or even as an escape route to a solo career for Justin Timberlake. What's problematic here for all of these stars is that they created a great deal of traction and brand equity with a limited demographic. But you simply can’t keep singing to the prepubescent crowd when you're 30. It works for maybe two cycles of pre-teens, and then you either fade away or grow up with them.
The fact is that they are entertainers, whether or not your audience is entertained by them. And I would be hesitant to lump Justin Timberlake in that mix because the guy truly does have chops. He’s a good enough actor, has a great voice and comes off as a decent dude. The fact that he is now considered one of the great SNL hosts along with Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks and Steve Martin speaks volumes about how the industry regards him.
What is the Escape Plan?
It’s a very good question, and one that agents have probably dealt with since before Annette Funicello outgrew her Mouseketeer sweater in the late ‘50s. But the thing that matters most in this case is not losing any groundswell in the process. I've written in the past about the importance of the transitional period between two advertising campaigns. This is that exact moment where the bell curve is starting to tip downward due to nothing more than transitioning demographics.
We can apply this same rationale to products and services, including fashion, technology and automotive. Given enough time and mental brainpower, I bet we could isolate almost every industry vertical that is making some sort of demographic transition. Why? Because we get older. Because our tastes and interests evolve.
That Was Then, This is Now
In the case of Miley Cyrus, we go from candy bars and bubblegum pop to vodka shots and VIP rooms. Supporting this transition with statements such as she’s "having issues" (like where to store all the money that the rats keep eating) is so generalized that it reads like a horoscope. Everyone goes through a period in their youth when they suffer from the intangibles. Therefore, whether she crafted it on her own or with an extremely savvy marketing group, Miley is exploiting her rapidly closing window of opportunity in order to entice her audience to envision her as a trending conduit.
Some people older than her target demographic may look at the VMA behavior as irrational, sex-filled and career-destroying. But when Miley launches into the next round of mature-based content, music, merchandise, tours, and interviews, she will have paved the way to be easily digestible in her new role.
In the case of automobiles, teenagers who can only afford a used Honda Civic eventually have a fledgling career and they seek a societal position with a baseline Acura or Audi. Even Harley-Davidson has a line of custom-like motorcycles that appeal to a younger, vintage-loving throwback rider rather than the aging boomer looking for a cruiser to ride on the weekends.
Is this the case with all demographics? No. Not at all. In fact, what you see with entertainers is that he or she is locked into a "timestamp" demographic and therefore needs to nurture that audience progressively. As the audience ages and their tastes transition, the artist has to follow suit in order to stay relevant. I challenge you to take a look at any one of the brands that you followed progressively over time to see if they have not also evolved in alignment with your changing tastes.
Marilyn Manson will never get probation
It’s funny how marketing occasionally backfires in that you launch your career on the bleeding edge, but leave no room for growth. Entertainers such as Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Lady Gaga (though I think she's doing an admirable job of extending her life expectancy) as well as others made such an initial impact, that the first buzz they created can never be duplicated.
So when you think of launching or transitioning products, do so in a manner that has (ideally) a business model designed over a potential long-term life. Whether or not they knew what they were doing at the time, there are countless examples of entertainers such as the Rolling Stones, Gene Hackman and Clint Eastwood, who have adopted an understanding of their demographic and fed them the appropriate content to lock in loyalty.
So how is this done? Pay me gobs of money and I'll make sure it happens ;)
Seriously. What do we have to lose? I’ve been studying this shit for a long time.