Recently I was asked that age-old question that always seems to come up when people find out that I work in branding… “What are your favourite brands?”
For once, rather than clutching at the stock answer; Nike or Google, I decided to actually think about my answer. “Coldplay” I said… Pause …’Shit, have I just said Coldplay in public?’ “It’s not that I’m a fan of their music or anything, but as a brand…” “Yeah ok!” Conversation over.
This seemed to end the conversation more quickly than usual. Why Coldplay? I could have at least tried to think of someone vaguely trendy or even past it enough to seem ‘retro’. Morrissey and his camp bitterness, Iggy Pop with his strangely sculpted OAP figure, hell even his freaky little puppet from the ever-annoying insurance adverts (no, not Paul Whitehouse). But no, I said “Coldplay”
After a few days thinking about it, I think I finally know why I said it. Forget they’re a band for two seconds, and imagine Coldplay are a start up company releasing their first product.
In a market that was fast becoming dense with guitar lead indie music. After the rise and fall of the 90’s phenomena that was Britpop. When Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave had forgotten about Blur and gone their separate cheese making ways. Coldplay – the brand, decided they could go somewhere. But how? What makes us stand out from everyone else? We’re at uni? No! We wear lycra? No! We’re all really happy cool people? Nope, no and definitely not. So what are you to do in a densely populated market… pick something to do and make sure you do it f**kin’ brilliantly.
That’s what Coldplay did. Like them or not. Coldplay ‘the start up’ were bloody good at writing simple, stripped back, tunes with melodies that would get the best of us believing we could sing them on the karaoke after countless jars. Don’t believe me? Give, their first single from 2000, ‘Shiver’ a listen.
Their double platinum debut album; ‘Parachutes’, was released in July 2000 to critical acclaim. They knew what they wanted and how to get it. Chris Martin claimed this album would make Coldplay the ‘biggest, best band in the f**king world’ and he wasn’t far off the mark in their fans eyes. Coldplay had definitely got it right.
Then to the dreaded second album - to repeat your first installation is surely career suicide – ask 95% of bands (Franz Ferdinand, The Klaxons, Daphne & Celeste). No, Coldplay wouldn’t do that. Instead they realised the power of their audience. OK, they pretty much did treat their music/product the same but this time they had a secret weapon; they had a point of view and they were going to share it with everyone they could. Well, everyone in view of Chris Martin’s poorly washed hands.
You see, they realised the power of standing for something, having a purpose. They adopted the ‘Make Trade Fair’ campaign by Oxfam and Chris decided to brand himself with their trademark “equals” sign on his hand and piano. Now I’m not saying that every band, brand or dog should feel like they should fight for a cause BUT I do believe that any brand that wants to be a part of our lives, feel human and earn our respect, needs to have an opinion on something. Whether you chose to support a global charity or vocalise your support for keeping local libraries open – having an opinion on something brings you and your brand to life. Fair trade became Coldplay’s message.
Then came the third and fourth albums, and try as they may, whilst the record sales continued globally, their reputation was apparently wavering. Jon Pareles, New York Times critic described them as "the most insufferable band of the decade". This seemed to be an opinion that was growing. But why? Was it their identity? Maybe. The music? Probably. This was a tough time (in comparison to their ‘Glory years’ of 2000-04.) But what could they do? As a band/brand who have amassed millions of fans, continued to win countless awards, but seem to have lost their credibility? After all, you’re still the same four people, churning out very catchy melodies, albeit very similar.
What had Coldplay left that they could use to rejuvenate their reputation? Image! Like Madonna does before every album, George Michael did after Wham! Coldplay realised the power of reinventing yourselves. They realised that reinventing your public facing image can open your brand up to a whole new audience. If it can take an old hag and make her appealing to a whole new stream of teenagers, it can sure as hell help a multi-platinum selling band. So, that’s what Coldplay did, and whether it was the faux 19th century army jackets or the more recent splashes of neon paint that looked like Chris’s daughter Apple (that’s right Apple) had gone to town with her finger paints. It seemed to work, and now Coldplay are stronger than ever.
But what does this have to do with brands you may ask? Well let me sum it up. Coldplay have been around for over 12 years now, they’ve been hailed as the future, tossed aside as the past, and hailed all over again. They’ve outlived trends, and even some brands that were apparently going to change the world; ahem ‘MySpace’. So, if you’re a brand that wants to live the test of time and create an ever-growing fan base, follow Coldplay’s lead;
- Choose what you’re going to do and be f**king good at it
- Have a purpose, an opinion on something, no matter how big or small
- And don’t be scared of reinventing yourself, whether it’s after the fans start to dwindle or every time you release a new product; there is no better way of staying current.
… and if all else fails, you can always sell out.