by Gary North
Wouldn't it be nice if, every time you needed a few million extra dollars, you could call your agent, tell him to book you for 27 performances, and then go out and perform?
Actually, it's 27 concerts in North America. The European performances have not yet been announced. It's a multicurrency annuity: dollars and euros.
They are calling this the Forty Licks World Tour. If they were honest about it, they would call it the Antiques Road Tour (my son's designation).
I suppose Jagger will still be doing this when he uses a walker. They will have to design a special moving ramp for him, with adjustable speeds for his more sprightly numbers. They will wheel Keith Richards out on stage, guitar in his lap. Charlie Watts has an advantage: he already gets to sit down.
It's amazing, really. The Stones have outlasted all of their rivals, if through nothing more than actuarial success. Half of the Beatles are dead. Two-fifths of the Beach Boys are dead, and the leader has been non compos mentis for years. The other two don't speak to each other. I suppose the Everly Brothers could do a tour of a few cities, but not at stadiums. It would not be a world event. Or, should I say, it wasn't. The tour took place a year ago. If you live in Chester, West Virginia or Oroville, California, maybe you saw them. The two couldn't finish it — as usual. They don't talk to each other, either. Only the Grateful Dead still give the Stones a run for their money — literally, in terms of cash flow — even though Jerry Garcia has joined Pig Pen in the land beyond road tours. (It was Pig Pen — Ron McKernan — who persuaded Garcia to switch from their Bluegrass/Old Timey music, as Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, to the blues as the Warlocks and then the Grateful Dead. Garcia didn't live long enough to join the Down from the Mountain road tour.)
The Stones have always billed themselves as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and they have now lived long enough to prove it.
The Stones phenomenon is difficult to explain. It was one thing for Jagger to have been the baddest of the bad rockers in 1966, scaring mothers to death, but how does he retain the same persona at age 59? Have you seen a photo of his face lately? He looks like he could have been the head waiter at the Last Supper. Thirteen years ago, on their Steel Wheels tour, a winded Jagger admitted from the stage, catching his breath, "This is a bunch of 50-year-old men up here." Now they're 60-year-old men. But Jack Flash keeps jumping, or at least hopping around.
When you're talking job security, hardly anything beats being a Rolling Stone.
KEEPING YOUR AUDIENCE
While nobody understands how the Stones have done it, everyone understands what they have done. They have kept their audience. Their fans aged along with them, but the music the fans loved in 1967 is what they will still pay to hear, live and on stage, today. There is one other entertainment organization that does the same thing, and in fact pioneered the strategy: Disney. Disney recycles the old movies like clockwork. Disneyland never changes. It's a deliberate time-warp. Disney sells parents and grandparents entertainment to share with children: animated, digitized folk tales and kiddie rides out of old people's youth. But nobody calls his children and invites them to send over the grandkids to go with them to a Rolling Stones concert. In any case, the tickets are too expensive. But the grandkids would probably go. The following is not far-fetched.
"My grandmother just got three tickets to the Rolling Stones concert. She and my grandfather are taking me."
"Oh, man, cool."
"But my grandfather has bladder-control problems. He may not go. If he doesn't, I'll see if grandma will let me bring you."
"Oh, man, cool."
Every business wants to keep its old customers buying, while recruiting new ones. The cycle of cash flow requires this. Older customers have more money to spend. Also, they have greater loyalty to a brand. Once they buy, they are easier to sell to. Younger customers don't spend as much, but if you don't recruit them, attrition will erode your cash flow. This is equally true of churches, voluntary associations, clubs, and political parties. You have to keep bringing in new buyers, but without alienating your existing client base. This is not easy to do. It takes constant improvement. Nothing is automatic.
I mentioned the Grateful Dead. The Dead still sell a lot of paraphernalia: tens of millions of dollars worth every year. The corporation that owns their CD's and their name keeps selling to the Dead Heads, who remain intensely loyal fans. Garcia had a unique plan. He allowed the fans to tape record the concerts. In the days of analog tapes, this was a low-risk deal. An analog tape loses clarity with every copy of a copy. A fourth-generation tape is a poor quality tape. Also, most fans didn't have great recording equipment to begin with. So, the fans passed second-generation tapes around, preserving a record of a one-time event, but also extending a market for the CD's of the music.
In a great book on innovative marketing, Radical Marketing (1999), the authors devote a chapter to the Dead. In an interview for Business 2.0, a Web-oriented magazine, there is a revealing interview. What the authors say about the Dead's strategy also applies to an individual's career strategy. The Web is one way to apply this strategy.
How did the Grateful Dead define the principles of radical marketing?
Glenn Rifkin: They created this incredible community of Dead Heads who were almost surrealistically linked to each other. They sort of knew each other because they would show up together at a 100 concerts a summer... After [guitarist Jerry Garcia] died in [the summer of] 1995, there was a void to fill. The Grateful Dead fan community has re-emerged on the Internet, and the Dead have hundreds of sites put up by individuals who want to find ways to share. There are great lessons for big, traditional marketers to take from that, because if they look at that model, they could see tremendous power. Not only in linking the community, but in sustaining it.
Sam Hill: Back when the Dead said that you could give away the rights to record and make money, everyone thought they were crazy. The same thing happened when the software guys started doing open code; everyone thought they were crazy.
What makes this brand of marketing so radical?
Hill: In the book, there are three or four big ideas. One is that most marketers have been very successful by finding a community of consumers and selling everything to that community, instead of having a product and trying to sell the product to everyone in the world. People have never been able to build communities of consumers before, because demographically or geographically, it's too clumsy.
How does the Net change that?
Hill: For the first time, the economics work. You can actually have the 75,000 women in the world who care about Pampers and you can have a conversation about it. You could never do that before.
The Dead's fans have become self-conscious "keepers of the flame" in the way the Beatles' fans don't. The Beatles survive as a cultural force because of the sheer power of their music and the icon status they enjoyed. But the Dead found a way that is open to organizations with more limited skills: keep the fans actively committed. Keep them coming back for more because they have good memories about big events in the past. Keep them recruiting new believers.
October 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com