Last week in Dallas I led a workshop at #Optsum called Think Like a Rockstar, that looked at how rockstars connect with their customers and turn them into fans. And what companies can learn from rockstars in cultivating their own brand advocates. I included several examples of how rockstars connect with and embrace their fans.
But a couple of days ago I realized that I left out one of the best examples of a rockstar embracing his fans.
By the late 1960s, Johnny Cash’s career was on its downward slide. His constant problems with drugs, as well as the fading popularity of country music, had conspired against Cash to leave his star shining at a flicker of what it had once been. That’s when fate intervened in 1968 in the form of a California prison.
In 1955, Cash recorded the song “Folsom Prison Blues’, a song that was immediately popular with inmates across the country. In fact, many of them would write to Cash asking him to perform at their prison, and Cash actually did this several times over the next decade.
“John looks as mean as they do, and they identify with him”, Cash’s wife June would later explain.
Still, a decade later by 1968, Cash’s career needed a jumpstart before it drifted away. This was when Cash made the bold move of requesting that his label allow him to perform another prison concert, but this time he suggested that the label record the concert as an album. His label at the time, Columbia, agreed, and Cash along with The Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three as well as June, went to California to rehearse for the trip.
One of the main focuses of the rehearsal time was to learn a song called Greystone Chapel, a song written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley. Cash performed two sets at Folsom Prison on the morning of January 13th, 1968. Both sets closed with Greystone Chapel, and featured Cash performing for hours just a few feet away from hundreds of screaming fans, some of who also happened to be murderers.
Yet when this concert was released to the public, it instantly became a huge success. The energy at the prison on that day was electric, and Cash fed off that and gave the performance of his career. The performance and album revitalized Cash’s career, and resulted in what many rock historians view as one of the greatest performances of all-time. All this happened because Johnny Cash was willing to embrace his fans, even if it meant going to prison to do so.
But companies aren’t always so willing to embrace their fans if they don’t approve of their behavior.
In 2006, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz became the darlings of the internet with a series of videos where they dropped Mentos candies into Diet Coke, then filmed the geysers that resulted. The videos went viral and brought instant internet fame to Grobe and Voltz, and sparked imitators all across the world to start buying Mentos and Diet Coke for their own ‘experiments’.
But the two companies that make Mentos and Diet Coke had decidedly different reactions to this sudden fanfare. While Mentos completely embraced this playful activity (and the surge in visibility that it gave their candy), Coke all but chided their customers for ‘playing’ with their product, when they should be drinking it. Eventually, Coke realized that their customers weren’t going to stop ‘playing’ with Coke, and tried to launch their own version of these videos in the form of a contest on their own site. Of course, the popularity of this move paled in comparison to the original videos created by Grobe and Voltz.
Yet on the other hand, Mentos scored a big payday as a result of the videos, seeing sales spike 20% in 2006, the largest such increase for the company at the time. Mentos realized that ultimately their customers were buying and enjoying their product, so they embraced them for doing so.
How far would your company go to embrace its fans?
Pic via Flickr user PearlyV