I’m not the first one to say this, but there’s something about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame that turns one of the most subversive musical genres into a stuffy, almost archaic collection of content.
Walking through the museum during the opening party at Content Marketing World in Cleveland this week, I dutifully checked the exhibits again, looking at the guitars behind glass, the iconic performance garb behind glass, and other artifacts behind glass. While it certainly tries to celebrate the musicians and the creative work they produced, the Hall of Fame has an unfortunate ossification effect. It’s almost like once you’ve been interred there — and I’m using the word “interred” deliberately — you’re truly nothing but a stale memory, compared to the fiery aggressiveness that seem to burn within many rock n’ roll stars.
The featured exhibit took this effect even further. It was a history of rock n’ roll music on TV, and as I toured it I was struck by how much rock n’ roll’s life on the small screen mirrored the trajectory of content marketing approaches and tropes.
There were the early attempts to capture the live experience, like the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan. This is not unlike the attempts by brands to present and report on industry news in blog posts and eBooks, or capture their customers’ stories in case studies. Then there was the heyday of music videos, where rock music was almost eclipsed by the attempts to create sophisticated visual stories around it. Marketers who have dressed up stats and other data in infographics and videos have gone through something similar.
Later, there were shows like MTV’s ‘Total Request Live,’ which predated the attempts to curate that have become so prevalent by brands on social and other channels. ‘Behind The Music’ reminded me of “explainer” content. Musicians on reality TV programs like The Osbornes, meanwhile, now look little different than the attempts at highly-produced “authenticity” like the live events or customer roundtables many brands convene.
These are all just different ways of presenting the content, of course — not that anyone really wants to use the word “content” to describe something as dark and sexy as the greatest rock n’ roll songs. What makes much of that music great was an attempt to flout convention, to say things in melody that couldn’t be said in conversation. To shock. To seduce.
B2B brands, not surprisingly, have traditionally found it difficult to create such effects. The exceptions are when they take a stand on an issue, or get so close to their audience’s best interests that their commercial motives seem almost beside the point. Nothing was cited more often in Content Marketing World sessions, for example, than Nike’s controversial ads featuring Colin Kaepernick. No matter how you responded to it, there’s no doubt that this was a consumer brand’s rock n’ roll moment.
I’m not sure when we’ll see something as daring, as risky, or as rebellious as that from an enterprise-oriented brand, but I look forward to the day we do. That’s why September is our ‘Creativity Issue’ on B2BNN, filled with ideas and hopefully good examples of how to unleash the kind of spirit that has led so many musicians to find a special place in musical history. For those B2B brands about to rock, we salute you.