When I heard the news that Adam Yauch (aka MCA from the Beastie Boys) had lost his battle with cancer earlier this month, I was at a party for my son’s second birthday. It was May 4th and I was in a Mickey Mouse moon bounce, which seemed like an appropriate place to hear news, good or bad, about the Beastie Boys. As soon as I found a moment, I went on Facebook and Twitter to see what my friends were feeling, thinking, saying and sharing about the loss. Looking at the comments, it was clear to me why the Beastie Boys are the last band where I will care to remember the names of all its members.
People were posting some of the band’s best lyrics as well as some hilarious screen grabs from their historic music videos. One lucky friend even posted a picture that she had of herself with the entire band that was taken when she was working as a concert promoter. As the day went on and the loving tributes continued to funnel in, it dawned on me that regardless of age, race, sex or location, there was one word that all of my friends were choosing to share in the wake of his passing that could be used to describe the sentiments about MCA. Not surprisingly, it’s the same word that I would choose to characterize the spirit that has been fueling everything the Beastie Boys have ever done.
The word? Fun.
Whether by strategic design (doubtful) or by staying happily oblivious to having a grand vision for things (more likely), the Beastie Boys have always personified an unwavering commitment to fun. By defining themselves not by what they do (rap) but why they do it (fun), they were successful in helping to bring the subculture of hip hop into the mainstream without sacrificing integrity or street credibility. In other words, by focusing more on the overall feeling that their music was conveying and less on the formal mechanics of their chosen genre, they transcended the limitations of rap as a musical style and elevated their offering into category-defying entertainment.
For marketers, there is a tremendous amount to be learned from these guys. The greatest brands and the greatest ad agencies are the ones who not only stand for something but also employ those who believe, down to their core, in that same something. The Beastie Boys have imbued fun and delight into everything they do. They’ve consistently reinforced a playful spirit throughout their work, and thus been able to inspire, despite a disparate and an ever-changing audience, a level of trust and passion that so many of us in marketing seek but so few of us attain. And by focusing on the feelings rather than functions of what they do, they’ve been able to evolve rather than reinvent their brand, which has enabled them the freedom to move effortlessly from genre to genre with each passing album while still maintaining the highest level of authenticity.
I was a freshman in high school when I first heard the Beastie Boys. As with every high school, we had the proverbial stereotypes. We had the jocks, the nerds, the stoners and drama kids, and all of them looked and acted in a way that only served to perpetuate these unfortunate categories. Yet from the moment that Licensed to Ill was released, you couldn’t walk through the school parking lot without hearing that album pumping out of every type of car from every type of person. There were few things that the students of South Plantation High School could agree on, and the transcendent pleasure of the Beastie Boys’ debut album was certainly one of them.
It’s been a few weeks since Adam Yauch passed away and I'm still coming to terms with the end of one of my favorite bands and one of my favorite brands. I know I will always have their music, which is certainly reassuring and comforting. My relationship to their music is like a good friend who you don’t talk to often enough. We may not speak everyday, or every week for that matter, but as soon as we reconnect, it’s like we never missed a beat. And I’m certainly not alone. Tributes" target="_blank">Tributes to the band have been pouring in on a daily basis, and each and every one of them is a true testament" target="_blank">testament to the impact that the band has had on music, entertainment and culture at large.
In all honestly, I’m not exactly sure how MCA would feel about the advertising community writing articles about the lessons we’ve indirectly gleaned from his body of work. In fact, because I know the band has always shied away from licensing their music for commercials the fan in me feels like I am somehow violating his legacy. On the other hand, what I am really talking about here isn’t about advertising per se. It’s about finding out the larger reasons of why we, as marketers and advertisers, do what we do. It’s about discovering what we stand for and what our purpose is. Who knows, perhaps the sooner we start focusing ourselves and our clients on what we want people to believe, rather than what we want them to buy, the sooner we can start to create something as monumental and extraordinary as the Beastie Brand.