THE outpouring of adulation for the passing of “pop Picasso” David Bowie has been nothing short of phenomenal, very much mirroring his influence on popular culture.
It’s hard to come up with a superlative that hasn’t been used over the past 24 hours following his sad death.
But behind the chameleon of his past personalities stood two very striking traits – he was master of self-promotion and a one-man master-class in marketing.
From the early days of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars through to the Thin White Duke and his era-defining turn at Live Aid in 1985, his personality and persona was at the forefront of his PR image. Not only could he influence hundreds of bands during his five decade’s worth of music and artistry, Bowie could also have an impact on marketing campaigns around the globe with his vision to push boundaries and encourage people and organisations to express themselves.
The heavy make-up caricature of Ziggy might have shocked the world in the early 70s but it sounded a bell for creative agencies to express themselves and opened the door to new ways of marketing and branding companies in a way which had been very much a taboo subject in the decades before.
It could be argued that Bowie lit the blue-touch paper for guerilla marketing with his last two albums, releasing them on an unknowing public and creating the kind of stir he so built during his early work. Even his death was the touch of a master marketer as it was so unexpected yet has led to so much coverage, usually reserved for the passing of a monarch.
Such was Bowie’s genius on and off-stage. His burning desire to change with the times led to him becoming a force to be reckoned with over the decades. In his latter years he shied away from the spotlight but when he had new work to promote he did in such a style that it was hard to ignore.
While musicians these days go on what seems an endless promotional campaign to push new material Bowie used a simple yet effective tool to market his music – himself. Yes, five decades of experience and a back catalogue of great albums does help but Bowie always had his finger on the pulse.
Changing with the times is one of many merits which the Starman will take with him on his final journey and one of many he has taught his followers. Even writing the word “followers” has different meaning when discussing Bowie as his different characters meant he could engage with all type of genres. He didn’t fall into one category, aiming to please just one market. He spread himself around the genres, from pop to glam rock, disco to the world of art and theatre, Bowie touched every type of culture, leaving his defining signature on each one.
The passing of a one-man public relations and marketers dream will leave not only a gaping hole in the UK’s pop family but it has left creative types with a number of important lessons.