When folks in the ad biz refer to a human being as a brand, or a franchise -- some nod with understanding, some raise an eyebrow in confusion, and others (understandably) show visual distaste for the concept. But get it or not -- the publicity machine takes authors, actors, and artists (among others) and pushes them to the forefront like so many Big Macs to make sure that the public consumes them – and, in the end – converts their exposure to dollars.
An example? Think Elvis: Farm boy. Momma’s boy. U.S. soldier. Actor. Celebrity. The King. And, oh yeah… I think he was a musician as well. The Elvis Presley franchise made the man an icon, and this unsuspecting crooner from Tupelo, Mississippi was jettisoned from rags to riches.
Today, celebrity is almost commonplace – but what defines each “human brand” is vastly divergent from one to the next. Paris Hilton is a brat… George Clooney, a heartthrob… Sergey Brin, a genius… and, the real subject of my blog; Darius Rucker (a.k.a. “Hootie”) a County music star, having reinvented himself after he and The Blowfish had spent their 15 minutes of fame, a decent guy (stick with me on this for a minute.)
I saw the versatile Mr. Rucker in concert last night. A black man rising to Country music stardom is rare. His music and showmanship were good. But something unexpected happened, and it brought huge equity to his brand worthiness in my opinion… Darius showed himself to be an incredibly decent human being. I had excellent seats, and sat close enough to see a young boy of nine or ten years old maneuvered to the front of the venue in a wheelchair, severely handicapped and twisted from whatever deformity plagues his young body. I was not the only one who saw him. I watched the man in the spotlight continually look over at the boy – and even direct his performance in that direction a few times. But what happened at the end of his final encore is what locked me in as a Darius Rucker fan for life. While everyone else in the CMT crowd seems to prefer a Stetson, the x-Hootie sports a well-known baseball cap to cover his bald dome. As he said his final thank y’alls to the crowd, he ended his last number in front of the crippled fan. Taking a pen from his front pocket, he pulled off his cap, signed the bill, and motioned for the masses to separate from the young lad. When they did – he gave a gentle toss in to the boys lap and departed the stage.
Everyone who manages a brand thinks about corporate citizenship. It’s popular. It’s newsworthy. And one would hope that most of the time it’s done with sincerity. But last night, among six-thousand people who would have killed to get a hold of the Hootie Hat – few were close enough to see who claimed the prize. This was not a brand-building exercise for the superstar… this was an act of kindness, that while not his intention – will serve to sell more CDs to this guy and anyone else that I can convince. I plan to support his career in whatever way I can – just because I think he acted in a way that’s rare these days.
I can’t claim that his songs are my favorites, but I can say that he’s now one of my favorite artists. Way to make an impression Mr. Hootie.