For brands, knowing when to hop off, and on, the cultural merry-go-round can be tricky. Knowing what clothes, food, music, toys or books people are still interested in, or will be interested in next year, is a difficult bit of business. The trick is to align your brand or product with the cultural zeitgeist at just the right time. I call this the Huey Lewis Effect.
Huey Lewis and the News were an extremely popular music act for a very specific period of time. From 1983 to 1986 you couldn’t turn on a Top 40 radio station or watch MTV and not see these guys. Huey and the boys were the right band at the right time. They came right before the Cultural Singularity Paradox exploded everything. 1983-1986 was a period of time when there was still musical distinctions. Hip Hop was for an ‘urban’ audience. New wave was for weirdos who wished they were English. Hair bands were still an L.A. thing. But the massive middle needed something to listen to. Something they could do the White Man’s Overbite to, maybe even belt it out in the car or reasonably hope to sing at the office karaoke night.
Huey Lewis and the News had put out two albums before 1983 and nobody cared. They put out five more after 1986 and people didn’t care too much about those either. Huey Lewis and the News had a formula for the most part, and they stuck to it. It was a great sound in 1985. In 1981 or 1991? Not so much. Think of Huey Lewis and the News and culture as being to lines that intersected once, never to meet again. Now compare that to, say, Madonna. Her line has intersected with culture about 10 times over the course of her career.
The question it would seem for brands is how can they be more like Madonna and less like Huey Lewis and the News? But in reality the question is “How can we be Huey Lewis in 1985, Hootie and the Blowfish in 1995 and The Dave Matthews Band in 2005?” It’s easy to get distracted by the Lady Gagas and Nicki Minajs out there. But if your brand appeals to the massive middle, you’ve got to ride out the peaks and valleys of boy bands, heavy metal and grunge and keep your eye out for the next Billy Joel (the Huey Lewis of 1975).
Trends may come and go, but the underlying truth will always be there. The clothes, music, movies or sports are just the current manifestation.