The Huey Lewis Effect

Beware the Huey Lewis Effect

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.

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  • J. Eyre

    Perhaps it is a matter of viewing a glass full versus a glass half empty.  In regard to Huey Lewis and the News, I fail to grasp your view of them as a trend.  Technology enables just about anyone to sound good these days when in a recording studio.  But Huey Lewis and the News are excellent during their live performances as well.  How many are able to match their record of performing live for over 30 years – city after city – venuse after venue.  Their music and songs are timeless.  Yet they have been innovative – for example making music videos early on in their career.  And they continue to improve!  In my opinion they are a mainstay with incredible dynamism.  Seems to me Huey Lewis and the News set a standard that more people in many fields in this country should emulate – no smoke and mirrors – what you see is what you get and what you get is excellence!

  • J. Eyre

    – a glass half full versus a glass half empty…

  • Rick Liebling

    J. Eyre,

    Are HL & the News still performing? Yes, I’m sure they are. Are they in any way culturally relevant? No, and they haven’t be for nearly 25 years. My point is that their style of music was perfectly suited for a certain window of time from a broad cultural standpoint.

    That’s not a knock on their success or their talent, just the reality of the situation.

    My point is that brands are based on archetypes (see the book the Hero and the Outlaw) and they need to look for cultural manifestations of those archetypes in order to connect with culture. If your brand connects with fans of Huey Lewis and the News, that’s great… in 1983-1986 when they had a huge following. But in 2011 you need to find someone else who stands in for the same thing that HL & the News stands for.

  • J. Eyre

    Perhaps it is a matter of different perspectives.  Some may think of the pyramids in Egypt as stacks of rock as opposed to being wonders of the world.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be viewed by some as being irrelevant as opposed to being a classic work of literature.  But, having seen the pyramids and having read the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I would say they were respectively, wonders of the world and a classic work of literature. 

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  • Rick Liebling

    So, are you suggesting that Huey Lewis and the News should be in the same cultural conversation as the pyramids and the Hunchback of Notre Dame?  Hmm.

    On some level this is all subjective of course, but at some point we have to start making distinctions.

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