Insight into successful PR and brand building can emanate from the most unexpected places.
No more peculiar a source is Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, founder/bass player/singer and his band Motörhead. For 40 years, the rock band least likely to succeed (its first album was deemed unreleaseable) has persisted to the point of achieving worldwide album sales in the multi-millions and a highly loyal fanbase.
For all that Motörhead’s music is among the most radio-unfriendly on the planet, the band is in demand globally, including a slot at this year’s Glastonbury festival and Lemmy has become something of an alternative national treasure. Not bad for an ex-roadie, kicked out of his first major group (Hawkwind) and – by his own admission – considered un-hirable by any other band.
So, what can we learn about PR and brand from a music brand (and front man) that seems indestructible?
Get your brand name right
Early on, it was suggested the band change its name to Motörhead from its original choice of “Bastard”. A smart choice, let’s face it, as BBC radio and weekly TV chart show, Top of the Pops, were unlikely to come calling with a name like that.
Get your logo right
Reputedly, the Motörhead band symbol started life with its upward pointing fangs/horns pointing down like teeth. Apparently, Lemmy suggested the graphic artist turn them the other way round and a heavy metal icon was born, along with a million t-shirts designs.
Say something memorable the media will lap up – and if it’s funny, even better
When asked to describe what his new band was like Lemmy said: “If we moved in next door to you, your lawn would die.” Not an image every brand wants to conjure up among its customers, but the point is it was absolutely the right image for Motörhead’s long-haired, unwashed audience (I can say this; I was one of them) and made them among the the funniest, most quotable as well as the heaviest (musically) band around.
Create something unique that sets a standard others can only imitate
The frenzied double bass drum playing and guitar “wall of noise” on Overkill, the opening track on the band’s second album of the same name set the soundtrack for countless genres and sub genres of heavy rock music for the next 30-something years. Thrash/Speed/Death metal? It all owes a debt to (or can be blamed on) Motörhead.
Cultivate imagery instantly recognisable and synonyous with your brand
It’s clearly not for everyone, never mind every brand, but Lemmy and Motörhead’s long-standing association with the Rickenbacker bass, bullet belts, white or black cowboy boots, Marlboro red cigarettes and Jack Daniels bourbon has them fixed in the minds of their audience as the ultimate, outlaw rock and roll band that you’d want at your party. Well, maybe while your parents are away.
Address any brand controversy head-on
Some might say it’s in poor taste to be amassing an ever-growing collection of Nazi memorabilia in your house and even wearing some of it. Still, that’s what Lemmy’s been doing for quite some time and has suffered less censure than when Prince Harry Windsor was photographed wearing a swastika at a fancy dress party. Rather than apologise to those who take the literal interpretation that having Nazi memorabilia makes you a Nazi sympathiser, Lemmy’s retort is simple and to the point: “It’s only a collection, it’s not because I believe [in Nazism]. You do realise that, right?”
So, despite having a singing voice that a Guardian editorial once described as “like a bear with bad build-up of phlegm”, Lemmy soldiers on, with a new Motörhead album receiving warm reviews, with one saying that Lemmy still has “gas left in the tank”.
I assume that Lemmy and the band, for the past 40 years, have been too busy shattering eardrums and fuelling teenage rebellion to give PR and brand building much coherent thought; to some people and b(r)ands, it just comes naturally. But along with giving the rest of us much entertainment and amusement, Lemmy and Motörhead can teach us a thing or two about brand value and relating to your public.
Jack Daniels and Coke anyone?
Editor’s note: This blog post went live just over three months before the death of Lemmy, aged 70. RIP.