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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bee Gees - The Promises and Pitfalls of Brand Repositioning

With the death this week of Bee Gee vocalist Robin Gibb, we've been seeing a lot about the Bee Gees on the news. Of course, we've seen the era that the Bee Gees are most famous, the "Saturday Night Fever" era of 1975-1979 when the Bee Gees ruled the airways with a disco oriented sound. But fewer know that the Bee Gees originally started out as a pop, folk oriented group that actually sounded more like early Beatles than late 70s disco. In the late 1960s, the Bee Gees were known for such pop/folk rock hits as "New York Mining Disaster 1941,"Massachusettes", and "I've Got To Get A Message To You" - all of which cracked the top 20 in the US marketplace. As the 60s turned into the 70s, the Bee Gees fell out of favor with the American public. Records stopped having hit singles and consequently sold fewer and fewer copies. To stay viable, the Bee Gees had to make a big change - and they did. Noting the sudden consumer trend toward rhythmic disco music, the Bee Gees drasatically changed their sound to tap into the musical needs and wants of the American public. The results speak for themselves - seven number 1 singles from 1975-1979 and reaching their peak with the 40 million album selling "Saturday Night Fever," which was the number one album in America for an astounishing 24 weeks. Of all image changes that have occurred in the rock and roll era, the Bee Gees turnaround rates as the most successful.

Of course, the strong brand repositioning that the Bee Gees executed also doomed them to fall almost as fast. With the arrival of the 1980s, music took on a fundamental shift and disco was on its way out. Arena rock and new wave would soon dominate the airwaves, leaving the Bee Gees, with such a tightly focused brand positioning around disco, out in the cold. While there would be numerous attempts to recapture their sales and airplay success of the late 1970s, the Bee Gees would never be a driving force in the music industry again.

What are the lessons that we as brand marketers can take away from the Bee Gees? Well, the band succeeded in repositioning their brand to an entire new group of fans. They had a laser like focus on a disco oriented sound and from the mid 1970s on, they did not deviate from that focus. And for a time, they were incredibly successful with that approach. However, unlike the world of consumer products, the Bee Gees were also a victim of a constantly changing music industry in which a "trend" lasts for only a short while. While the Bee Gees would rise to great heights as a result of their tighly focused alliance with disco, it would also be their downfall. Brands have to continually evolve - maybe consumer sentiment in your industry isn't as dynamic as that of pop music, but the Bee Gees and their sudden rise and sudden decline, remind us that as marketers, we have to be continually aware of how our consumers' tastes are changing and not to be caught flat footed when "You Should Be Dancin'…"