This post may reduce my credibility, but trying to be a good dad, I took my daughter to see “Never Say Never,” the Justin Bieber movie—in 3D no less. I not only enjoyed the movie, but I gleaned a few marketing lessons.
FYI, the average of the critic ratings on Fandango is 50 out of 100 for this movie. To put this in context, the movie about hairdresser Vidal Sassoon scored a 59, and Gnomeo & Juliet, a makeover of Shakespeare’s tale featuring garden gnomes, brought home a 56. According to Mike Hale of The New York Times, “…Justin Bieber is nothing if not an old-fashioned, carefully constructed sex symbol, somewhere between a more knowing Donny Osmond and a less insinuating Elvis Presley.”
In other words, critics are saying that “Never Say Never” is as good as AT&T service for iPhones. I say that there’s a lot to learn about marketing from Bieber and his movie. Granted, a good director and film editor can make anything seem true, but assuming the movie is accurate, here is what I learned:
- YouTube made his career take off. It wasn’t a machine like Disney or Nickelodeon. It was Justin’s mom uploading videos to YouTube. How cool is that? No matter what you think of Bieber’s music, you should pray that this is true and still possible, because it means that the little guy can still win.
- Twitter helped too. I love seeing how something that most marketers still don’t understand helped @JustinBieber build and engage his audience. Twitter, the fast, free and ubiquitous service that people laugh at, helps an unknown become a phenom. If you’re into social media, you should pounce on this story angle as an illustrative success story.
- The movie is excellent marketing. Call it “documarketing.” Who knows how much is true, but the storyline is that a humble Canadian boy gets discovered via YouTube, a young manager believes in Bieber’s ability when “the industry” ignores him, an experienced performer (Usher) sees the potential too, Bieber works the grass roots, eventually “tips” (to use a Malcolm Galdwell term) by going directly to his market (young girls), and the rest is history. It’s as good as Walter Gretzky making a backyard rink for young Wayne. Compare this movie to the typical corporate video or annual report as an effective storytelling mechanism.
- Bieber works hard. I make 60 speeches a year, so I know what it’s like to perform all the time. But I fly in, go to sleep, wake up, give a one-hour speech, and fly out. Having gone to one of his concerts and seen his movie, I estimate that Bieber’s performance is 20 times harder than a keynote speech. And in the movie, he’s on an 86 concert tour traveling mostly by bus. I’d like to see the critics and naysayers do this.
- He owns a market segment. Who among us would not like to own a segment the way he owns the teenage girl market? To use my favorite term, he’s totally enchanted them. He brings tears to their eyes. He, or whoever writes his music, knows exactly what they want and delivers it in a timely manner. Meanwhile, HP just announced its intention to ship a Palm tablet in four months. Tell me: who can you learn more from?
- He reaches out to his customers. There’s a fascinating section of the movie where his manager goes out into the parking lot and gives tickets to a few fans—it’s Richard Branson-esque. Cynics would say that it made for good video—but then again, politicians kiss babies and CEOs make a show of meeting customers. This part of the movie reminds me of the starfish story where the man asks a woman why she throws a few starfish back in the sea since she can’t throw them all back. Her response is that it makes a difference to the ones she did throw back. Maybe I’ll put a rider in my contract allowing me to give away tickets to my speeches.
- Bieber has advisors who truly advise. My favorite character in the movie is his vocal coach. She’s smart and tough—smarter and tougher than most venture capitalists when it comes to truly adding value. To wit, I didn’t see her on a BlackBerry at all during the movie. Investors and advisors can learn a lot by watching how she coaches him. Another great character is Bieber’s manager. I love that he discovered Bieber on YouTube and captured his lightning in a bottle. This is like being the first investor in the next Google.