Other dying brands?

EMI logo

BMG logo

Something I’ve been thinking about lately – the branding in the recorded music business.  Does anyone really care about ‘brand identity’ and the like with regard to the big music labels?  Does anyone rush out to buy music because it’s the latest from EMI (for example)?

For one thing the big music labels put out such a variety of music that their customers are all over the map in terms of musical taste and demographics.

At certain times indie labels have had a certain identity:  SST in the early eighties, SubPop in the nineties, I’m sure there are small rap and electronic labels today that have an image.  I remember reading that the fact that Sonic Youth had signed to Geffen back in the early nineties gave a ‘thumbs up’ to the label, perhaps influencing Nirvana to sign with them.  So perhaps there is some value to having respected artists on a label in order to sign additional artists.

And recently I saw some article that talked about how consumers seemed to find that Columbia records had some sort of ‘good identity’ still (I think of it as the label of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen).

But in general I just don’t see much value in these label brands (not to say that these companies don’t have power and influence).   I think that’s part of their problem, and why most people will not mind in the least if they disappear.  (Not to mention the piracy lawsuits!)

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  • Michael  On September 6, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Curt —
    We were just talking about “brand loyalty” over the weekend with a neighbor, Kevin, who works for Procter & Gamble.
    We told him we exhibit little or no brand loyalty in our general shopping choices. We usually buy what’s on sale. I don’t care if the soap I buy is All or Tide or whatever. I just want whatever will get my clothes clean for the least amount per load.
    For bigger purchases, like a car, we don’t care if we buy a Ford or a Toyota, as long as we’re getting the best automobile for our dollar that fits our needs — and we research that decision exhaustively.
    As for music — the label rarely even enters my consciousness.
    The only place I can think of where “brand loyalty” sometimes informs my decisions is in purchasing wine. I know certain brands offer value for money at a range of price points — Australia’s Yalumba, for instance. All other things being equal (price, varietal, vintage, etc.), and absent any other information on which to base a purchasing decision, I’d go for a Yalumba wine off a restaurant wine list every time.

    PS: Our friend, Kevin, noted that brand loyalty generally declines as you move higher up the economic ladder.

  • Curt  On September 6, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    I think there’s a distinction here between brand loyalty and brand awareness & identity. For music, I’m rarely aware of the brand label (there are some exceptions, such as classic Blue Note jazz CDs), and essentially there’s no question that any CD I buy will function properly.

    But for other types of purchases, at least having an awareness of the brand can be a factor – you’ve heard of it, it’s been around awhile, therefore their product is probably not junk. I am much like you, I try to buy the thing that meets my needs best. Some products that I like I tend to buy repeatedly, but I think it’s more due to product attributes than brand.

    Funny thing about going up the economic ladder, however, is that I’d say brands are potentially more important than ever. There’s lots of signalling going on, and many expensive purchases have very noticeable logos – whether BMW, Chanel, Luis Vuitton, etc.

  • Jim  On September 7, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Not mentioned yet is the proliferation of brands. I believe brand preference is not so important as it once was because of so many brands are available for consumers in all areas. When there was Ford, GM and Chrysler (and perhaps a few you didn’t see often – remember Hudson?) everyone had an automobile/truck brand preference – I remember I even had a cousin who preferred Studebaker trucks! Hard to believe! Today, with all available, brand means very little, and quality means more.

    Curt also mentioned another preference driver – that is “classical” brands – like :”Blue Note”: – I don’t mean classical music, just the label! They have been around for a long time and people are used to buying their label. This is also true in the wine arena, with many French wines that are of mediocre to good quality but have a large following because of earlier better quality or whatever.

    My comment on going up the economic ladder is that the “brand preference” for these people is not really “brand preference” but “cost preference” – if it costs alot, it is for me. Why else would anyone buy Louis Vitton luggage vs Samsonite. It only carries you clothes! Yes, it is better quality, but is this quality necessary for this function? Interesting to think about.

  • Curt  On September 8, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    I agree that the proliferation of brands tends to make them less important in many cases (though if you can achieve a ‘quality’ brand reputation that’s still worth quite a bit, I think).

    In the case of luxury brands, I think that so much of the brand image is about being costly & exclusive, that it’s hard to untangle the ‘brand preference’ from ‘cost preference’. But I think the brand and logo plays a very important role – many people buy these things in order to ‘show off’ the logo as a signal of their exclusivity – it has little to do with any extra function. As a counter example, would people buy a very expensive product that didn’t have brand recognition as a costly, exclusive good? I doubt it.

  • Jim  On September 9, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I agree with your first paragraph and think this is a “natural” improvement in the performance of the free market. 50 years ago my ex monther-in-law bought GE appliances whether they were any good or not. Today, we look for the best quality and therefore improve our quality of life.

    Your second point is a good one, and led me to the conclusion that there are levels of brand recognition. To you and I a wealthy person may buy a Rolls Royce, which we recognize as rather exclusive and was bought because it is exclusive. But they also buy things you and I have never heard of – stereo equipment is a good example – and I could say this was a challenge to your last sentence, but have concluded that it is just another level of brand preference among the wealthy, that you and I are not familiar with.

    My conclusion, probably all purchases are made on “brand preference” of some sort, but other drivers or levels of knowledge are not recognized as Brand Preference.

  • Curt  On September 9, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    I do think that at very high levels of wealth, the purchases may well go beyond what we normally think of as brands – a yacht built by some top yacht-maker, for example, or as you say, very high-end stereo equipment. These folks don’t really need to flaunt logos to prove their wealth!

    One more branding story: I remember hearing the then-president of the Gap back in the early 1990s, when the company was doing very well, saying that they had found that customers were actually sewing the Gap logo onto their clothes that didn’t have a visible logo when sold at the store. ie. for some people there was no point of buying Gap clothes unless you made sure other people knew it!

    I on the other hand have been known to remove visible logos from clothing items, because I’m not really interested in being a walking advertisement for the brand.

  • Jim  On September 10, 2007 at 7:36 am

    If we could only get the athletes to get rid of the “swoosh”!

    Now there is an example of success equivalent to Apple – in response to your later post!

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