Dead or Alive

This weekend, my country, France, was mourning two of its iconic figures – Jean d’Ormesson (writer and member of the Academie Francaise) and Johnny Hallyday (our King of Rock’n’Roll since 5 decades). The singer did bigger impact in the crowd than the writer. I’ve heard even some journalists saying that his death before Christmas was a cash opportunity for his music label. That is horrifying but marketing of dead celebrities is a two-billion-dollar industry. The marketing of dead celebrities attracts a lot of big brands and with that, controversy.

On January 10, 2016, David Bowie died. Even his biggest fans didn’t see this one coming. The English singer, songwriter and actor died in his apartment in New York City. The world was in shock. Two days before his death, Bowie released his twenty-fifth studio album; ‘Blackstar’, was released on his 69th birthday. Was this a ‘parting gift’ to his fans or a smart strategic marketing move? Did he know he was going to die? And was that why he released a new album? Five months later, the album ‘Bowie – Legacy, the Greatest Hits’ was released. Sales of his albums skyrocketed. A celebrity’s death makes marketing people do weird things. Gaining money out of someone’s death by releasing a ‘best of’ album only five months later. Is that smart or disrespectful? And we have tons of examples. e.g. in Coachella festival in 2012, Tupac appears on stage as a life-sized hologram, fifteen years after his death. It was so astonishing, as a matter of fact, it makes you wonder if a deceased musician could now go out on tour.


You can ask yourself the question: why wouldn’t you merchandise all kind of things? Delebs (dead celebs even have a nickname) remain famous. When it comes to celebrities, their brand value appears to go up once they have passed. Elvis has been dead for 40 years, mostly irrelevant to the current generations, but he is still “The King” through his albums, moviers and Graceland museum. Of course, many others continue to bring revenue after they passed away, like Michael Jackson, earning approx, $825 million in that time. All this creepy business toped $262.9 billion in terms of global licensed goods and services sales in 2016, the licensing of names and images of dead celebrities is big business.

People love celebrities regardless of whether they are alive or dead. This is the iconic nature of celebrities that drives the ongoing fascination. Brochstein notes, “In many cases, deceased celebrities connect people to some earlier time in their life, recalling a meaningful song or great concert, a memorable film or persona, or a vivid historical era or athletic achievement. Licensing is tied to the emotion that the celebrity brand evokes in a group of consumers. The more finely drawn the celebrity’s image is like James Dean as a rebel, Marilyn Monroe as a symbol of tragic glamour, Elvis as the King, the likelier that it can translated into products. “Beyond continuing to consume their music or other art forms, when utilizing icons as brands and tapping into the qualities that make them so special with thoughtful marketing partnerships and merchandise licensing, their equity can be very valuable.  As a marketer, icons are often simply well-known brands that do not require ongoing marketing support to stay popular and relevant to consumers.” Making money doesn’t have to stop when you drop dead … if you’re a celebrity.

In fact, the earning power of pop idols and movie stars can rapidly increase when they’re gone. Several interesting advertising campaigns have included well known figures from the past, including a computer-generated Audrey Hepburn for Galaxy chocolate, Marilyn Monroe promoting Chanel No5, Steve McQueen in Porsche commercials and Gene Kelly singing in the rain for Volkswagen. “You’ve got to do some smart thinking to see which brands resonate with the deceased, but if it works it can be massive.”

So, how much do you evaluate your favorite celebrity’s death?


World Cup Geopolitics

Russia will host the next Football World Cup in summer 2018. Beyond the great event that we expect to witness with the most impressive and global sport competition and excitement, the event has always been a geopolitical game all along, drawing the lines of a changing world. I will be in Moscow for the event, already proud owner of a ticket for France-Denmark (not a big deal on a political view, I would agree) but what to think about Spain-Morocco, Russia-Saudi Arabia…well at least we won’t see United States-Iran

A symbolic war or ‘soft power’

If we try to follow the analysis, it appears that clashes between supporters respond to less subtle mechanisms. If supporters are violently fighting in the streets, it is not because of a geopolitical dispute, I think they don’t really care about it. On a wider understanding, what is at stake is the making of a reputation recognized by all.

Very few sports are as globalized as football. The “local” joins the “global” by becoming increasingly independent of the national level. The players develop logic of mercenarism, FIFA has more resources and influence than many states represented at the UN, and the biggest clubs or more experienced countries are functioning like companies that attract the greed of international investors or partnerships with brands. The financial stakes are huge. Bastien Drut, in the Economics of professional football (La Découverte, 2011), notes that Manchester United has earned in over 10 years more than 315 million Euros in revenue by participating in the Champions League alone. We totally understand the intent from Qatar to influence some international relationships by investing on major clubs. And the battle of the brands to be part of the international events is far to be easy going.

An economic and political stake

However, football is of great interest to states. “Sport has become the new field of confrontation – peaceful and regulated – states,” said Pascal Boniface in Geopolitics of Sport (Armand Colin, 2014). Behind the sporting aspects, the competition is primarily economical, and begins with the choice of the inviting country. Competition is at least as fierce as on the international markets, justifying today investigations within the FIFA, because the hope of economic benefits is added the expected political gain (South Africa and Brazil wanted to prove their “emergence” with the consecration of the World Cup, respectively in 2010 and 2014…and not mentioning yet Russia and Qatar which want to establish themselves clear on the international stage). And if the immediate objectives of domestic policy are obvious, any government is wishing to confirm the economic recovery announced, the success of this event cuts across more fundamental issues, where the future of our “social bond” plays out. By demonstrating its capacity to organize a major event in a context of terrorist threat and social tensions, by making it a popular, shared, economically profitable and growth-enhancing event, the countries want to lead the talks and the actions in a sense.

The event is not only about football but it is about spreading a certain image and influence of the host country.

Poster FIFA world cup 2018

The Next World Cup

No doubt the next FIFA World Cup will be thrilling for football fans: Lionel Messi has saved his team on his own, the Spanish team will try make the show with its new generation of players and newcomers will participate, for example, Iceland. But the event will also offer a formidable playground to political specialists: international sports events (the Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, the Euro Tournament, etc.) enjoy global intensive media coverage. Edition after edition, they acquired an economic, political and symbolic status in the collective representations. For instance, the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing highlighted the new global role of China and the 2012 Euro Tournament jointly organized by Poland and Ukraine changed the status of the two countries in the continent.

The next FIFA World Cup will have a particular signification: the time (June 14th – July 15th) and the place (Russia) will give the Russian Federation a global audience. It will also place the country and the Putin regime (almost surely president for the 4th time) under the scrutiny of the world during several weeks. If we take an example among many, we are waiting for the reactions of the European nations for instance. Are they to play hardball? It was the case in 2014 when chancellor Angela Merkel, president François Hollande and the Vice-President of the European Commission Viviane Reding refused to attend the competition as a sign of protest against Crimea annexation. Or are they to soften their game? They could choose to deploy a high level official representation in Russia in order to give a chance to the diplomatic work. Indeed, one can hope that Russia will give signs of goodwill on Ukraine. Will the EU countries even be able to define a common position on the event?

What is at stake here is of the utmost importance for the EU and the Eastern partnership: the Russian authorities will scrutinize any hint of dissension within the EU and the internal EU debates on the sanctions against Russia will be affected by the respective diplomatic gestures of all the countries.

Geopolitics is the real deal during the event, maybe not really on the playground. And because the devil is in the details, people started to comment the poster event . The game already started.

You Know Music

The topic is making the headlines on a regular basis. Record labels are irrelevant because they’ve been disrupted by a tech start-up that can bring the music business to the next level. The major labels are evil because they behave against music, they don’t really care about artists and they fail to embrace new technologies – from promotion to distribution (all included).

Sex Pistols

The latest buzz came from the development of a startup run by Steve Stoute, CEO of the entertainment agency Translation, and funded with $70 million by Google parent company Alphabet. UnitedMasters will distribute artists’ music online, apparently without requiring them to sign over copyright. It will use big data platform to better target consumers, while artists can use it to better target fans with offers for tickets and other merchandising. It will support artists to focus better on their reach and the success of their production. Well, you know the story already. We also experienced the great emotional narrative with Google co-founder Larry Page, being a drummer himself and having ‘a deep sensitivity for the artist’. Maybe he should think how the other Google products could empower the artists and their revenue. Nevermind.

But we are not sure we face really something new. Since almost 10 years, other start-ups develop tools to make sure the artists gain into visibility and efficiency…one way or another. UnitedMasters didn’t respond yet very precisely to questions about how the company will operate and what would set it apart from similar projects. So far, startups haven’t really replaced record labels because none of them really do what labels do. Almost two decades ago, Napster said that it would replace labels by distributing music, but labels aren’t exactly in the distribution business. Several startups help artists market directly to fans, which is becoming an important part of the music business, but labels never really did that. A lot of things labels don’t do can be replaced or improved, that’s a necessity. It’s essential to add and propose some great services that can be used by all kinds of music creators to develop their career. And we need that. Understanding that Millennials are consuming music differently, that the experience goes beyond music and that an artist should be visible in many more spheres than just behind a microphone, it all makes sense ( but stop selling us and to the artists the end of labels. It sounds really over-promising and does not really reflect the reality.

Because nobody really goes where labels are the most important. Labels invest in artists — which very few technology companies have shown any interest in doing. Because we all understand it’s a risky business. So, can we really talk about replacing labels, not really… And that’s what labels really do for artists — they amortize risk. The odds of any particular act becoming successful are very low, but those that are can make an enormous amount of money. By signing to a label, artists get money and investment up front – they sacrifice the possibility of profits for the certainty of getting an advance now. The reason recording contracts tend to favor labels is because the odds of any given project earning back its investment are fairly low. Venture capitalists ought to understand this, because their business works the same way. As usual, if your business is based on making enormous gains from one out of every 10 investments while the rest lose money; you have to structure deals that minimize risk on projects that don’t succeed and maximize gains on ones that do.

So, we can be attracted or amazed by projects claiming they will replace labels. But soi far, nobody cracked it. Because the main thing is about putting money on the table for the artists to have a chance to emerge. So, we have to keep thinking…and maybe we will find something that will be a real game-changer. If you have this idea, please share…I know a bunch of people to be ready to invest seriously in your project.

Horror Culture

With his sect “The Family”, he had killed seven people in Los Angeles in August 1969, including the wife of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate.

Charles Manson could have been the name of a marginal hippie singer from Los Angeles. In the 1960s, at the peak of the “Flower Power” years, he had indeed composed several pieces, and had almost failed to associate with Dennis Wilson, the drummer and founding member of the Beach Boys. His name is finally entered into history by the most macabre door, and he will be remembered as the morbid guru of a criminal sect called The Family. In August 1969, he had urged his followers – most of whom were young women – to stab seven people, including Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s wife, who was 26 years old and eight months pregnant.

Charles Manson died on November 19 at the age of 83 at a hospital in Bakersfield, California, where he was rushed. He was serving a life sentence because the California Supreme Court had abolished capital punishment in the state in 1972.


In the 1960s, he founded a community in the California desert called The Family. It had 25 members, mostly girls who saw him as a Christ figure. It was mostly a sect of which he was the guru. Persuaded that the world was running at the Apocalypse, and that it was necessary to prepare to defend against Black’s takeover of the whites, he had devised a plan to provoke a racial conflict. So he wanted to blame the Black community of Los Angeles for the murders of Sharon Tate and four of his friends in a beautiful neighborhood. This racist prophecy was announced in his words by Helter Skelter, the Beatles, explains the swastika he had tattooed on his forehead. He was found guilty of committing these crimes, as well as two others that occurred in the summer of 1969.

What is really interesting is the sort of marketing or, for the least, their influence on our pop culture. Since then, Charles Manson was the epitome of evil in the United States, even though his guru’s grip was such that hippies continued to defend him throughout his incarceration. This morbid story has inspired many writers and filmmakers. For example, American writer Madison Smartt Bell, author of The Color of the Night (2011), told us: “Manson was the most effective terrorist in America. He had only six casualties, but he had a frightful fright all over the country, he persuaded people that their children wanted to kill them. ” More recently, The Girls, by Emma Cline, is inspired by the Manson family to better probe the subjugation of teens to a monstrous guru.

What is interesting is the definite attraction from the public for those criminals. Serial killers stories have inspired many artists. They always did, look at director Fincher works and inspirations from ‘Seven’ to ‘Zodiac’ and ‘Mindhunter’. And I don’t even tall about thousands of books, films and content that were related by the horror they were perpetrating. If you like artefacts, you can even go to websites like to have access to items mainstream sites refuse to sell. Musical artists have also been inspired by this story. Marilyn Manson borrowed his name, and recorded an album (Portrait of an American Family) in the house where Sharon Tate was murdered. And the Kasabian group takes its name from Linda Kasabian, a member of the Family who kept watch, but did not kill, during the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends. She even chose to testify against Manson to escape prosecution. Quentin Tarantino is preparing a film about the murder of Sharon Tate.

This fascination must nurture their existence in a sense. The fascination of the people did not bring brands to play with it too much but surely the culture is definitely influenced by their morbid stories. Being honest, they are maintaining our darkest sides of our personality. And most of the times, it makes us feel kinda…good.

Alibaba Eco-System

Alibaba Group has smashed the record for one-day online shopping sales with its Singles Day (11.11) event generating a staggering $25.3 billion within 24 hours. The company processed 1.48 billion transactions during the period. The previous record was Alibaba’s own $17.8 billion in sales during last year’s Singles Day. To put these numbers into context, retailers drew in a record $3.45 billion on Cyber Monday and $3 billion on Black Friday, which makes Alibaba’s sales sound even more mind-blowing.


But we tend to forget a simple thing – we should not even compare those results with what people may know from US. The performance is beyond comparison. Alibaba did not reinvent retail, it just invented a new way to make business. That’s pretty it, a different eco-system and very smart moves are making those guys getting into a different dimension. And stop comparing them to Amazon, they invent something else. Just to refresh your memory, this video from the New York Times was explaining it all. These companies are just doing something else from what we know so far.


The Walking (not so) Dead

A classic advertising thing – a man (I don’t know why, mostly men), walking and talking. It can be boring, it can be inspiring…well, the thing is that we can’t even understand why they talk to us while walking. Surely because it makes the whole thing more entertaining.

Not only. It may be considered as a simple narrative pattern, a symbolic that is accepted by most of the people to be associated with progress, success, evolution, determination, overcoming barriers…Walking is the simplest but still the clearest storytelling tool to express that your brand is modern and actual, but is always moving forward in terms of innovation. It supports the vision…or not really. Or it’s just a trick to show a lot of things happening with a linear construction.

Abbey Road Reverse

Spoiler – I could not find enough bad examples. Great work as well

Advertising Intelligence

Advertising is a lot about understanding people and their behavior. The ability of artificial intelligence systems to transform vast amounts of complex information into insight is driving personal analysis into market behavior. There are nearly 2 billion Facebook users globally. About 200 billion tweets are shared on Twitter every year. Google processes 40,000+ searches every second. And now we can assess all that. These are undeniably powerful tools, and no one can blame the advertising industry for rapidly adopting them.

But AI also introduces troubling ethical considerations. Advertisers may soon know us better than we know ourselves. They’ll understand more than just our demographics. They’ll understand our most personal motivations and vulnerabilities. Would it go until violations of personal privacy? We need a code of ethics that will govern our use of AI in marketing applications, and ensure transparency and trust in our profession.

Future of Advertising

All about Trust

The more complete our understanding of an individual, the more persuasive our marketing can be. But each new insight into a consumer raises new questions about our moral obligations to that individual — and to society at large.

Data, Data and more Data

AI is fueled by data, which is used to train algorithms and sustain the system. If data is inaccurate or biased in any way, those weaknesses will be reflected in decisions made by the AI system. Often, these data sets reflect preexisting human biases.

Algorithms in Command

AI engines contain codes that refine raw data into insight. They dictate how the AI system operates, but are designed and developed by humans. Which means that their instructions should be “explainable.”When you don’t know the internal functions and benefits — the recipe for authentic trust isn’t there.

Consumer Power

Consumers should be aware of the techniques being used to market to them, and have the option of participating in those campaigns. Transparency should be key here to make sure that people are in the know and accept the conditions.

We understand the power of AI to understand people better and better. And we should never forget we are the decision-makers of the situation and it’s up to us to frame properly the way we want to progress and design our work in the future. How would you explain your role in making it the right way in advertising?