Bowie’s brilliant brand rejuvenation
Post by Anna Eggleton, Manager Partner and Head of Service Branding
Throughout his career, the late David Bowie re-invented not just his sound but his persona, over and over again, while always being emphatically David Bowie.
So, how did the Bowie do it? And what brand inspiration can we take from him?
While Bowie specialised in changing his image and sound, his “message” stayed consistent. “My entire career, I’ve only really worked with the same subject matter ” he explained in 2012. “The trousers may change, but the actual words and subjects (are always) to do with isolation, abandonment, fear and anxiety – all of the high points of one’s life.”
So regardless of whether he was Ziggy, Aladdin Sane or a Yuppie (as in Let’s Dance) he was singing or talking about the themes that kept him distinctly David Bowie.
Throughout his career he also created and leveraged familiar brand properties we came to know, love and expect:
- Dilated pupil (a childhood accident that became a trade mark feature)
- Distinctive voice – even in collaboration on songs such as Dancing in the Street and Perfect day
- Cutting edge fashion – the V&A are still running a touring fashion retrospective
- A finger on the zeitgeist of a generation – reflecting the desire for younger people in the early 70s to shake off the black and white monochrome of the 60s by giving them Ziggy (an explosion of colour), to performing Heroes outside the Reichstag knowing that it could be heard on the other side of the wall
He appeared to understand and capitalise on this consistency. In his last album, Black Star, he seems to celebrate many iconic moments he deliberately created for us: the upturned finger on the nose from China Girl, the dancers doing the dance from Fashion and the spaceman from Space Odyssey, to name just a few.
The real genius of Bowie was the way he refreshed his story and properties, to keep himself relevant across the ages. Here are just a few examples:
- 1972 – Ziggy – American rock homage to The Velvet Underground
- 1980 – Ashes to Ashes – which heralded the advent of the New Romantics
- 1983 – Let’s Dance – where he posed as a yuppie-bopper
This fresh flavour is what kept Bowie fresh and relevant. Of course the search for freshness also carries risks and not all of Bowie’s reinventions were successful. Like many brands, he was concerned about becoming a victim of his own success, worrying during his successful Serious Moonlight Tour that he was becoming to mainstream moving away from the cutting edge message he wanted to portray.
Tap into trends
Like all great brands, Bowie has tapped into cultural trends. However, like the greatest brands he also created some. Designers would still reference his hairstyles, make-up and costumes years after he himself had shed them.
In conclusion, Bowie wa an incredible artist who built his own unique brand through harnessing the power or “fresh consistency”, tapping into and even shaping cultural trends. As I write David Bowie albums make up an incredible 25% of top 40. Quite a legacy.