How Michael Jackson Became a Brand Icon
Countless books advise how to build your personal brand. Michael Jackson was so unique that he cannot realistically serve as anyone’s role model in that effort. Yet Jackson was unquestionably a brand icon and there are lessons to be learned. Here are the top ten factors that explain his icon status.
Start early. Michael began entertaining at the age of four. His career as the uniquely young lead singer in The Jackson Five began with the Motown label at the age of 10. National recognition came with his appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
Let go. Jackson went solo in 1972 at the age of 13. As with Diana Ross and the Supremes, there came a point where the group constrained rather than aided the further development of his talent.
Break out. Jackson was a multidimensional entertainer. His expert dancing could be showcased via the new medium of music videos. MTV and Jackson rose in tandem when MTV premiered the Jackson video “Thriller” in 1982 from the album of the same name. The album went on to sell over 100 million copies.
Get help. Jackson benefited from his long-term professional relationship with producer and songwriter Quincy Jones. He often acknowledged the inspiration he received from James Brown, Diana Ross and other artists.
Be visible. All memorable brands have their unique visual trademarks. Jackson understood brand image and how to build it with his fans. The moonwalk that we could all try to imitate. The glove. The uniform. Neverland.
Go global. Jackson’s music and videos easily transcended national boundaries, as well as race, age and gender. “We Are the World”, written by Jackson and Lionel Ritchie in 1985, cemented his global appeal. Jackson sold almost half his 750 million titles outside the United States.
Crown yourself. Elvis was already “The King”, so Jackson christened himself “The King of Pop.” The professional contributions–including 13 Grammies–were so substantial that the moniker stuck. The flawed personal life – the lawsuits, the failed marriages, and the Wacko Jacko incidents like dangling his child from a Berlin hotel balcony – chipped away at Jackson’s professional brand equity but never eroded it.
Be vulnerable. We cannot relate to icons without imperfections. Jackson was quirky, eccentric, mysterious. For all his wealth and professional excellence, he was – perhaps understandably – flawed, misguided, and sad, but none would say unkind.
Give back. Denied a normal childhood, Jackson was amazingly generous to disadvantaged children. Some 39 charities benefited significantly from his support. He also collaborated on Live Aid with other entertainers.
Die young. The sold-out 50 concert tour of Europe to start next month will never happen. The likelihood of a Jackson comeback will forever be debated. Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe James Dean, and now Michael Jackson – all leave to our imagination thoughts of what might have been. When a brand icon is torn from us prematurely, unexpectedly, it figures even larger in our collective memory.