He’d probably hate this blog I’m about to write but here goes anyway – it’s meant as a tribute to the many things we can learn from “unreasonable” people like McLaren.
Malcolm McLaren was the marketing genius that propelled the punk movement into the spotlight and amplified its effect on our society and consciousness. He did such a good job that even now we all still hold a visceral understanding of the feelings and motivations behind the punk movement.
So how do you Punk your brand?
1. Be unreasonable.
Malcolm McLaren said: ‘There are two rules I’ve always tried to live by: turn left, if you’re supposed to turn right; go through any door that you’re not supposed to enter.”
It’s said progress is only made through the actions of the unreasonable. That’s the same with businesses and brands although sometimes it’s a little harder to see than black eyeliner and a mohican haircut.
But at the time it wasn’t reasonable for Henry Ford to say “I will make a car for the great multitude” or for Sergy Brin, founder of Google, to say “We had a simple idea, that not all pages are created equal. Some are more important,” or my favorite from Steve Jobs who said “I want to put a ding in the universe.”
All the greatest businesses and brands have been built from unreasonable people fighting against the system, seeing a better way and creating something extraordinary. Malcolm McLaren wanted to fight back against the mainstream which he saw as pallid and restricting. His ideas and vision connected with what young people were feeling and changed their lives, it gave others pause for thought about the direction of travel. Above all it got him noticed.
How unreasonable are you?
2. Connect with radical ideas and people
True game changing insight doesn’t come from sitting behind glass listening to Mr and Mrs Average tell you why they want a new car or like an advert. The really different thinkers are, almost by definition, at the edges, in the fringes of society.
Malcolm McLaren found ideas that sparked his imagination at the art colleges of the Sixties including Harrow, St Martin’s and even Croydon. He connected with talented, wild thinkers. He married one of his most powerful connections a young Vivienne Westwood. This undercurrent of youth and ideas demanded an outlet which created society changing content.
Great business and organisations look for true diversity and seek out ideas in different places. They collaborate in new and exciting ways.
Have you talked to your local university or art college recently about what they are thinking? Have you stopped to get together with people who have radically different points of view from you or look very different?
Where do you hunt for game changing ideas?
3. Develop content that fires the imagination.
McLaren was an ideas man and he had an intuition for developing content which through its medium and message had an impact. When McLaren and Westwood opened their shop in 1971 on the Kings Road they first called it “Let it Rock” then “Too fast to live, too young to die” then finally “Sex”. The constant re-development as the shop changed allowed it to continue to be a magnet for punk and background to the formation of the Sex Pistols. McLaren knew that linking sex and subversion was both incredibly attractive to the younger generations and incredibly challenging to the establishment.
“God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
God Save the Queen, The Sex Pistols
McLaren understood the media as well as the message. The message of God Save the Queen was amplified onto a national stage when McLaren hired a boat and got the Sex Pistols to play it opposite the Houses of Parliament and then got the boat raided by the police. This was what ensured that it was a hit in the same week as the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977.
McLaren created and moulded content which truly captured the imagination and took over the consciousness. It was so daring in its conception that it demanded attention.
How about putting this as an example to emulate in your next campaign?
4. Social aims give you greater permission.
If you do put into action the recommendation above of emulating McLaren’s approach to creating and moulding content that demands attention – you are most likely to fail.
Why? Because if you’re a marketer or brand owner reading this you’re probably trying to sell stuff. What that means is that people will give you little latitude or room to maneuver. Punk, for all its aggression and bile against the state, and claims to anarchy, had the energy, naivety and pureness of a youthful desire for a different, and hopefully better way. A way that was more accepting, less controlling and more liberal.
This social aim lent Punk permission to push the boundaries and challenge the status quo.
The landscape of brand and business is rapidly becoming one where businesses that develop their social impact as well as delivering against their commercial aims will be the leaders. Adopting social imperatives starts a different conversation, it widens the scope of engagement, and creates space for new ideas and change to happen.
5. Success is a consequence of your strike rate.
Malcolm McLaren produced ideas most of which didn’t work but he had endurance and a belief in himself and what he was doing. Even the Sex Pistols, perhaps his most successful idea, crumbled because he didn’t realise the talent and opportunity that he had created.
But he got up and gave it another go. As the state re-established control in the 1980s and, as a consequence of the result of the social breakdown of the 1970s, the free market mantra of Reagan and Thatcher emerged, he continued to be disruptive and flamboyant. He worked with new bands and artists including Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow. He was responsible for the infamous “See Jungle” album cover where an underage Annabella Lwin posed nude in a recreation Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. In 2006 he even co-produced the film Fast Food Nation.
McLaren was comfortable with failure and just kept on developing ideas. Punk was about keeping the energy and momentum of change alive.
It’s only those businesses that embrace failure and keep swinging that succeed over the long term. The creative process is not easy, it’s not smooth. We’ve all read the books and analysis – most products and new launches don’t work – accept it, move on and keep creating. Until you do, you won’t get to your success.
May Malcolm McLaren rest in anarchy…
What do you think? Got a view on Malcolm McLaren and punk – leave a comment below – its easy and I reply to all of them!
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