In the mid to late 1980's, attempting to fill the void in rock music resulting from the demise of Led Zeppelin, a whole slew of Zep imitators popped up. All of them attempted to duplicate the band's success with what was perceived to be the winning formula: Front Man on vocals…wavy long blond tresses, tight jeans, cleft chin and devilish good looks wailing with agony and ecstasy in the upper register (we were onto you, David Coverdale!) and the dark, mysterious guitarist…distant and disassociated from the audience, dressed like a mystic belting out repetitive, fast, hard driving infectious riffs (and in some cases even whipping out a violin bow…there was no flattery in that imitation). When this phenomenon was at its height, I heard an interviewer ask former Zep front man (and legend) Robert Plant what he made of all this. Was it flattering? Did they crack the code? Were any of these bands worth their salt?
"They're missing the point, man. The thing that made Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin was not all that stuff…it was Bonzo's (drummer John Bonham) bass drum. It was the heart of the band and what gave us our sound."
I don't think anyone (except maybe a self-deluded marching band member) has ever considered the bass drum sexy. But musically it is the cornerstone; counting out time with the consistency necessary to corral what would otherwise be a cacophony of sounds from an array of instruments and vocalists.
So what did the guys in Led Zeppelin know that the others didn't? What the boys in Zep knew, and unknowingly understood, was how to apply Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to their art. And we could all learn a thing or two from them.
Maslow identified and prioritized Man's hierarchy of basic needs. In pyramid form, at the bottom, lie the most essential needs; food, water, air, shelter. Once acquiring these, Man then needs things like physical and psychological safety. Achieving these? Friendship and acceptance. Beyond that are "Esteem" based needs and at the top, Self Actualizing Needs. The point of this is, you cannot ascend to the next layer of needs until you've established the necessary lower need.
What can we learn from them in the Agency world?
Without the bass drum counting out the beat for the music, there is no order. In the case of Bonzo, I'd call this "thunderous consistency". In fact, it's the fact that it was so consistently…consistent…that people didn't notice it or give it the credit it was due. A lot of media agencies aspire these days to dazzle current and prospective clients with the golden tressed alto and / or guitar playing mystic. But it's all just noise…and useless to a client's business, without the bass drum: Solid, fundamentally sound execution in the media space.
All of the attention and credit is being given to specialty services in media agencies, that often account for at BEST less than 10% of the company's revenue. And this makes every media planner feel that they're stuck with a low grade, low value job managing the media plan and client investment. Everyone wants to produce TV shows, and no one wants to own the client/agency billing reconciliation.
But if a media agency can't execute flawlessly…with thunderous consistency and by virtue make execution a non-issue…invisible to the client, clients will not give those agencies permission to move up in the Maslowian hierarchy into modelling, branded entertainment, application development, word of mouth / social media services and others that seem to emerge more often than I make my own bed (once a week).
My high school basketball coach consistently chastised me for trying to cross-over dribble through my legs before driving the lane. Especially when I struggled to break 70% from the free-throw line. "Worry about the fundamentals…then you can screw around with the other stuff." Free throws win games. Media plans make money. Rock beats scissor. It's pretty simple. The bass drum IS sexy. It's the source of most Agency revenue…and there's nothing sexier than a boatload of cash. And those unsung heroes who aren't dashed all over the trade press, the Planners, Strategists, Negotiators…the 25 year olds jumping on the leftover conference room lunch sandwiches are the key to it all. There's an army of Bonzos wailing away on that pedal, creating beautiful, ear-drum smashing order out of chaos. Only with THEIR help and through their success will clients allow media Agencies to move into the higher orders of marketing related services. Focus on the fundamentals…then screw around with the other stuff.
Steve Piluso, EVP, Managing Director, PHD East, an Omnicom Company
Read all Steve's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at PHD Perspectives - MediaBizBloggers.
Check us out on Facebook at MediaBizBloggers.com
Follow our Twitter updates @MediaBizBlogger