Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cherry Blossoms vs. Wine: a (semi-serious) study in branding

Consider, for a minute, the humble cherry blossom. No, not the flowering tree. This:
In all its retro glory. 
I noticed them tonight at the corner store, where I was buying cherry Coke to go with my take-out pizza and mini Haagen Das ice cream. (Yes, it was a banner night for healthy eating in my world.) The packaging hasn't changed in forever: it's an unappetizing yellow. The picture looks like some kind of alien ooze escaping from a cave of... poo? (Let's not even get started on the taste, which takes 3 of my favourite things- cherries, peanuts and chocolate- and turns them into something utterly vile.) Does ANYBODY buy these things? I've never seen anyone consume one, or admit to buying one, or heard anyone say anything nice about them. And yet they exist, year after year, mocking us all with their permanently uncool retro box and disgusting taste. How, in a world where cult hits like "Arrested Development", "Carnivale" and "Ryan the A&W Trainee" are canned, can this little freak keep existing? 

My sweetie and I have been known to enjoy a drink or two, so I am fairly familiar with the inside of the local liquor store. In the last ten, maybe? years, wineries and craft breweries have gone crazy with re-branding, turning stodgy labels into tongue-in-cheek works of art. (Wine o'Clock or Pink Freud, anyone?) Now, I would imagine that liquor is a competitive business to be in... but so is candy. And yet, while wineries and craft beer-makers are tripping over themselves to be cool, the stolid little Cherry Blossom just keeps on truckin', and somewhere, someone must be buying 'em by the truckload. Like the Honey Badger, Cherry Blossom don't give a shit. 

I'm thinking a lot about all this stuff these days because I'm in two bands that are trying, in their modest ways, to build a following (not to mention my own solo career/accordion teaching empire/freelance writing sideline) and I'm negotiating the ins and outs of publicity/social media daily. I learned about writing press releases last week (it's fun!). I revived my band's Twitter account from the dead. I tweaked a website and tried to make it more SEO-friendly. It's all interesting, but is this stuff keeping me from the important stuff, like songwriting and practicing? (Two things, I'll admit, that I have a love-hate relationship with.) Is my bandmate Amelia on the right track by keeping a wary distance from social media? How can my friend Jimmy- a sought-after playwright and director- exist in today's world without a cel phone, a Facebook account, or even email? In the context of this piece, Jimmy and Amelia are the Cherry Blossom: they have something people want, and they are old-fashioned- some might say stubborn- in their approach to marketing themselves. And I am like the wineries: how can I make this product (me) eye-catching enough so that as many people as possible will see it?

I type this piece fresh from a band practice where we discussed various strategies: practice makes perfect vs. regular gigs for experience? Keep building the songlist vs. focus on 20 songs for a razor-sharp set? I type this piece fresh from a week of rehearsing and recording some delightful, energetic and challenging music that I truly believe people will love... if only we can find ways to reach them. But there are so many ways to reach people these days... and many of them are a huge waste of time. I belong to Reverbnation, a website that is supposed to help musicians build a following and gives you info on your "chart position", "fans", etc... make that used to belong to Reverbnation, because I just quit. I found it to be a timesuck and a scam, a so-called "free" site that wants to charge you for pretty much everything, with stats that don't have any real meaning whatsoever. I'll keep Tweeting and updating my websites, but when it comes to winning new fans I'll keep doing it the old-fashioned way: by playing live gigs and making sure as many people as possible not hear my music but pay to hear it as well. 

The humble Cherry Blossom sits on a low shelf, bypassed for flashier, larger chocolates. But somewhere out there are people who believe in it, and so it hunkers down and endures, knowing that some of those big candy bars have an awfully short shelf life.

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