What Freddie Mercury taught us about Personal Branding
Like millions of others, I just had to go and see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. And like many in the audience, I wasn’t sure that I would recognise much of the music. How wrong I was.
From baby boomers to millennial’s, we all immediately recognised the melodies from the first chord. This is not surprising in retrospect as his songs have been reprised in both kids’ and mature audience movies, from Happy Feet and Sing, to Wayne’s World and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. And as the movie progressed, I recognised not just the music, but also the numerous trademarks of an amazing master of personal branding: his ‘look’, the way he held the mic and perhaps his unapologetic authentic ‘image’, or his masterful inclusion of the audience in every performance.
While Freddie Mercury trained as a graphic artist, Queen’s branding was neither artifice nor marketing science. It was the result of the genuine pursuit of a unique product, perfectly and professionally packaged, and aimed at an audience that was being ignored by his competitors. Perhaps, too, this was some degree of chance, but without the ability to recognise the market opportunity and run with it, good fortune is wasted.
The man who would become Freddie Mercury was a glass half full type.
Misidentified as a misfit, despised minority member, and with four extra molars crowding his mouth, he withstood the taunts with confidence and humour. He even turned his dental problem to advantage, using the extra cavity it created to amplify his vocal reach, and providing a ready made trade mark. As for being a misfit, well he recognised that the other misfits needed a role model – so he made it his brand.
The name Queen and a persona and vocal style (aka his personal branding) he clung too despite the repeated advice of the so-called experts. Like any good entrepreneur, Queen got its most valuable feedback and inspiration from its audience known as consumer demand.
Freddie never doubted his vision of becoming a performer, nor of achieving iconic success in a diverse and crowded field. He strove constantly for differentiation from the current trends, but still managed to originate and evolve, undaunted by the nay-sayers.
And he had the charisma and team-building savvy to bring his faithful band members with him, giving them too, room for artistic growth and their own acclaim. What he displayed were all the fundamental pillars of personal branding, a vision, a purpose, capability, alignment, constant engagement and eventually legacy.
Despite, or perhaps because he marched to his own drum, he attracted a huge and loyal following that would be Instagram worthy today with its 2.3 million followers’ decades after his demise. While an essentially private person he understood how to maintain his personal branding as a treasured place in his fans’ psyche, long before social media provided convenient platforms.
Money was not Freddie’s motivation. His music was its own reward.
Do what you love, and the money will come – and in doing so he left behind a distinctly branded legacy. Today, that legacy continues to inspire countless others including Lady Gaga, whose inspiration for her own name came from the Queen song “Radio Ga-Ga”.
Of course, his life was also a tragedy: the loss of his first love, the betrayal of his manager, his spiral into bacchanalia and his early death from AIDS. But through all these trials, Freddie kept faith with his fans and continued his branding appeal. What a brand ambassador he would have made for the products of his age, spanning his enduring appeal across so many diverse demographics.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Freddie’s epiphany came out of adversity. He had the personal courage to seek out and find another person to love and to apologise to the band for having abandoned them. Despite severe damage to his credibility, he fought hard to have a place among other musical legends to perform at the Live AID concert, labelled as one of the best line up concerts in music history.
The rest, as they say, is history.
During the Live Aid performance in 1985, Freddie Mercury wore a pair of Wrangler Jeans and Adidas Samba sneakers and both these brands have seen a resurgence in their product lines. Wrangler are “launching a limited-edition Queen-inspired collection in homage to the band’s late front man Freddie Mercury”. Whilst Adidas (who states that Freddie Mercury was a “prolific Samba loyalist”) have revamped the Samba sneaker, selling over 35 million pairs worldwide, making it the 2nd most popular shoe model among all Adidas’ shoes.
The man has gone, but the legend lives on.
Freddie Mercury established ‘celebrity as a brand’, based not merely on fame itself, but on commitment to a style, an ambition and a cause. In his own words “I will not be a Rock star; I will be a legend” and so he has achieved the holy grail of personal branding.