May 31, 2011

Only one brand will be left standing


Can Ke$ha tone it down for the Delaware State Fair?

I think Ke$ha’s pretty hot. And if my wife were to approve of it, I’m pretty sure Ke$ha and I would make a smokin’ couple. We’re both party-hearty rockers with a penchant for strong profanity. And we both brush our teeth nightly with top-shelf spirits (make mine Tanqueray 10 over Ke$ha’s Jack Daniels preference, though). Link that up with our regular late-night booze-fests, avant garde couture and devil-may-care approach to life, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.

OK, outside of the profanity thing, Ke$ha and I have nothing in common. Most anyone who has known me from first grade on can attest to the fact that I’m hardly one to rock out even on my best day (although I do have a nice collection of Def Leppard concert T-shirts). And Ke$ha is, arguably, in a better financial position to afford the restorative dental surgery that will be required to fix her teeth after all that high-spirited alcohol gargling – especially since I’ll still be paying for the teeth I’ll be missing after my wife reads this piece. On top of that, my doctor has instructed me to limit all party-heartiness to major birthday celebrations and select holidays.

But I do know a thing or two about brands. And, to her credit, so does Ke$ha. No performer could attain the stardom she has without cultivating an identity that resonates powerfully with a large and adoring target audience.

Ke$ha’s brand relies on her the ability to be both musically and visually assaulting, and I mean that as a full-on compliment. To pull that off while, at the same time, achieving broad commercial success is impressive. You can be a hater, but you have to respect the business skills.

But a brand like that takes cultivation — and not just via the iTunes download but through the in-person, live experience in as many concert venues as humanly possible. So I was not surprised by the fact that Ke$ha would be making a live appearance in our great state. Extending her first-ever headlining tour into as many markets as possible while her star is still on the rise makes perfect career sense. And yes, that includes a stop in our fair Delaware.

Speaking of fairs, I must admit to being a bit surprised by the fact that the Delaware State Fair would be the one to play host to Ke$ha on her inaugural tour — the super-duper-titled “Get Sleazy Tour.”

The Delaware State Fair knows a bit about brands, too. From humble beginnings in 1919 as an effort to promote and encourage agriculture in and around the rural communities of Kent and Sussex counties, the Delaware State Fair has blossomed into a true Delaware institution — and a not-to-be-missed experience for individuals, families and politicians from all over the state. With average attendance exceeding 300,000 each year, and entertainment attractions and options that can match just about any other offering within a 100-mile radius, the Delaware State Fair has emerged as an iconic brand in Delaware.

If Ke$ha’s brand is built upon in-your-face-ness, the state fair’s is decidedly not. In Harrington, where traditional family values rule the day, the state fair is a summer bastion of family fun that makes a stroll down Rehoboth’s boardwalk seem downright tawdry. So while the announcement of Ke$ha’s performance took me a bit by surprise, the fair’s subsequent clarification that the anticipated tone and tenor of Ke$ha’s Delaware act (and the outright cancellation of hip hop act “Spank Rock” aka, best band name ever) would be a diluted version of her normal routine was less surprising. That’s more in keeping with the state fair’s brand identity.

But what about Ke$ha’s brand? The curious question here is if she can — or will — tone down her act to achieve the more mild rating on the Delaware State Fair object-o-meter. In a public statement, officials declared that, “The Delaware State Fair has played host to other mainstream acts where a modified PG show was performed at the request of the fair, such as Larry the Cable Guy, Jeff Dunham, Carrot Top, T-Pain, Flo Rida, Lynyrd Skynyrd and others.”

Here’s the difference: All of those people can go from PG-13 to PG without compromising their core artistic identity. Hell, some of those people might be happy enough for a gig that they’d get on stage and do a puppet show if asked. But not Ke$ha. She’s not in that boat. So what does this mean? Two totally different brand identities are about to collide. And only one will be left victorious.

I have my thoughts on how this one ends. Take this, my personal favorite set of lyrics from one of Ke$ha’s latest hit singles: “I think you’re hot/I think you’re cool/You’re the kind of guy I’d stalk in school/But now that I’m famous you’re up my anus/Now I’m gonna eat you fool.” Classic. Methinks she can’t tone down her act to PG for the Delaware State Fair anymore than Andrew Dice Clay could tone down his act for an appearance at the Delaware Children’s Theater.

What this really does is leave both Ke$ha and the state fair at brand crossroads. One brand will ultimately end up being compromised. If Ke$ha decides to water down her act, she detracts — even if for only one show — from the brand that has enabled her rise to stardom. And for a performer still on the upswing of creating a brand identity (read: not yet ready for a reinvention of her musical self) that’s a slippery slope. For the Delaware State Fair, they are counting on Ke$ha toning down her act to be consistent with their consumers’ overall expectations of the fair brand experience. If that doesn’t happen, look for some inevitable backlash from fair-goers.

If truth be told, as a guy who loves both Delaware and Ke$ha (her brand, I mean) I’ll be more disappointed in Ke$ha selling out than I would be in the Delaware State Fair taking its calculated risk in hiring her. These two brands are about to engage in a battle royale. It’s the Get Sleazy Tour vs. the 4-H brigade. Count me in… with wife and kids in tow, of course.

If you really think that Ke$ha brushes her teeth with Jack Daniels you’re probably not reading this piece right now… but it’s in her best interest—brand-wise—to have people believe, on some level, that it could possibly be true.

And stake your bet on a Ke$ha-related headline in the News Journal on July 27th. Why? Take it from another hard rockin party person. You can’t pull back on that throttle.