Motley Crue: A Brand-Building Case Study

August 7, 2015

motley-crue-650x400I said farewell to one of my favorite bands, Mötley Crüe, on Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Well, I think I did, anyway. This was the second time they’ve visited the Twin Cities on their final tour, so it’s possible they’ll decide to add one more loop around the globe before they call it quits. It’s also possible the legally binding contract the band members signed preventing them from touring in the future is just a clever marketing ploy. But I don’t think it is.

Mötley Crüe has always been very brand-savvy. And it appears they’re smart enough to know that they need to go out on top, making sure not to tarnish their legacy. Bassist Nikki Sixx recently said, “That’s the idea: that Mötley Crüe will live on in the way that certain bands we love, like Led Zeppelin, live on. They’re not here anymore, but we still listen to them. They’re still our band.” He’s right. If they put a wrap on their career while still rocking sold-out arenas rather than playing the casino circuit someday, that’s how fans will remember them.

But how did they get here in the first place? How did they build such a loyal fan base? These guys were never virtuoso musicians or sophisticated songwriters, but they knew how to carefully craft a brand and then maintain it over 35 years. They honed their look and reputation early on — positioning themselves as the bad boys of rock & roll at every turn. They were dangerous, or at least appeared to be. The “world’s most notorious rock band” has been through a vehicular manslaughter conviction, countless other arrests, sex tapes, overdoses and much more without a dip in popularity from their followers.

Sixx once said the worst thing that could ever happen to them would be to have a band member get caught drinking a glass of milk. There’s another great story to illustrate how much he’s always understood the power of branding. When the band was told the “bad news” that new industry regulations would mean they’d be required to put a “parental advisory” sticker on their albums, Sixx was thrilled and asked how big they could make it. He knew drawing attention to anything deemed controversial would only help their cause.

They invested in building their brand from the beginning — using any money they made to take their look and stage show to the next level, often at the expense of eating a decent meal. And to this day, they’re cutting into profits in favor of more pyro, more amps and more spectacle.

Like any good brand, innovation has always been a staple for the Crüe. One prominent example is Tommy Lee creating a drum kit that rotated upside down back in the ’80s — which he has taken to an absurd level on the current tour by building a roller-coaster track throughout the arena.

Importantly, they’ve protected their brand by never playing on nostalgia-themed bills or having “hair bands” who have fallen out of favor open for them. Instead, they created and headlined their own festival, featuring emerging acts that appealed to a new and/or younger audience.

If you’ve ever read “The Dirt,” the band’s autobiography [Ed. note: This is one of the best rock books ever and you should absolutely pick it up today], you know these guys have made a lot of bad decisions. But when it comes to marketing, there have been very few missed notes. Strong brands — and bands — have staying power, and that will be true for the Crüe, even if they really do hang up their leather pants for good.