Last Friday, I was at a bar where it was so loud I could hardly hear the person next to me, much less the music coming from the speakers. Empty beer bottles rattled as they were consolidated from one trash can to another. Then, like magic, three or four chords into the opening of “Purple Rain,” the place went silent and stayed that way throughout the song.
I do not think it was a unique experience. I imagine that across the country, his familiar hits stopped people in their tracks, a little louder than they had been in recent years. Prince had died at his home near Minneapolis just the day prior. Tributes continue to pour in from celebrities, musicians, and from brands.
Prince was reluctant ad man, not appearing in any himself – which is not to say that he did not impact the ad world. He was likely impersonated in a Diet Dr Pepper commercial a few years ago and he did allow Tina Turner to sing his song “Baby You’re a Star” in a Target commercial in 2000. And in one of the best Super Bowl performances in recent years, he performed an extensive set of songs at halftime, sponsored by Pepsi, back in 2007. Prince was one of the most un-commercial commercial successes in recent memory.
He shied away from commercials. But his death was marked by a myriad brand tributes to an artist who only once allowed his music to be licensed in a commercial.
In the last week, many of the tributes came in via Twitter. Celebrity news has instant awareness, brand news takes time to build. When brands align with celebrity breaking news, it creates momentum and awareness that the brands could not easily achieve on their own.
Cheerios, Hamburger Helper, Maker’s Mark, Getty Images, 3M, and the Minneapolis pro sports teams got in on the action. Some of the tributes were charming. Some were thinly disguised ads.
Corvette relied on knowledge of his hit song “Little Red Corvette.” The auto brand tweeted an image of a corvette and then converted it to an ad which ran over the next few days in newspapers including USA Today, the New York Times, and of course, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Fitting that it’s raining in Minneapolis today. pic.twitter.com/s5KFurDhHi
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 21, 2016
Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis hit it out of the park, with the Twins posting this message – honoring his legacy and his near ownership of the color purple, while keeping their corporate message secondary.