I am a huge David Bowie fan and so on hearing that an exhibition was to be opening at the V&A Museum in March, I made it my mission to attend the preview event. 'David Bowie is', sponsored by Sennheiser and HEINEKEN UK, is a huge retrospective of his life's work. That night I was privileged to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kevin Rowland, Bobby Gillespie, Noel Gallagher, Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes... fellow unashamed Bowie devotees. The great icon is having a moment - on his 66th birthday this year he announced that he was releasing a new album - his first offering in 10 years, which got me thinking about his value as a business and marketing icon.
What made and continues to make Bowie special? He's a copywriter, art director, screen hero, rock star, social media proponent... and much more. He moves between art forms and media channels seamlessly quite simply because he is a creative first and foremost. That industry term of ours, media agnostic could have been invented for the great man. His message lends and flexes itself to whatever medium he sets his sights on, be it film, dance, performance or music. Bowie is the ultimate silo buster.
It might be me showing my age (well, policemen really are getting younger!) but it seems that the musical genres and performances of our age and the cultural icons that shape our society are often derivatives from a former time. Bowie was a creative one-off who inspired generations; Warhol, Picasso and McLaren are of the same ilk. Have we seen anything remotely close to them in stature coming through in recent times? Will the noughties ever provide the context for a new breed of innovators, or do we need to be content with 21st Century imitators? Feel free to argue with me, but I suspect the latter.
The vacuum created where today's Ziggy Stardusts should be has seen a cry out for those past glory figures. An investment in legacy acts - whose value is far more bankable than the GaGas and RiRis - is symptomatic of this void. Upcoming performances by The Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi at British Summer Time in Hyde Park look set to be the biggest shows of 2013.
The explosion of the internet and social media in recent years has inundated creatives with material and given them unlimited access to platforms through which to channel their message. But where are the pioneers of cross media expression? None seem yet to have blurred the boundaries in the same way that Bowie did.
Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead has already generated a book of the same title. So what can marketing learn from Bowie? Part of it must be about the inherent value of iconic one-offs and of the importance of reinvention. But if music is indeed stuck on repeat and genres are being generically wheeled out, why not learn from the past when it comes to campaign development and understanding consumer behaviour.
Like today, the '70s and '90s were periods of recession, so a look back at what worked during those times could teach us a great deal. Today's model is more one of coercing and confining creativity, rather than allow it to be freeform and liberating. There is a greater pressure today to make creativity pay for itself and that is responsible in no small way for stifling its development. In the '70s Bowie, wasn't concerned with monetising his creativity first and foremost nor were those around him in the music business.
Clearly times have changed but the marketing landscape and society in general would benefit from a slight easing of control to so that creativity has a bit of a free rein to do its work. That way we might have more of a chance to avoid a predictable and domineering agenda. Luckily, 2013 is the year that Bowie has chosen to go large again, in a timely reminder of how icons used to be and how if we allow creativity to do its thing, we might just build a context where future icons can emerge to inherit Bowie's crown.