Hey hey my my
There are some attitudes that just can’t be contrived. The trickiest and my favourite of these is rock’n’roll.
I’ve been trying for years to come up with a neat definition of rock’n’roll-ness and I keep coming back to Louis Armstrong’s quip ‘If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.’
As unhelpful and arrogant as that is, I fear it may also be true for rock’n’roll.
It’s probably something more easily defined by its absence than its presence. You certainly know when you’re looking at someone who has no rock’n’roll in them whatsoever (think David Cameron, Gwyneth Paltrow or James Blunt) but the ones who have it can often take you by surprise (think Mo Mowlem, Phillip Pullman or John Mortimer.)
You don’t need to be cool to be rock’n’roll. In fact sometimes, coolness can create a kind of precision and cautiousness which is counter to the rock’n’roll spirit.
Rock’n’roll certainly acts on instinct and doesn’t feel the need to explain itself or justify its actions. It isn’t always right but it is not abashed by mistakes and can carry off falling down drunk in public with style.
It’s not always a good or helpful quality and rock’n’roll-ness alone with no other moderating characteristics can be very destructive. Left to its own devices, it tends to over-dose on drugs, drive its car into a tree at high speeds or choke on its own vomit.
I think the best indication of innate rock’n’roll-ness is having a pathology for turning convention on its head. The truly rock’n’roll doesn’t think about questioning authority or up ending the status quo. It’s just that what seems natural to it often happens to be the opposite of what everyone else is doing.
And it is this that makes it such a useful attitude in business. Not all brands need a bit of rock’n’roll in them but for those that have it, it’s an instant differentiator. Think Apple vs. Microsoft or Mini Cooper vs. Fiat Punto.
Sadly, advertising is littered with hideous examples of contrived rock’n’roll, which you don’t need to have any rock’n’roll-ness of your own to find painful – WKD alcopops, PJ Smoothies and John Lydon’s butter ads come to my mind.
If you think rock’n’roll may be important to your brand or your customers you need to hire someone who has it. It can be neither faked nor learned. If you have someone within your organisation who has some rock’n’roll in them, use it and nurture it. Just be prepared to occasionally lose a TV set out the window.
Kate Leury Nielsen 2010.