I never meant to be a punk marketer.
Cue Guy Picciotto and Ian Mackaye singing Merchandise in my capitalist monkey mind:
That Fugazi lyric was a signpost telling me to run the opposite way of anything resembling commerce.
Yet as I punk rocked my way through my teens, little did I know I was training to become a marketer. Albeit a different kind of marketer: a punk marketer.
Punk Marketer High School
I don’t mean I went to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I mean punk educated me — or rather, showed me the possibility of educating myself — on how to make my voice heard.
To reach my audience, and resonate with them.
Because that’s what we did in punk: we reached the audience. At the same time, we dissolved the distance between audience and creator. Everyone was doing something in the scene. If you weren’t in a band, you were the person who screen-printed t-shirts, or designed flyers, or you were on stage with a camera.
To marketers, this sounds a lot like crowd-sourced content. To non-marketers, it just sounds like a utopia.
Don’t get me wrong. Punk was a subculture, and like all subcultures, it had imperfections – drugs, scene infighting, and the National Front, to name a few. But thanks in part to its inherent rebelliousness and resistance to labeling, punk succeeded in defeating its more destructive tendencies many times over its history. Punk’s blemishes are like facial tattoos: they make its face more interesting.
Sure, you could dismiss these thoughts as a nostalgia trip. I share your concerns. I’m as tempted as any mid-lifer to spend evenings flooding forums and subreddits with odes to my former glories. But I won’t waste your time or mine – the past isn’t perfect, it’s just the past. And it sure is tense.
Still, I would change nothing about that time (except maybe washing my Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt more often).
Admittedly, adolescence looks better in the rear view mirror. But punk is one case in which the objects in that mirror are closer than they appear. Growing up punk made me a more resourceful person and a more effective marketer. A punk marketer.
This article will show you why. I’ll share three of the main ways my punk rock youth prepared me to become a better kind of marketer. As an added bonus, I’ll explain why more marketers should adopt a do-it-yourself attitude to their profession and become (you got it) punk marketers.
Hey ho, let’s go!
3 Things Punk Rock and Content Marketing Have in Common
3/4 of what makes good marketing is effective copywriting – and the language of punk was off the charts. Not only did punk songs speak a refreshingly direct language that was an antidote to the excesses of prog rock and disco – the independent media culture of the punk scene was bursting with energetic, original, and edgy voices. ‚Zines, the predominant form of punk journalism, bear eloquent witness to this, from their conversational style to their questioning of social norms. Which brings me to my next point…
Punk was everything Facebook professes to aspire to, but fails on every front to achieve. Democratize the news? Send your record or fanzine to Maximum Rock ’n‘ Roll for review or record your own political hardcore 7″. Grow your brand organically? Book a show in someone’s basement 300 miles away through a direct phone call. Punk was Twitter before Twitter became Shitter. Meaning and creativity came first; all else was „selling out.“
Punk knew how to polarize long before content marketers discovered the power of sharing a common enemy with their audience. To be heard, you need a unique voice and standout personality. To understand the power of a punk marketer compared to a „traditional“ marketer, let’s stage a science exhibit.
Exhibit A: The Entrepreneur
Enter Gary Vaynerchuck a.k.a. Gary Vee, a perfectly respectable marketer. It’s hard to pick a quote that’s more Gary than this one: „Skills are cheap. Passion is priceless.“ It’s pithy and quotable. It goes down smooth in your Instagram’s infinite scroll.
But let’s face it. By the time you get to the word passion, your mind has already moved on – if it hasn’t turned to total mush. Why? Because this quote screams „business as usual.“ It might help you win a game of bullshit bingo, but it won’t win your audience’s attention long enough to convince them to buy.
Exhibit B: The Antichrist
Next up: John Lydon a.k.a Johnny Rotten, frontman of the Sex Pistols. When Johnny sings – or sneers – the opening lines of Anarchy In the UK, you can’t not pay attention: „I am an antichrist / I am an anarchist.“
By the time Johnny snarls „my future dream / is a shopping spree / cause I wanna be anarchy,“ you’re not reaching for your wallet. You’re running for your life.
The message is explicitly anti-commercial, anti-monarchy, anti-everything. But that doesn’t matter. Because you’re sold on the brand. And whether you love it hate it, that brand just changed your life.
To return to our initial question: which of the above sticks in your head? Which face stands out? Which quote do you still remember?
You can probably guess our answer.
Why Punk Marketers Are The Best Marketers
Punk was a tough school, but its students learned to make their voices heard on their own terms.
Gatekeepers? Unlock the gates! Bill Gates? Throw him out the Window and be your own OS!
Today, when most marketers never question their allegiance to their corporate stakeholders or consider that selling and „selling out“ can go hand in hand, a punk attitude goes a long way.
Do you want your brand to be one of the Mark Zuckerbergs or Gary Vaynerchucks of the world? Or are you bold enough to be one of the Joe Strummers or Johnny Rottens?
Think fast, because you’re losing traction.