Simon Cowell

Since my blogs have been focused on X Factor, it’s only fitting to write about the man behind the show.

Simon Cowell’s earnings as of May 2012, according to Forbes was $90 million! That makes him 9th in the money rankings, behind heavyweights like Oprah at no. 1, Michael Bay at 2, Steven Spielberg at 3, Jerry Bruckheimer at 4, Dr. Dre at 5, Tyler Perry at 6, Howard Stern at 7, and James Patterson at 8. What surprised me was that he is ahead of people like George Lucas and Donald Trump. I knew Simon had money but I didn’t think he was up in the top 10! He comes in at no. 18 on the celebrity 100, no.19 in TV/ radio, 28 in press, 79 in social and 84 in web.

Simon got his break into the music industry as an A&R through his dad’s connections (his dad was a music industry executive at EMI). He has created his wealth through television mainly. His time as a judge on American Idol helped him break into the US where he was known for his bluntness and insults. He started his X Factor franchise which has spread across the world and has signed chart-topping acts such as Leona Lewis and One Direction. His other show Britain’s Got Talent has generated other Got Talent shows and the show found acts like Susan Boyle who made a global impact. He also has numerous other shows. All of the acts from his shows are signed to his label Syco which is affiliated with Sony BMG.

Simon Cowell can smell money from a mile away. Where he sees an opportunity he jumps right in and makes a “killing.” He milks that particular project (or cow) until there is absolutely nothing left (e.g. X Factor UK, it really is dying). His most recent project is the Sony X headphones, yes, Simon Cowell has turned his hand to the consumer electronic market. This range of headphones has been seen at every possible opportunity during the X Factor USA shows and they are the official headphone partners of the talent show. His reason for making headphones is simply because he wanted something better than what is in the market today, as if there aren’t enough celebrities making headphones!

Another deal that he stuck is the partnership with Pepsi. Pepsi recently announced that it will be offering the X Factor USA winner a $5million Syco record deal AND a Grammy ad video!! This video will debut during the 2013 Grammy Awards which is the perfect opportunity to launch an artist’s career, on one of the biggest nights in the music calendar. Last years winner (Melanie Amaro) starred in a Pepsi commercial for the Super Bowl which was big but this is not only big but better as it’s music’s biggest night and introduces you to the whose who in music. Pepsi is one of music’s most powerful brands second only to Coca-Cola on Billboard’s 2012 Maximum Exposure chart which ranks the 75 most effective platforms in music discovery (something I will be writing about in my next blog). Pepsi have invested $60 million in X Factor marketing support alone.

Although X Factor UK numbers are dwindling week by week, his American version has been renewed for another season by Fox. It looks like Simon will be laughing all the way to the bank for a few more years.




The X Factor Brand part II

The X Factor is a global brand.  On this map, dark blue shows the countries where they have their own version of X Factor, the light blue shows countries where they are participating in an international version and the grey shows countries where X Factor has little or no presence.

This blog is a continuation from last one on how X Factor has become this massive brand that has dominated TV for almost 10 years.

3. Focus on what you are good at

X Factor singers are criticised if their performances lack personality and are too similar to the original. Judges comment that they “sound like…” which is not always a compliment even if the original was amazing. Judges look for personality and a voice that is distinct to that one performer. With brands, the ones that stand out are the ones that have authenticity that genuinely reflect distinct values. Brands reflect the personality of an organisation, think of Apple.

4. You only have a few minutes

Contestants put in hours of practice and only get a few minutes to prove themselves on stage to the audience and judges. The short attention span of today’s audiences makes it even more important that messages are clear and get to the point quickly. In terms of brands, this can involve creating an emotional memory or something simple and repeatable.

5. Consistency matters

There’s nothing worse than seeing the performance of someone you’ve been rooting for ruined by inconsistency! When you listen to your favourite artist, their style may not always be the same, but there is something in their tone of voice or delivery that makes you a fan. Consistency means a lot.

For a brand, it’s about repeating your distinct message, logo, voice and identity. While brands evolve as markets change and new products are developed, brand equity is built on consistency and customer loyalty.

6. Taking criticism

It’s easy to pick out the difficult over-confident performers in talent shows. They brushoff the advice of the judges and respond defensively even when they know that the performance was bad.

Brand’s face criticism through social media and other outlets. It is very important not to “shoot the messenger” but rather use the feedback to improve. Sometimes the greatest opportunities for improvement lie in criticism that hurts a little (or sometimes a lot!)

7. Your fans are your best followers

There are loads of X Factor fan sites. All these fans have opinions and are ready to fight for them. These fans can even change the way the competition is judged.

Social media is now an integral part of most brand strategies with good reason. They present an opportunity to rally the most passionate fans and involve them. Social networks provide a great way to listen in and ultimately enable you to establish what is really important to the customers that you want to engage with.

For me X Factor and other talent shows are about the entertainment value. Here you have 12 contestants battling it out for a £1 million recording contract and practically overnight fame. Why not? Results are manipulated, judges bicker meaninglessly, novelty acts create a media buzz…the formula works even though ratings are down.


The X Factor Brand

How did the X Factor come to be known as one of the biggest brands in the world? How did this talent show turn into a giant brand? The answer to these questions would be valuable information to anyone, gold dust even. It would unlock the power to unlimited fortune and success. But the answer is not something that can be written down and replicated. It is difficult to recognise the intangibility of its popularity, the role of chance and a million other elements that have contributed to the X Factor status. Let me attempt to explain over the next couple of blogs how X Factor has become the brand that it is:

1. Understand the audience

Chris Hackley, professor of marketing at Royal Holloway, and co-author Stephen Brown, professor of marketing research at Ulster University, conducted a study on the popularity of X Factor and what they came up with was that fundamental to the current obsession with the hit TV show is its ability to “tap into a human need for rituals of change and transformation.”

In other words who doesn’t love a rags-to-riches fairy tale sort of story. The stories that people grew up hearing, where someone “just like you and me” makes it big and gets all the glitter and glamour that comes along with being a superstar etc. The X Factor fulfills the audience’s wish to see this happen to someone ordinary and they experience the journey with them.

X Factor producers know their target audience and what they want to provide them with as effectively as possible. Creating this emotional connection with audiences is part of it. Auditions have become a place where people can talk about how hard life has been, the personal issues and inner battles that they’ve dealt with etc. It’s a bit over done if you ask me but it works.

X Factor is the like a master manipulator and knows how to create this emotional connection very well through the dramatic tension caused by contrasting the tragic stories of the contestants with possible fame and fortune. By pitting “rejection and failure” with “acceptance and success” the audience recognises this, feels a powerful sense of commitment towards it and falls for it year after year.

2. Stand out from the crowd

Rylan pops to mind! But forget that. The best voice doesn’t necessarily win the X Factor. It’s about the performer who has “something special” which can range from look, to a likeable personality, personal singing style, to a beautiful face. If they have all those factors and more, the act has a guaranteed top 3 finish. The producers will ensure that!

These differentiating factors need to matter to the audience in the same way that a product or a company stands out from its competitors. This continual and evolving process changes as competitor’s change. Central to making a brand unique and successful is identifying what makes it different, likeable and most importantly remarkable!

In the next blog, I’ll continue explaining my ideas on how X Factor has become this massive brand that has dominated TV for almost 10 years.