There’s a famous Nirvana shirt describing the band as, “Flower Sniffin’, Kitty Pettin’, Baby Kissin’ Corporate Rock Whores.” It was a reference to a never-published book about the band, Cobain, and Courtney Love. They successfully blocked the book from ever seeing the light of day in the mid-90s. The phrase was also a cheeky jab at what happens when anti-commercial art becomes commercialized.
Nobody is supposed to want to “sell out.” But what’s more successful than an artist selling out of the art they make? There’s a line.
One modern trend brands are dealing with now, especially in the social media era we’re living in, is a spin on this idea. People want to consume products without feeling like consumerists. Rory Sutherland covers it in his audiobook, Hacking the Unconscious. It reminded me of the Nirvana t-shirt story.
According to Sutherland, helping our customers feel like they’re not playing into the “Corporate Rock Whore” label matters more than ever in a world where many people like to talk about what they’re doing and why. The sharing of certain purchases, behaviors, and decisions means people want to support and connect with brands they feel like represent their values.
It’s a fine line between selling out of goods and services people want, and being viewed as sell-out corporate shills willing to do anything to make a buck. Consumers don’t want to talk about brands who might make them look bad. Conversely, they’re more than happy to talk about brands who make them look better.
As we look at our own businesses, emphasizing the connectivity with our clients over the perception of what we’re doing for our bottom line is as important as ever. If we can also make it into a simple, sharable story – we might even be able to sniff some flowers, pet some kitties, and kiss some babies…without the corporate rock whore label.