I’ve always wanted to write about Lady Gaga. I am simply fascinated by the person behind the outfit, the symbol, the icon. I feel intrigued and ask myself, what is it about her? In just a few years since her debut, why has she left such a huge imprint on the music industry? Why is she one of the most searched topics on the Internet? What have been the factors leading her to become the cultural phenomenon she is today?
The topic simply bewilders me. So much that I’ve spent months marveling on the subject. I’ve brought it up almost everywhere I go. To my friends over coffee or dinner, to people I barely know… and even store clerks at the check-out as I am paying for something. I just need to know why people love her as they do.
What is it about her that fascinates us so? Why are people so crazy about her? I just can’t help but wonder… when it comes to this lady, why is the world gaga for Gaga?
Two words. Eight letters. 24 years and already a legend. Often regarded as Michael Jackson and Madonna’s love child and generating controversy everywhere she goes, Stefani Germanotta, a.k.a. Lady Gaga, has taken pop culture to a whole new level. With her music, words and wits, she has created a fan base of millions, who follow her and defend her unconditionally. It’s practically a cult. The girl who learned how to play the piano at age 4 was named as one the 100 most influential people of the world by Time Magazine. Her multiplatinum album sales and sold-out tours also include more than 7 million followers on Twitter and more than 22 million fans on Facebook. Her videos have been viewed more than 1 billion times on YouTube – “Bad Romance” by itself has had 304,220,436 hits and “Alejandro” 99,704, 584 views. Not bad, huh?
The thing that strikes me of Lady Gaga is the scope of her. She’s not just any artist- she’s a diva, a movement, an advocate, a trendsetter and a chameleon. She is the act. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear that Madame Tussauds is dedicating 8 wax figures to the star all over the world, each worth more than US$300K (for a total of US$ 2.4 million), and to find out that she is now the subject of a college course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame”. We simply can’t deny that she has taken the world by storm. She is unstoppable.
When attempting to analyze a brand, deconstructing it is a great way to start. This will help you identify the attributes that constitute it, and then fully grasp the weight and importance each element has on the general perception everyone has of it.
So what are the elements of the Gaga brand that make it such a success?
Uniqueness and Memorability
Lady Gaga’s performances and out-of-this-world outfits create a strong and memorable impression in all of us, distinguishing her from all other artists. She tapped into our minds in a way few singers have done so. She was able to personify and ultimately own the word “different”, making her easy to recognize and recall. As a brand, she communicates individuality, creativity and originality, making people quench for more. She does not apologize for who she is, making her furthermore seem as a very self-confident person.
Whether in a video, dance routine or in an outfit, she goes beyond the obvious. Starting with her name, everything revolving around Gaga triggers interest and curiosity. This obsession for everything related to her has made her one of the most searched topics on the internet and helped her reach stardom, something she puts to good use. She leverages on the support of millions to channel her ideas - whether it’s defending animal rights or standing up for the gay community.
In terms of her videos, she’s covered topics such as religion, sexuality, oppression, relationships, among other subjects. As an internet user once wrote about her music video: “Alejandro is a metaphor for society’s gender role of the aggressive man that society yearns for.”
In essence, she is an artist like any other - she wants to make music that people can sing and dance to. But the difference between Lady Gaga and everyone else today is something called delivery. Therein lies message. It’s not only the what, it’s also the how.
Some call her attitude inspiring. Others call it costume. The fact is no one can argue that Lady Gaga’s influence and unique style has become her trademark. Her boldness sets her apart from everyone else when she dared to wear distinctive ensembles that had only been seen in runways. From McQueen, Gaultier, Givenchy, to Armani, she is the living embodiment of haute couture. Her numerous artistic outfits have sparked an uncontrollable amount of attention and even imitators who want to dress up like her. It’s no surprise that she was this year’s Halloween hit.
As my designer friend Martín de Koller says, “Lady Gaga is a designer’s wish come true. She's willing to wear what you dream of designing but no one dares to actually wear. So she’s really like the fairy godmother that will make that artistic vision come to life. There is no one out there willing to take such risks. She is the bond between art and business. She pushes the limit, she raises the bar.”
Talent and Performance
Lady Gaga is a talented artist that can sing, dance, play the piano and write her own music. Her dedication and gift adds value and credibility to herself. She is not just about the theatrics, she has another layer. She got to where she is not just by coming out in People Magazine with a telephone on her head, she did by strive and dedication. “I did this the way you’re supposed to. I played every club in NYC and I bombed in every club and then killed in every club and I found myself as an artist. I learned how to survive as an artist, get real, and how to fail and then figure out who I was a singer and performer. And, I worked hard.”
If there’s one thing that stars such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and Lady Gaga have in common, it’s the love for musical theater. When did Michael Jackson ever produce a video that was “just ok”? Being regular isn’t part of the deal for them; they aim much higher. Their videos are mega productions with plots, scripts, infinite costume changes, dancers, and props like you can’t imagine. In the end, it’s not only about the song, but about what surrounds it as well - the outfits, the video - elements that lead to attention, interpretation and word of mouth. Gaga's performance at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards is a great example of this, for it was simply out of this world.
The Underdog effect
A few days ago I published a link on the site to an article of Harvard Business Review, called “Capitalizing on the Underdog Effect”, by Anat Keinan, Jill Avery and Neeru Paharia. In it, they wrote: “The biographies of underdog brands share two important narrative components: a disadvantaged position and a passion and determination to triumph against the odds. And the stronger a subject’s own “underdog disposition”—a sense of struggling in tough circumstances—was, the greater his or her preference for the underdog brand”
This phenomenon is not uncommon when it comes to marketing. People seem to take a keen interest to those who have suffered or fight against the odds. Underdog brands appeal to minorities or outcasts because they themselves feel identified with it. Lady Gaga represents every repressed homosexual, rejected kid or frustrated teenager that is mocked in class. She has turned herself into an advocate and statement for all of them. Now it’s them vs. us. It’s like my friend Martín said: “Everyone has a freak inside of them. But we silence that freak in order to fit in. Lady Gaga has made being one ok and something not to be ashamed of.”
Community and Support
This is where she hits the ball right out of the ballpark. Gaga’s community is simply out of this world. Her fans are crazy about her. It’s more than just the inclination towards her, it’s pure fascination. She has developed a community with her followers, to whom she calls her “little monsters”, and who refer to her as their “mother monster”. Their relationship is constantly fostered through Facebook and Twitter, where she posts pictures and status updates of her adventures.
Something that really strikes me is her use of the word “we”. Anytime she refers to a triumph and breakthrough - awards especially - she says “We did it” “We won this” “We can do it”… It implies that the whole Gaga project is not just about her, but about all of them as a whole, fighting for a cause. She is a movement that reflects the people and not just herself. It reminds me a lot of President Obama’s campaign back in 2008, with the claim “Yes we can” everywhere. It’s an excellent strategy because it subconsciously triggers an idea in the mind leading people to believe that there are the ones who are behind the person, which in turn strikes up immediate commitment on their behalf to generate its success.
The girl’s got brains
Just as you’re about to think she’s just your regular pop princess with nothing on her head, she’ll open her mouth and say something extremely interesting or defend an ideal with pure passion and determination. She has been able to define and create the whole Gaga “universe” that revolves around her. She is a brand in herself. And everything she does and says, and with every “meat” outfit or lobster hat she wears, she further builds that brand, with coherence and resolve.
We live in a world of symbols. Everything is connected and associated with something else. And every symbol carries a meaning. She has a well defined and clear symbol, which is hard to miss. It stands out from the crowd and is authentic. What you see is what you get.
When it comes to brands, even if you are an artist, a toaster oven, an automobile, or even a pair of pants, it all boils down to one thing, and one thing only. In order to stand out in the “jungle”, you need to build a unique identity, one that fosters interest and a bond with those around you. No more, no less. It’s what branding is all about. It’s what divides the beloved from the forgotten. It’s what will get you into the ultimate doorstep - the mind.
Lady Gaga is a clear example of talent, hard work and excellent branding. Whether it’s been a mere coincidence or serious branding strategy, the fact is, she is individuality personified. She has been able to stand out, way out, in this very crowded marketplace. She has sparked an interest in the many interpretations and manifestations a human being can have when dressing up, and how this leads to the fulfillment of your independence and personal expression. And she continues to bring out that “little monster” that everyone has inside, one song and outfit at a time.
"Marketing is the battle for the mind." (Ries, Al. Trout, Jack. "Positioning")
* Special thanks to Ysel Jáquez, Aleshiang Ben, Martín de Koller and María del Mar Moré for their awesome input.