The Hardest Working Brand in Show Business?

I grew up on the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. He was also known as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Does he matter today? There never would have been a or Michael Jackson without him. Every half funked musician knows this truth. Every funked out star has cited him as the heaviest of influences ever since being funked out was cool, which is since the beginning. So why was he, is he, such a domineering influence still? Precisely because he really was the hardest working man in show business.

No lie. No other musician, not even Little Richard (although he was close) rhythm and blues’d it, rocked it, funked, it, danced it, screamed it and sang it as hard as James Brown. And everyone knew it because all you had to do was listen to the godfather, look at a still of the godfather, or watch a film or TV clip of the godfather of soul and you knew he was the real deal. Why? Because you can’t fake it.

Know any brands that work that hard today? I can think of only a few that come close. Apple is the most obvious. And while there’s lots of talk about how hard it is to work for Steve Jobs, maybe that’s partly because when it comes to the details, it appears that he shares more than a little of the obsessive gene with the godfather of soul. He fusses, he approves, he fusses some more. Not good enough. Not good enough. Try harder, start again, he tells his people. He’s taken the mission of one man and turned it into the mission of a company. And it’s hard to get a lot of people to tow the line unless you hit the point every minute of every day. It’s no coincidence that he’s the biggest shareholder in Disney. Disney was known for being a pain in the ass too. “You’re just not getting it” he was known to say to his people. He might not have always been able to give them the specific instruction to take them into the clarified state that would enable them to fix whatever they were working on, but he sure knew enough not to settle. He never did, and his product showed it.

And what’s the reaction of the marketplace? We love the brands that work hard for us, that work hard to be the values we’re so desperately seeking. We love Apple and BMW and James Cameron, and, at least before the scandal, Tiger Woods, because all of these brands (and people) work it to death. Experiencing this makes visible and real the inspiring capability of the human mind. These brands and the experiences they create are live examples of what the mind can achieve when it’s working at its best.

Owning some of that, whether for an instant (as in listening to a James Brown track or buying a ticket to Avatar) or for an extended length of time (as in owning a BMW) reminds us of our own capabilities and potential, inspires us, and often sparks us to greater levels of our own achievement. In this way, these brands contribute to our life force so we affiliate with them, nurture our connection to them through usage and purchase, and end up in a state of loyalty that gives those brands power in good times and resilience in challenging times.

Where is your brand experience on the spectrum between hardly working and working hardest? If it’s not close to working hardest in its category, it’s soon going to be hardly working.


  1. This is a great question David. I would add Ford, and Southwest Airlines to the list of hard working brands. (Full disclosure they are both sponsors of our event). But I think both of those brands have a pretty clear identity and reputation for working very hard to deliver the best product and experience possible for their customers.

    I love them both as brands for exactly that reason.

    Ford certainly had their problems for a time as all American car makers did but seem to have really remembered their roots, and found a new commitment to their customer and what their brand stands for. By the way remember Apple had their problems too after Steve Jobs left for a while.

    Starbucks is another brand that has that certain something. Everything has to be just right, their commitment to corporate responsibility, etc. As my assistant just told me "I have never been disappointed at Starbucks". That's a pretty strong statement to make about a brand.

  2. Completely agree Rick. Ford is a great example of what happens when you make up your mind to turn it around, as is Apple. The hard work paid off in both cases because we consumers really do appreciate the effort.

    Let's keep a list here of hard-working brands. Feel free to add your faves everyone.