The Branding of David Bowie

January 21, 2016


What Music’s Famed Creative Taught Us About Rebranding

Creative renaissance man Cameron Crowe recently spoke of artist David Bowie:

He was always obsessed with music and art and never the business…David Bowie’s impact is so huge in that he presents himself now as a role model to artists that may need to remember that it’s not about branding. It’s about a restless need to be creative and to continue being creative, and David Bowie was the anti-branding artist.

This statement best exemplifies someone whose influence truly lied in their ability to be on the cutting-edge. Bowie was primarily focused on what it meant to be true to himself and his vision, his overall creativity, that it seems wrong to write about the branding of David Bowie. Can the lack of a brand be a brand? Rebranding is a powerful tool, used by businesses large and small, to reinvent, recreate, and alter the message they send to the world. At the core of it, David Bowie was an expert at the art of rebranding- and his lessons can inspire anyone.

The Different Brands of David Bowie

Various alter egos of David BowieDavid Jones: David Bowie’s given birth name, he changed it when Davy Jones of the Monkees rose to fame. This version of Bowie was deeply invested in Buddhism and was a jazz saxophonist.

Ziggy Stardust: One of Bowie’s most famous alter-egos, Ziggy Stardust rendered him as an androgynous, bisexual alien rock star. He cut his hair into a mullet and dyed it red, painted a lightning bolt on his face, and wore tight jumpsuits.

Major Tom: An astronaut lost in space, this brand preceded his most famous- Ziggy Stardust. This is considered to be an autobiographical persona. 

Aladdin Sane: Taken quite literally “A Lad Insane”, this brand is an Americanized Ziggy Stardust that was highly influenced by Bowie’s schizophrenic brother.

Thin White Duke: At the height of his drug use, Bowie created an almost fascist alter-ego that seemed normal but was suffering from deep trauma. He wore white clothing and kept his hair slicked back- a move differing from the red mullet seen as Ziggy Stardust and Halloween Jack.

Halloween Jack: A cool version of Bowie often sporting scarves, platformed shoes, and an eye patch. He’s more hearkened to a punk rock icon than Ziggy Stardust.

While Bowie may not have had one particular brand per se, he did become a brand in his own right. His brand became the act of rebranding. As Bowie famously stated, “Turn and face the strange changes.” For building a personal brand, this is no different. Expecting time to remain static and a brand to be successful from start to finish without making applicable changes is problematic! Reevaluating his evolution as both a man and an artist contributed to his constant reinvention, interest, and how he remained the artist we’ve come to love.

What David Bowie has taught us about branding:

  • Be bold in your message.
  • Don’t be afraid to reinvent as needed.
  • Take risks in your marketing
  • The strange can be beautiful
  • Take some time to figure it all out
  • Avoid getting comfortable in your brand

From a professional standpoint, it is usually recommended to understand your core business model as a starting point to developing your brand and keep this as a thread in all your marketing. Bowie did none of this. The only thing that remained the same throughout his lifetime was his iconic pale skin and skinny body frame. His appearance and message, for nearly 70 years, remained in a constant state of flux.

These are lessons we can all apply to branding- whether it be for ourselves or our business. While the level of reinvention espoused by Bowie is something uniquely his own, there are still valuable lessons! For 50 years, David Bowie remained one of the most iconic figures in American musical history, so he must have been doing something right! Apply some risks in your branding and see what happens.