Like a Bolton From the Blue: A Rebrand Success Story

Sometimes you see a rebrand revealed that just makes you go “!!!!!!!!!!” in a good way. Like, “Ahhh yes I see what they were going for here and it’s working for me.” Early 2017 has kicked off with one of the best rebrand jobs I could imagine. The one … the only … Michael Bolton.

Sometimes you see a rebrand revealed that just makes you go “!!!!!!!!!!” in a good way. Like, “Ahhh yes I see what they were going for here and it’s working for me.” All the time, resources, programming, designing, blood sweat and tears that go into a full rebrand are, of course, worth it in the end when your brand has the image, message, and audience it needs for lasting success.

I’m bringing this up because early 2017 has kicked off with one of the best rebrand jobs I could imagine, and since a rebrand is a marketing topic, I could use it as an excuse to talk about the one … the only …

Michael Bolton.

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Is it the flowing locks, the piercing eyes, the sultry vocals, the full combo? Something about this guy cast a spell over millions of the so-inclined population in the 80s and early 90s, resulting in 75 million-plus record sales and multiple Grammy awards. But as for his staying power with his fans’ children  … well, my earliest memory of the Bolt is “that weird looking guy in the love songs commercial that comes on during Doug.” A few years later, he was upgraded to “the guy who sings the Hercules song.”

I think it’s safe to say the same traits that made him a heartthrob in his heyday were a recipe for the kids of his fans to brand him tragically uncool. So how’d he end up front and center of Netflix release, Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special, landing rave reviews and waves of young adult viewers?

From my humble perspective, Bolton (or whoever manages Bolton’s publicity and marketing, at least) succeeded where so many fail: They tapped into the specific sense of humor of the younger demographic, and they used it to get in on the joke rather than be the butt of it.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not so into blanket “market to millennials” statements, but if there’s one generalization I feel pretty comfortable making, it’s this. The millennial sense of humor has three important components: irony, self-awareness and meme-ability. (This third one is a bit abstract, I know, it’s the sort of thing you just know when you encounter it.) Michael Bolton’s return to the mainstream is steeped in all three, in all the best of ways.

14watching-master768Bolton’s arrival in the millennial conscience, at least as “cool” or “funny,” can probably be traced back to a running joke in the 1999 cult classic Office Space. A character in the movie shares his name with the 80s superstar, and has to deal with constant “Are you related to…?” and “Are you a fan of…?” questions throughout the course of the movie and, presumably, his life. From there, the seed was planted.

It wasn’t until 12 years later, in 2011, that comedy trio Lonely Island really made that seed bloom by booking Bolton for a single and accompanying music video. In Jack Sparrow, the trio records what sounds like a fairly typical mainstream rap track, until Michael Bolton, now rocking a short ‘do, continues to “interrupt” with a dramatic, power ballad hook telling the story of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean character. And it’s a heckin jam. As of the time I’m writing this post, the video has 163 million views.

From there, Michael Bolton has successfully become cool to the kids. Fast forward to 2017, and they’ve taken that idea and run the whole nine yards with it. I won’t get into the absurd but hilarious (and raunchy) plot of the Netflix special, but suffice it to say, Michael must harness the power of his … ahem … mood-making music to save Christmas.

It’s the perfect way to combine his cheesy, saccharine romance image of the past with the ridiculous, campy-yet-clever style of today’s comedic landscape. At some point, he faces off with saxophonist Kenny G (played by Andy Samberg) while the real Kenny G plays a janitor.

The concept itself might have been enough to get people intrigued, but Netflix had some seriously killer marketing to go with it, like these amazing promotional videos they tweeted last week. (Warning, they’re PG-13.)

In one more win for the Make Bolton Cool Again publicity team, last week Vanity Fair released an incredible video in which Michael Bolton goes undercover as a barista at a local coffee shop, singing the customers’ names and orders. It’s pretty much the best four minutes of my life. “The Bolts served us,” one 20-something hipster tells the camera in excitement. If that’s not proof of winning over a new generation, I don’t know what is.

He knows he’s kinda lame, he knows his whole shtick back in the day was first-dance-wedding-playlist-music, and he knows no one can deny he’s got pipes. All it takes his his willingness to play up all these facts to the fullest, and BAM, he’s got himself a whole new audience. I have so much respect for every creative mind involved in this endeavor.

The Bolts even inspired our millennial-run marketing and events department here at Target Marketing to add a new feature to our corner of the office. Starring Michael Bolton, and featuring some random other Boltons, I present to you….

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… The Bolton Board. 

Happy (week after) Valentine’s Day!