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Creating a rockstar brand: the Rolling Stones Exhibit

Culture · 5 min read

Creating a rockstar brand: the Rolling Stones Exhibit

The Rolling Stones Exhibit celebrates the impact the Stones have had over the last 50 years. And it turns out that rock’n’roll and some of the most famous brands have more in common than you might think.

The Rolling Stones Exhibit, delivered by DHL, is a multi-media, interactive tour de force that’s criss-crossing the globe. Exhibit curator, Ileen Gallagher, gives us some behind-the-scenes insights into the creation of the show and we look at the parallels between Exhibitionism's key revelations and how other brands have made their mark on the world stage.

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Change the world

Ileen Gallagher revealed the ambition that shaped Exhibitionism: “We really wanted to talk about how culture has been impacted by the Rolling Stones. By their music, by their fashion, by their films, by their album covers. Pretty much everything they do has touched on some aspect of popular culture.” The strongest brands are often powerful enough to touch every aspect of society. Look at how luxury brand Gucci attained full social mobility by becoming “the most name-dropped fashion brand in all of hip hop.”

Rolling Stones lips and tongue

Exhibitionism’s biggest lesson is to transcend your roots: it’s the principle that gives Lego the confidence to go from children’s toy, to theme park, to box-office smashing movie franchise. It’s also the impetus that means Caterpillar is no longer ‘just’ a heavy equipment manufacturer, but a label on everything from phones and watches to eyeglasses.

Don’t look back

Exhibitionism was never going to be just another rock’n’roll nostalgia-fest. As Ileen Gallagher made clear, “Mick Jagger and the rest of the band were really not interested in looking back in time. They always want to look forward and that’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful over the last 50 years and stayed so current.” The most successful classic brands have always had an eye on the future. Take National Geographic, which successfully swerved the demise of print by re-inventing itself as a stunning multi-channel TV franchise in 2001. Or Keith Richards’ favorite tipple, Jack Daniels, which has retained its homespun Tennessee heritage yet managed to remain relevant to its youthful target audience through its enthusiastic sponsorship of music festivals and the NBA (National Basketball Association).

Create an immersive experience

“The exhibition is very thematic and also very kind of environmental,” says Ileen, “we recreated The Rolling Stones’ first flat in London and a simulation of Olympic Studios where they recorded most of their albums.” Yet again, the exhibit proves to be right on the money because, according to Brand Quarterly, “experience has started to trump information … you need to create incredibly rich experiences around your brand to get interest.” Like the Microsoft Infinity Room where viewers are immersed in a sea of data. Or the Ikea Place app which lets you put full size furniture wherever you happen to be. Immersive experiences no longer need to take up a physical space, thanks to Virtual Reality. In early 2018, Jaguar let people explore their latest car through a thrilling VR experience.

Great logos tell a story

There’s one part of the "Stones" heritage that’s impossible to ignore. As Ileen Gallagher puts it, “just think about their logo. It’s one of the most recognizable and most iconic logos of the 20th and 21st centuries”. So naturally, as part of 'Exhibit', “we go into art and design and talk about the creating of the tongue and lips logo.” Just as the 'lips' have become a universal symbol of rock’n’roll rebellion, classic brand logos tell a powerful story. We think of the Nike swoosh and how it’s come to represent athletic endeavor. The interlocking Cs of Chanel which instantly convey the idea of luxury. Or Mickey Mouse, who can represent the joy and magic of Disney even as a simple silhouette.

Fashioning your brand

The Stones have always defined rock’n’roll chic and Ileen talked us through the exhibition’s Style Gallery: “It’s about these very seminal popular culture moments that the band was part of and the clothing that was associated with those moments. We start out with Carnaby Street and the King’s Road fashion then we go into a section called Glam, where they really impacted culture through things like Altamont.” The link between fashion and brands is very powerful and it’s one we at DHL are very aware of. We recently gave fashion designers Vetements permission to create high-end DHL-branded T-shirts, a move that has thrust us into the social media spotlight thanks to A-list celebs like Kanye West, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner, who have all been spotted wearing the brand.

Work with the best

Exhibitionism also highlights another important part of the Stones story – their keen eye for collaborators. As Ileen Gallagher explains, “They’ve been able to really stay on the cutting edge of culture. During every decade, they’ve recognized talent in art and design, stage craft and fashion. In the 60s it was Andy Warhol, in 2000 it was Shepard Fairey and Alexander McQueen.” Brand/artist collaborations have become increasingly important. Lady Gaga’s performance at the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards was a stunning showcase for Intel technology. Acclaimed modern artist Jeff Koons teamed with Louis Vuitton to create a glamorously irreverent handbag collection based on the works of Old Masters. Instagram have even employed their own full-time poet – Reuben Holmes – whose thoughtful contributions to the site have rapidly gained him thousands of followers.

Never lose control

At the end of the day, the best curators of the Stones brand are the Stones themselves. And curator Ileen Gallagher agrees, “The band approved everything and they really participated in the process, which was fantastic.” Their involvement even went as far as the name, “Mick came up with the title 'Exhibitionism' which I think is kind of great because I think throughout their career there has been exhibitionism of some kind surrounding many of the things they’ve done.”

So Exhibitionism isn’t just the story of the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band. It’s also an object lesson in how one the most recognized brands of the 20th and 21st centuries stayed true to its roots, while growing in cultural relevance and remaining fresh.

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