Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Marketing Genius of Bruno Mars

Like the tobacco industry, you need not want to purchase a product to respect a well-constructed business strategy.

Consider the example of singer Bruno Mars. If you need to understand him in a single picture, try this one:

File:Bruno Mars, Las Vegas 2010.jpg


He sings cliched romance songs aimed at a young female audience, selling the fantasy of himself as some kind of mix-race romantic icon. Look at him, cheesily holding the hand of some adoring fan and singing directly to her while someone, presumably her friend, takes a photo.

Again, I'm not the target demographic here, but his stuff is well designed.

In particular, here's his famous song 'Just the Way You Are':

First of all, it's marketed broadly at the only demographic still paying for music - impressionable teenage girls.

It begins with pure boilerplate about some hypothetical beautiful girl.
Oh, her eyes, her eyes
Make the stars look like they're not shinin'
Her hair, her hair
Falls perfectly without her trying
She's so beautiful
And I tell her everyday
So far, so ordinary. The tune is catchy, the sentiment prosaic.

But then it gets interesting. No, not interesting the way the Iliad is interesting, or the way Yeats is interesting, but the way that a well-constructed ad-campaign is interesting.
I know, I know
When I compliment her she won't believe me
And it's so, it's so
Sad to think that she don't see what I see
But every time she asks me "Do I look okay? "
I say...
These lines flow on effortlessly from the previous ones, constructing a narrative of a pretty but insecure girl. Makes sense.

Then you stop and think, and realise it makes no sense at all. Think back to the really pretty girls you've met. How many of them were in the category of:

a) Being really pretty, but for some reason being really insecure about that fact, and thinking instead they were actually quite ugly


b) Having known by at least age 10, if not earlier, that they were really hot, as evidenced by being treated nicely by strangers, complimented by adults, having men of various ages stare at them, and all the boys want to kiss them.

Reader, it is a very strong rule that the attractive women of the world generally know that they're attractive. Look at the model in the film clip - do you really think it's credible that 'when he compliments her, she won't believe him'? Don't make me laugh.

So we can be quite sure that song isn't really aimed at girls who are actually pretty but think they aren't. Those girls are unicorns. Rather, it's just aimed at girls who think they aren't pretty. They are a much larger demographic, due to the sad reality of the bell curve - only 2.5% of the population will be two standard deviations above the mean.

Girls who think they're not pretty are, sadly, probably right. But don't worry, Bruno Mars, this hunky romantic guy is here to tell you that you're actually beautiful and just don't know it! Sure, you may not be able to get him directly, but buy his CD anyway! Plus some other Bruno Mars surrogate will surely come along in your life soon.

Then the chorus makes a great segue:
When I see your face
There's not a thing that I would change
'Cause you're amazing
Just the way you are
And when you smile
The whole world stops and stares for a while
'Cause girl you're amazing
Just the way you are
Notice how effortlessly the song shifts from the third person (she is beautiful) to the second person (you are beautiful). The song is now unashamedly being sung to the audience, just like the first photo. You, listener, are perfect! You shouldn't change anything, just be yourself. 

Talk about mainlining an IV drip of the most saccharine form of feel-good self-esteem culture. There's no problem that can't be fixed by feeling good about yourself.

Admittedly, this sentiment is perhaps less toxic in the area of attractiveness, where a good chunk of the effect really is fixed at birth. (It's more problematic to encourage students to feel good about the fact that they just failed the maths test). Maybe it's just not fun to realise that you're not that attractive, and this is just a palliative.

Perhaps. But the risk is twofold. First, you might just end up with unreasonably high expectations, and end up with nobody, instead of someone who's actually in your league. And secondly, you might think that self-esteem excuses you from self-improvement, especially in the areas where you can make a difference. 

I leave it to the reader to decide the extent to which the phenomenon of excessive self-esteem is a problem among modern American youth of both sexes.

(Also, if you want to hear a really catchy cover of the song that will make you hate yourself as much as I do, check out here.)


  1. I thought you were going to comment on his cross necklace, hipster hat and gold watch.

    1. Ha, I hadn't even noticed that He's slightly religious, but not in a creepy way, yet also hip and trendy! You can bring him to the club, but also home to meet your mum. What's not to love?

      I really hope there's some slick music executive laughing his ass off at the product he created.

  2. Is Billy Joel's "hit" of the same name really any less sickly sweet though?

    1. I dunno, the Joel one is still cheesy (frankly I don't think it's possible to write a song titled 'just the way you are' that isn'tcheesy), but it at least reads like it could plausibly be written about a real person. Mars is in the uncanny valley of cloying praise of a not-really-plausible girl who just happens to meet market-research tested themes.

  3. Stupid article....what about "late bloomers"....i sure wasn't 'hot' at age ten and didn't much care till I was about 16 and started wearing makeup, etc........

    You sound like a misogynist.