What Can SME’s Learn From The Sex Pistols? – make your marketing stand out

“Generation X was breast-fed punk and invented indie, and grunge, and techno, and any bloody musical genre of worth that you care to name. We transformed the Eighties and we owned the Nineties. We had alcopops and ecstasy and we were fearless and stupid and happy, but we still got up for work on Monday morning, no matter how bad we felt.”

This paragraph from a David Barnett article in the Independent caught my attention, it did more than that it sent me back and brought a smile to my face. The article was about a battle that is going on with baby boomers and millennials and how generation X are awesome as we had the best of both worlds. I’ll save that debate for another time.


I was born on what they call the cusp, in 1978 one October I was brought into this world, a year after punk had taken grip of a nation’s youth, however, if I was breast fed it’s more likely that it’s on Motown as that’s what my mother would have been listening to back then. It was not until I was 17 and went to “Our Price” (a high street music shop for those who don’t know) and flicked through the CDs I saw one of the most brilliant covers, I used to love music that was a little bit different, we all wanted a few things that friend did not have, special editions, something different. I bought this album on the cover alone. It’s was so simple, but the font was awesome and it had the word “bollocks” emblazoned across the front, in my mind this was already going to be great.

Once home I’ll never forget the crunching boots across gravel as I listened to the opening track, this album was nearly 20 years old back then and the anger in John Lydon’s voice spoke to me, I began to realise how influential the pistols were, my other idols of the day (Oasis, left field to name a few) all quoting how the pistols had influenced them, then literally months after they reformed for the filthy lucre tour, I was in pistol overload, they were everywhere, archive footage the lot.


Thanks for sticking with me, because here is the crack, I read Johnny Rotten’s first book “no blacks, no dogs no Irish” and I was struck by how much of this was contrived to gain publicity. I was also at college studying media at the time (one of the few courses I was not kicked off). It was clever, they created a market, a genre and wow what powerful branding. No airplay on radio, blanked out in the charts, an incredible feat of marketing! Was it the first viral marketing campaign, I am guessing not but it was certainly one of the most powerful, the band failed to do a proper tour, released one album and now 38 years after release is still influencing.

For SMEs this gives you some great things to consider for your own brand, so if you do one thing at least stick on a song or album from a time when you last felt the rebellious streak and have a think about your marketing efforts now, you may not target your content at your 17 year old self, but would 17 year old you do anything differently?

Create a strong brand

It’s just common sense, if you are setting up a brand that represents you then don’t just settle for being a good or great brand, aim for iconic or at the very least something that makes you proud. You also have to apply this to the content, you need to be passionate about it.

Malcolm Mclaren and Vivian Westwood started the pistols at the same time they created a shop called “sex” on kings road, they created the target market, they even sold them the clothes sheer irony that the brand stood for everything against the establishment of the time.

The brand has stood the test of time, it’s still relevant it has grown and matured and speaks to a wider audience. Even if you are not producing new content you can still appeal and adapt your message.


Use of influencers

Even back in 1978 influencers were being used in marketing, the pistols management used them to open doors and extend the reach into areas that were just not accessible to the band themselves.

We talk about influencers in today’s digital world, now everyone has the tools to create a following and hold influence for commercial reasons. The pistols were one of the last bands to get signed and had to use notoriety to get the attention of the influencers within the music industry, these guys, although they worked offline, were the middlemen who held the contacts and the audiences.

It may have been a journalist at NME or Melody Maker whose circulations would be around 300,000 each week at the time, a large highly targeted audience who would buy those first records. (Numbers are irrelevant, make sure you are hitting your audience)

If you have a consumer product, big numbers and demographic are going to be the most important thing, but for SMEs, your influencers may have tiny social media reach, but they may be able to unlock the right doors for you.


Know your customers

Perhaps the most important point, they Sex Pistols made those who bought the records the hero, they put the customer first. They were the voice of a community and fans felt part of it.

It’s important that as businesses you understand that marketing is not just about driving a sale, it’s creating a lasting relationship, the best businesses are built upon repeat business. Look at all those strong brands that have fan bases, all those evangelists that write reviews and influence, other consumers, to go buy a product.

It all starts with understanding who your audience is, get that right then you can produce the right content. Engage with your customers, Pistols achieved this without social media what’s your excuse.



Stand out from the crowd

At the time the public had seen nothing dressed like the sex pistols, it was literally shocking the dress sense the attitude (they told Bill Grundy to F*@K off on evening TV) outrageous back then, standard 38 years later.

They stood out, in a crowded market, they disrupted to a degree (well a lot if you take the publicity stunt to promote “god save the queen” on the jubilee, hiring a boat and playing it over and over again until arrested, all those column inches), something that all SMEs can learn from with marketing.

How many times do you pump out content that is the same as your competitors? Now that’s not to say that all content has to be different, just make sure it fits with what you are doing, make it part of your brand give it a bit of life.