Beats by Dre in Consumer Society

This is the first guest post on Brands & Films. It was written by Alexander Appelhans, a student at the Queen Mary University of London who wrote an essay as a part of his Marketing course.

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Beats by Dr. Dre (also Beats by Dre) is a business venture between Monster Cable, a company specialising in high definition media, Dr. Dre, a celebrity rapper, sound engineer, pop idol and “media gangster” and Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records. There is a range of models of laptops and headphones in the Beats by Dre portfolio ranging from Ferrari, over Nike to All-Star Beats. Not to forget the personalised artists range which varies from JustBeats by Justin Bieber to PowerBeats by LeBron James.

It is not usual to find advertising for headphones or audio equipment in general. This is because companies operating in this sector have relied on retailer’s recommendation to their clients to make their sales. Over the past year, however, anyone exposed to rap or pop music and their attributes will have noticed Beats by Dre headphones by Monster Cable. This brand has managed to outgrow the existing and established manufacturers of these devices by systematically creating the need and desire within a person to acquire these.

Beats by Dre headphones


Having said that advertising is unusual in this sector, exposing the marketing techniques used in the sale of this product will show how society has been manipulated in multiple ways with their use. Firstly, the scene must be set. We live in a globalised environment in a consumerist society. Consumer society is the systematic creation of need and desire to consume and acquire more and more. It is backed-up by the theory that the increasing consumption of goods by everyone is economically beneficial. To create a society that can consume ever more, brands and companies use marketing tools to assist them. This particular brand however, takes it to a new level: The understanding of the consumer is complete and precise with a product developed in the interest of this consumer.

“People aren’t hearing all the music.”

The “iPod generation” is listening to music that has been processed down to 20% – 25% of its original quality. Artists and producers spend days and thousands of dollars on getting the sound exactly right in high-tech recording studios all for people to listen to a fifth of it. Also, consumers who buy these recordings want to make most of the money they have spent. These two-way problems have created a gap in the market to be filled. This shows that the role of marketing is to identify what consumers want and satisfy this need.

Worn by celebrities everywhere, these headphones have acquired an image for fame or beauty. Many artists have joined to cult and created their own, personalised headphones but many more are wearing them in public as well as televised and casual events. Dr. Dre’s career has given him the credibility to comment on anything to do with audio. If an influential person like this encourages high quality audio, his credibility is passed on to the message. This positions the brand as a luxurious, fashionable one that gives you the sound quality that you pay for and deserve. In my opinion this is a perfect systematic creation and fostering of desire defining marketing in our consumer society. It is designed to wake the desire of any person to consume.

Beats by Dr. Dre headphones in Lady Gaga’s music video LoveGame (2009, Streamline, screen capture)


Monster Cable has created its own target market, which is easily advertised to. “…The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” (Peter Drucker). Music enthusiasts often idolise and emulate the artists they like and are likely to acquire the gadgets they wear or represent. Beats Electronic take advantage of this phenomenon and have various lines representing different artists. Each person can wear his or her favourite beats persona. In Buadrillard’s terms, Beats by Dre have a “sign” value within a system of objects. This means that their products represent prestige or class relative to similar products. In social context, whoever wears these headphones is seen as a fashionable, flashy music enthusiast. In this case it could be argued that the role of marketing in society is creating and satisfying the need for people to differentiate and identify themselves, using subconscious “perception management”. In other words, marketing exists to create an image that consumers want to identify themselves with.

Strategy

It was observed that giving a product a certain image it allows the consumer to interact with the product. It follows that a product with an image of quality and style will attract desire. A consumer might acquire the product in the hope of having part of this image reflect on to him or her, the owner. Ernest Dichter stated in his “Strategy of Desire” that the choice to buy of the consumer depends completely on “how the mind of the consumer reacts to the whole complex personality of your product”, its image. This has a direct link to arts, and more specifically music, where the social class, life-style and dress code of the artists contribute as much as their actual work, to their images. It is no wonder then that music veteran Dr. Dre excelled at creating this brand’s image.

With Iovine playing an important role and with stake at play in the partnership it was expected that Beats would show up in Interscope Records’ published media. However, this amount of product placement has not been attributed to a single brand in the sector of audio gadgets and would have cost anyone else an incredible fortune. The beats logo and products have been viewed over 23 million times (as of 29th March 2011) in just one video clip (Kush – Dr. Dre), on just one website (YouTube). It is difficult to put a figure on the number of people affected by this type of advertising but it can be said that it is perfectly on message. In this video clip Dr. Dre appears featuring Snoop Dogg and Akon, another two very popular and influential artists, in a luxurious private jet throwing around cash with attractive women and a similar scene in a club where you can observe Beats by Dre Studio magically suspended in stylish freeze-frame. Obviously “cool”.

Beats by Dr. Dre headphones in Dr. Dre’s music video Kush (2010, Aftermath, screen capture)


Lady Gaga is considered “the savviest business woman in music since Madonna. She was signed by Iovine because she is “big in fashion”, and brings “credibility” and “women”. In Lady Gaga’s LoveGame video clip, which has over 69 million views on YouTube (29th March 2011), she is wearing in-ear beats while controlling two men and confusingly one of the men is also wearing beats for a split second. This whole non-sensical imagery only emphasises how far Dr. Dre and company have gone to add an image of sexiness to the product. The social effect it has is that it suffocates consumers with imaging. Everywhere the upcoming generation looks, there is Beats Electronics. It could be argued that marketing reduces the consumer’s free choice of consumption of a product since our subconscious flooded with Beats, Beats and more Beats. In this context, the role of marketing is to dictate choice in consumption.

All these views and images were by far not enough.

The media surrounding us is constantly updated with new images of Beats. Even in a recent Carphone Warehouse TV advertisement about Android phones, there is a young fashionable girl listening to music from her Android on Studio Beats. SuperPipe winning snowboarder Louie Vito was also wearing in-ear beats while achieving gold in the 2010 X Games. Furthermore, the box office hit The Book of Eli also features the in-ear beads with a symbolic role. All of this is product placement. The over-all effect is that the consumer is being advertised to subliminally. Product placement is generally preferred to advertising by the subjects (you) because it is considered less of a waste of time. The message is received, or not, while the subject is being entertained and does not have to wait through commercial breaks. Also, it allows the brand or product to be associated with the meaning of the film or the image of the scene it is portrayed in. Some scrutinise this method of advertising based on the reasoning that those watching it often apply situations seen on TV to real life; including a brand or image into the plot can make the audience believe they need this product to live the life they want. (Alain d’Astous).

Beats by Dr. Dre headphones in The Book of Eli (2010, Warner Bros., screen capture)


Other than musicians, young people might idolise athletes and actors. Therefore it is not surprising that it did not take long for the All-Star teams to have their personalised headphones. Also, the Boston Red Sox had a personalised range. Katie Holmes couldn’t do without a public photo of herself wearing this accessory, either. But neither could the English National Football team in South Africa, nor could LeBron James who modelled for them in his National Basketball Association commercial: “where amazing happens”. The use of celebrity endorsement in public relations marketing is often used as the consumer becomes the product and the producer is the consumer in mass-media advertising and the entertainment business.

Apart from product placement, celebrity endorsement is a big topic to speak about with respect to Beats by Dre. The difference is that most product placement occurs on TV whereas celebrity endorsement hits the whole news. A Californian biotech firm (Amgen) who experienced celebrity endorsement published “a partnership between a celebrity and a brand has an intangible sort of magic”. Relating back to Baudrillard and his system of objects, this could be the symbolic value of being identified with a gadget prestigious people possess. Celebrities obtain a “Q score” of likeability and therefore suitability to represent a certain product. Dre and Iovine certainly made sure they’re celebrities were at the top of the Q list for young, fashionable, music loving consumers, by hiring the most prominent and influential celebrities of the time. (Charles Atkin and Martin Block).

“The short description of the pattern we have is magic: a highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions, functionally very similar to magical systems in simpler societies…” Marketing, or more precisely advertisement, could be argued to be the magic machine that relates products to feelings and effectively tries to sell these feelings on.

Globalization

The main advantage for Beats by Dre was that Hip-Hop is a global trend, and Dr. Dre is like its godfather nowadays. The musicians chosen to represent the brand also have international appeal, and on top of this, Interscope can sell their Beats by Dre advert, in the form of video clips, to music channels and websites around the world. This emphasises the fact that Beats Electronic and Monster Cable have hand tailored their target market to what they could reach and have gained control over it.

“Despite different cultures, middle-class youth all over the world seem to live their lives as if in a parallel universe. They get up in the morning, put on their Levi’s and Nikes, grab their caps and backpacks, and Sony personal CD players and head for school.” (Naomi Klein: No Logo)

LeBron James, Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre with Beats by Dre headphones


The assumption that there would be a market for Beats by Dre with a low quality sound is backed up by the fact that manufacturers like Sennheiser and Bose offered products in the same range even before Beats Electronic was founded. However, they have never had a populist appeal: “Beats has made it hip” (Brian Dunn, chief executive BestBuy). Dre and Iovine have created the “Levi’s 501” of the upcoming generation. It could be argued that the role of marketing is to converge the interests of people around the earth to one global, mainstream interest.

At this point it is important to speak about positioning within the market. The position is different from the image of the product in that it is relative to the competitors out there. Beats have managed to outgrow their competitors by making their product “cool” and fashionable; almost a must-have for every young person as well as any music enthusiast. To pick up on Naomi Klein, it should be said that the young people’s attitudes are converging depending on their perception of “cool”. It could be said that Dre and Iovine are conducting “perception management” and through their influence, shaping the modern perception of “cool”. The venture used Apple’s techy, cool and modern image to add to theirs and that is why Apple stores are its main distributer. Globalization and celebrity endorsement affect society in that they steal the freedom of choice and freedom of judgment from the individuals as well as culture and tradition and hands too much power to a few people. Theodore Levitt said: “The world’s needs and desires have been irrevocably homogenized. Some inheritances die gradually; others prosper and expand into mainstream global preferences.” Beats by Dre has gone mainstream.

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Alexander Appelhans is an undergraduate German student, currently studying Engineering and Business Management at the Queen Mary University of London. He’s from Munich, Germany, but has lived in Valencia, Spain since 2002, where he graduated from Cambridge House Community College. He has a massive interest in marketing and business. His essay on Beats by Dre was a part of his Marketing course.

Alexander’s favourite movie is Law Abiding Citizen and he currently uses the iPod headphones, although he would like to make a change to high quality ones (opting more for Sennheiser or Bose rather than the fashionable ones).

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