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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Moby Grape Rule of Avoiding Over-Hype (A Word of Warning to Barak Obama)

On today's front page of the Chicago Tribune is a large photo of Barak Obama in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois where Abraham Lincoln once served in the state legislature. Obama is smiling and waving in a kind of high-angle shot Leni Reifenstahl used in Triumph of the Will. The headline over it screams in large type, "Obama: 'Destiny calling.'" He just entered the race for president.

When what seems to be the next greatest thing comes along, it's hard to resist over-hype. But resist it we must. Especially early on in the game. A great tragic example of over-hype is Moby Grape. Of all the sixties bands to emerge from San Francisco, Moby Grape had the most promise. Their record company, Columbia Records, saw this and, in a misguided marketing stunt, simultaneously released an unprecedented five singles from their first LP. The result of this over-hype? Moby Grape's credibility was damaged. Instead of seeing the band as America's answer to the Rolling Stones, the record-buying public saw them as another prefabricated Monkees.

The lesson we should all learn -- whether we're selling healthcare services, sinks, rock bands or presidential candidates -- is to build momentum with a tight strategy that doesn't stuff your enthusiasm and hopefulness down your audience's throats with sudden force. Go cautiously from strength to strength. In a very smart move, the Beatles refused to tour America until they had a #1 hit here. If they had toured here as unknowns with a lot of hype, who knows? They could have been reduced to a historical footnote -- and Leslie Gore and Connie Francis could have kept their careers.

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