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The Who? When the brand is bigger than the band...

BBC Culture The Who When the brand is bigger than the band


The Who may be half of what they once were, but their bank account will keep expanding on tour this summer.

Last time around, in 2012-13, the paydays were pretty spectacular: $3m (£2m) in gross revenue for two nights’ work at the 02 Arena in London, $1.2m (£820,000) for a single show at Madison Square Garden in New York.  Overall, the 2013 US tour raked in more than $13m (£8.8m).

Not bad for a group that is now more about the brand than the band.

Author Naomi Klein provided some insight into this trend in her ground-breaking 2000 book No Logo. Decades ago, marketing gurus for major corporations began tapping into “a psychological/anthropological examination of what brands mean to the culture and to people's lives,” she wrote. Companies thrive by producing “images of their brands” and consumers buy in.

The Who have released only one album of new music in the last 30 years, but their brand remains powerful, thanks to constant recycling of their oldies on TV commercials and programmes, Broadway plays, live albums and greatest-hits repackages and tours.

The Who are hardly the only band cashing in on the power of their brand, and the exceptions are few. Robert Plant has rejected multimillion-dollar Led Zeppelin reunion shows partly because he believes that Zeppelin isn’t Zeppelin without drummer John Bonham, who died in 1980. But losing a key musician or two hasn’t stopped other bands from forging on with replacements.

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It might actually be worth their while to recruit new band members to keep the name going.

Kind of like the Grateful Dead.

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