melissa cabral


There’s a video that keeps popping up on my newsfeed as I Facebook creep on my friends. You may have seen it already—the grainy footage of Joshua Bell, a famous violinist, playing an expensive ass violin in a DC metro station. Hordes and hordes of morning commuters pass him by save for one woman who happened to see him the night before at some schmancy concert hall.

Typically, somebody will post the vid to be inspiring in a tough love kinda way. Stop and smell the roses, jerks! There’s so much life you might be missing out on! Please pass this vid along to 5 friends or be cursed with soul rot forever!! 

And while that parable is a valid one, I think the video does a better job illustrating of some very basic principles of messaging and branding.

Hear me out.

Branding lesson 1: CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING

Joshua Bell was killin’ it on the violin and you know what? Nobody gave a shit.

This guy is a fucking virtuoso and his mastery wasn’t enough to get people interested in what he was doing. And all he was trying to do was get people to listen to him!

Hence point numero uno, CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING.

There’s a reason why foreplay and opening acts exist. If you want something to be memorable, you need to put people in the right mood. Your product or service can’t just be excellent (although that certainly helps). You have to make sure your excellence connects with people at the right time and the right place.

Even if you’re providing a free experience (and do I love me some free shit) it’s always  better to wrap said experience within the appropriate context. Let’s be real. Who wants listen to a famous concert violist in a dirty, loud, crowded subway station when you’re running late for work? Call me crazy, but I’d rather listen to a dude like Joshua Bell perform in a gorgeous symphony hall where the bathrooms are bigger than my apartment and the programs are printed on thick ass cardstock. 

You get the point. If all you’re doing is being excellent but not taking context into consideration, you’re fucked. 

Which is unfortunate considering,

Branding lesson 2: MOST PEOPLE DON’T GIVE A SHIT. 

They really don’t. 

People only give a shit if you make their lives easier in the following three ways: 1.) if you save them money, 2.) if you save them time, 3.) if you somehow help them get laid and/or find love. Tree of trust, how many times have you spent money, or seriously considered spending money, on something that promised to do one of those three things?

Now, not only was Joshua Bell out of context, he didn’t offer any of those three things. It’s no wonder he didn’t draw a crowd! If time is money, why should anyone stop and listen to a guy with a vague value-exchange? I mean, it’s not like he was playing dubstep or whatever the hell kids are listening to nowadays (p.s. who else thinks dubstep is the devil’s Morse Code?).

Let’s translate this thought into branding. Of all the products and services you come into contact with in a given day, how many of them do you actually give a shit about? Yeah? Me neither.

It’s easy to get lost in marketing jargon and forget that people don’t really care about brands. They use brands.

Let’s not confuse mindless usage for an actual relationship.

This brings me to,


If you’re a brand, an excellent brand, there has to be at least ONE person out there who is gonna like you. There are too many people crowding this earth for that to not be a reality.

If you’re fortunate enough to have multiple brand evangelists who are willing to spread the good word about you to alllllll of their friends and their friends’ friends, the least you can do is find those precious gems and thank them. With sincerity. 

Make them feel special. 

Your brand’s health depends on the positive associations it has in people’s minds. And at the end of the day, you’re only as good as people perceive you to be.

So what the hell was this all about?

Well, if you’re a brand DON’T be the Joshua Bell playing in a subway, trying to give your shit out for free to people who don’t want it. DO be the Joshua Bell playing in a venue with bangin’ acoustics, demanding premium pricing and giving people a memorable experience they’ll brag to their friends about.