:1: The World’s Most Popular Virtual Band

I remember working as a counselor-in-training at a summer day camp when I was 13. Even though camp didn’t start until 9, I would arrive at about 7:30 because my mom needed to get to work as well. Consumed with boredom, I would usually watch MTV’s music video countdown since not much else was on TV. 

Feel Good Inc. by the Gorillaz was released in May of that year so I became quite familiar with the strange music video that featured cartoon gorillas and a flying windmill. I always wondered why the Gorillaz opted to represent themselves as cartoons, while literally every other artist seemed to publish their faces on screen as much as possible.

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I never really thought about it again until just recently, when a friend of mine informed me that the Gorillaz are actually a virtual band featuring four virtual members: 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs.

The idea seemed sort of odd to me, but I couldn’t help noticing what they’ve been able to accomplish. By “they” I mean Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, the two masterminds behind it all. According to a summary on Wikipedia, the idea was born in 1998, “when the two were watching MTV, ‘if you watch MTV for too long, it’s a bit like hell – there’s nothing of substance there. So we got this idea for a cartoon band, something that would be a comment on that,’ Hewlett said.” (Wikipedia).

The band lives off a lot more than you’d think. The Gorillaz collaborate with other artists that aren’t very well known in order to keep producing music under their own brand name. For instance, below is a timeline from Wikipedia illustrating all the artists that have performed live for the virtual band (wow, what a strange thing to say).

Gorillaz Live Performance Artists

timeline of all live performers for the Gorillaz

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So, while other artists were working hard to capture the perfect music video on film, the Gorillaz swallowed their collective pride and called animation their home, allowing for them to get just the shots they wanted in their own virtual universe. They turned a cool idea into a fascinating and brilliant one, and I think it speaks volumes toward their character, something that a lot of music artists tend to lack these days.

While they did ultimately end up on MTV, the Gorillaz made a powerful statement that I think a lot of advertising students, such as myself, should really hold on to, which is this: branding is everywhere and can be used in any way.

Consumers, especially of music, know exactly what they want and branding is the science of pleasing as many consumers as possible under one name. The Gorillaz have proven there isn’t just one formula for popular music. I’d like to think the same is true for good advertising.

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