Back in the day, I rocked out at a Rolling Stones show in São Paulo, Brazil, where Mick sang Gimme Shelter. What I really remember, though, is that his background singer, Lisa Fisher, made us all go crazy with her “it’s just a shot away” magical performance. I did not know how important a background singer could be until I was mesmerized by Lisa belting out those memorable lyrics. (I was much younger then, and so was Mick Jagger, but he’s managed his age much better than I have!)
I hadn’t thought about that show until recently, when I saw Twenty Feet from Stardom, a documentary by Morgan Leville, about the women who stand 20 feet right behind famous stars, lending their voices and charm to every performance.
The film is marvelous; it’s a fascinating story, beautifully told, with melodic songs and talented singers. It expands the meaning of backup singer, revealing the beauty and significance of this supporting role.
Lisa Fisher exemplifies what a backup singer is. At the first concert I saw in Brazil and at the most recent Stones’ show, when the first notes of Gimme Shelter start playing, everyone expects Lisa Fisher to take the lead. She’s as much a part of the performance as Mick Jagger is.
And if she didn’t jump in, the show wouldn’t be the same: the frenzy of the audience wouldn’t exist and ultimately, Gimme Shelter would be just another song. Just to put this into perspective, Lisa Fisher has been touring with the Stones since 1989. This career longevity is huge for her, but it is also great marketing for the Stones. It’s a great way for Mick to connect with the audience and to go beyond himself. In ad world terms, he is the big brand, but Ms. Fisher is the second next, boosting the sales of the “product”—the Stones—at every performance.
The coexistence of brand number 1 and brand number 2 is a constant challenge in the business of advertising. Very often we have leading clients whose sales are always high but whose popularity might be plummeting. They want us to help them boost their popularity and their products’ reach. They declare to us with certainty, “brand number 2 is more loved.” Or sometimes they fear that their spot will be overtaken by another smaller but more appealing brand.
Apart from recalling the famous Avis campaign,“We Try Harder”(anyone that has been working in advertising for more than a week will remember it), my experience tells me (and so do my guts) that you have to have a cause. If you don’t stand for something, it matters little what number you are (or your product) is on the list.
Consumers now want brands that tell them more than just, for example, their cleaning power in the washer, how fast they can go from 0 to 100, or how easy to cook they are. If you don’t offer a story and if you don’t have your own style, you might soon plunge from first to last. Lisa Fisher’s life work and her performance are metaphors for this lesson. Brands must find their own way to reach their audience and to own their stardom, no matter who is in front.
Renata Florio is a happy and proud background singer for Javier Campopiano and is willing to help the agency’s clients take ownership of their place on stage.