Howard Stern is a lightening rod for criticism. Honestly, I think the only person who ignites more of an electrical charge in people is Hillary Clinton, but we will save that for another blog post. I listen to Howard on Sirius satellite radio every single day. I consider myself a huge Howard fan.
I was driving into work this morning listening to Howard’s show. Last week, they had an intern named Pete join Howard in the studio for a conversation. Pete has Tourette syndrome. Turns out Pete is a great guy. His self-effacing, authentic personality was endearing and clearly Howard enjoyed his interaction with Pete. Anyhoot, this morning they had Pete sing Purple Rain via karaoke. When I tell you Pete gave a jaw-dropping rendition of Purple Rain, I am not embellishing a thing. He was phenomenal. I was grinning ear-to-ear while driving. Suddenly it dawned on me that Howard really is a misunderstood brand. I thought about how Pete’s life would never be the same again because of the opportunities Howard has given him over the past few days. Lucky for Pete, Howard is also consumed with the fact that Pete has only had sex once in his life. Howard is now obsessed with getting him laid. Haha!
When those who do not really know Howard describe him, they are likely to use the following words: smutty, disgusting, sex-driven, and controversial. Interestingly enough, all of those words are pretty damn accurate. However, those who know Howard through listening regularly would also add the following words to the list: monogamous, honest, compassionate, and respectful. Therein lies the disconnect when it comes to Howard’s brand.
Let’s break it down:
Monogamous: Is Howard sex driven? Absoeffinglutely. The guy is obsessed with sex. Even better, he is gifted at getting celebrities to talk about their sexual escapades and his listeners love hearing about it. Howard must be doing something right. In addition to being the most fined radio personality in the U.S., Howard is the highest-paid. He even makes more money than the racist, homophobic Rush Limbaugh who has a cult-like following. The point that gets lost by those who don’t know Howard and really don’t care to get to know him is that he is in a monogamous relationship with his wife Beth Ostrovsky. If you listen to his show, you would know Beth is the center of Howard’s universe. He often talks about how he would never cheat on Beth because it would put the thing he values most in life at risk. Perhaps Letterman should have followed Howard’s lead on this one.
Honest: Howard Stern is the most honest man in the world. How is that for a statement? Why do I say this? Because what other man do you know who would go on a radio show with millions of listeners day after day and talk about his small penis. Ummmm….I’m thinking zero. Howard is a tell-it-like-it-is kinda guy. He never pretends to be anything he is not, even if that means putting himself in a position of vulnerability. My guess is there is nothing more vulnerable to any man on the planet than being viewed as having a small penis.
Compassionate & Respectful: One of the secret sauce recipes for success for Howard was when he discovered early in his career that people are intrigued by lesbians. Having lesbians on the show was a big catalyst that propelled Howard to his current position of “King of All Media.” Many think Howard exploits lesbians and makes fun of them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Eleven years ago, gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was found barely alive and tied to a fence. Beaten, robbed and left to die by two local roofers around his age, Shepard was discovered by a bike rider and taken to a hospital. He later died. In a recent interview, Matthew’s Mom Judy said Howard Stern’s pro-gay marriage stance and overall attitude towards gays is “brilliant.” Judy says “I thank Howard for his comments …I think it’s wonderful.” I can’t think of a person who would have more of a right to identify a gay-hating monger than Judy Shepard. Her endorsement of Howard’s true intentions screams volumes about his character.
What can we as marketers learn from Howard being a misunderstood brand? Stay true to who you are. Seriously, no matter how hard you as a brand may try, some people just aren’t going to see you for who you are and aren’t going to give you a chance. That’s OK. Eff ‘em. If you’ve done your homework correctly and you are truly meeting a need — as Howard clearly is — you will have more brand advocates than you will know what to do with. Never compromise the integrity of your brand by kowtowing to a small number of people who you may offend. Be true to yourself. Take a risk. Howard sure in the heck did and in his case it turned into a $500,000,000 contract.
What are your thoughts on Howard?