Bumperstickers are dead, right?
Show me a radio station that spent more than $5,000 in bumperstickers in 2018, and I'll be the first to tell you they're one in a million. Slapping your favorite radio station's sticker on the bumper of your car back in the 70s and 80s wasn't just popular – it was a statement about just what kind of person you were.
Were you a rocker, a peacenik, or did you ♥ New York? Your bumper was the place to make a political, social, or humorous statement that often spoke volumes about what you stood for. It was also the place where you could profess your loyalty to your favorite radio station or morning show.
Here in Detroit, the competition for bumperstickers was fast and furious. My alma mater, WRIF, was the consistent market leader, but had to duke it out day after day with the likes of WABX, WLLZ, and W4 – all of which were great stations in their own right.
The “bumpersticker wars” were the real deal – something we took very seriously. And thanks in no small part to an iconic logo and hundreds of thousands BABY! stickers inspired by afternoon drive icon, Arthur Penhallow, RIFF kept up its visibility and market presence on streets and freeways – thanks to thousands and thousands of loyal listeners.
Paul Jacobs was an account rep at the station when I was the PD. And as he made his sales calls all over the sprawling Metro Detroit footprint, he kept a legal pad in the passenger seat – and kept score using tally marks to count WRIF's presence on the tails of cars. It was a crude – but often telling – form of “research.”
Seemingly all the radio stations in the Motor City vied for bumper real estate in the same way consumer products duke it out (and pay for) end-cap space at the Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.
But like cart machines and paper logs, station stickers began to fade out as car bumpers became plastic rather than chrome, and promotional budgets began to atrophy in the consolidation crazy 1990s.
Many in radio believe the bumpersticker is dead because no self-respecting consumer would stick one on their precious cars and trucks. But in much the same way teens and twentysomethings powered the radio sticker revolution, this same demographic is now displaying their favorite brands on another of their prized possessions:
I was sitting in an airport lounge the other day (my home away from home), and spotted the girl you see pictured at the top of today's post. And like many young people these days, her laptop was covered with stickers – all of which made a statement about her mindset, her humor, and the companies and brands she holds in high esteem.
If you think about it, many of the most expensive laptops – especially of the Apple variety – have been decorated and adorned like NASCAR racers and jumpsuits. Except these are consumers who aren't being compensated for displaying these logos. They do so for the same reasons people back in the day decorated their car bumpers – to make a statement about who they are, their sense of humor, their tastes and sensibilities, and what they feel is important and relevant.
That led me to do a little research about laptop stickers, and I ran into a piece in Stanford University's Daily, published a year ago, “The Phenomenon of Laptop Stickers.” The writer, Angie Lee, is a student who started noticing that most of her classmates were using their expensive computers as walking billboards (or car bumpers).
And she concluded, “By looking at the stickers on the back of someone’s laptop, you truly get a glimpse of the kind of person they are. You can tell what TV shows they like, what passions they have, what kind of aesthetic appeal they have, what they identify with. Each sticker represents a small part of what they love — who they are.”
So, what brands matter to Millennials and Gen Zs? Which ones make a statement about their personalities, their beliefs, and their identities?
Moosylvania, a digital brand marketing company, conducts an annual survey among Millennials (18-38 year-olds) to identify their Top 100 Brands.
The list is below – and it's an interesting one. I circled a few of these elite brands that are very old school companies that have somehow made themselves relevant to Millennials.
That should tell us that any brand can make this list. And while this group of companies tend to be who's you expect – Apple, Amazon, Google – a number of other more established brands, like Wal-Mart, Chevy, and Coca-Cola, are very much in the running.
As the Moosylvania team points out, these brands make that fan connection by:
- Making consumers look good
- Making consumers feel good
- Entertaining them
That's essentially why young people used to plaster radio stations all over their cars.
Could it happen again? KDWB's Dave Ryan, that crafty morning guy in the Twin Cities, thinks maybe so.
Back in January, the show introduced its laptop stickers, with an invitation to listeners to send in photos of their decorated computers. It's another way of connecting with an audience that while different that Xers and Boomers is as brand and status conscious as their parents were. They just show it in different ways.
The Moosylvania team talks about how they used the inspiration of brand marketing to pose this question as a way to measure a company's ability to create community and a sense of belonging:
“How can your brand become a sticker on a laptop?”
And while many radio stations are working hard on their content and how it's distributed, that brand essence – the things, values, and traits about a station that endears it to fans – is an element every brand should strive to nurture and grow.
Ultimately, creating an attachment to a radio station that builds support in good times and bad is the goal.
From bumperstickers to laptops, not much has changed.