Oh I love it when my casual acceptance of urban legend gets blown to smithereens! Thanks Fast Company in their article Business Advice from Van Halen (I read the paper copy, this is the link to the online version) and the always interesting Heath brothers authors of the new book Switch and wrote the article in question.
For those who have not yet delved into either the article or book, David Lee Roth, best known as the frontman for Van Halen, has often been positioned in the press as a high maintenance individual. With this background a story which surfaced in the 1980’s about a specific clause in the contract for Van Halen shows requiring the removal of all brown M&M’s in a backstage bowl of the treats. Given other published reports, this was easy to see as just another antic of Mr. Roth and the band.
The Heath’s take this idea and explode it. They spoke with Mr. Roth, who shared that the complexity of setting up a Van Halen show was so deep that the M&M’s clause (actually, the band used Article 126 to refer to this test) was inserted so that when the band arrived there was a quick check to see if the facility had read all aspects of the contract. As the Heath’s wrote:
So when Roth would arrive at a new venue, he’d walk backstage and glance at the M&M bowl. If he saw a brown M&M, he’d demand a line check of the entire production. … In other words Roth was no diva. He was an operations expert.
My general management and leadership mind loves this concept – the unobtrusive check of detail orientation, because at the end of the day, details matter. Things like print drops and email campaigns now are my personal objective for placing into the process the “brown M&M’s check” to insure that all of the steps have been read and absorbed.
That side of me is at war with my marketing side, which is utterly fascinated with the communications aspect of this story. Clearly Mr. Roth has known for some time that his image of high maintenance has carried this mythology around as part of his public persona. What a commentary for all of us who manage our own brands (Brand You, anyone?) or steward brands in the public space. What little known facts about us or our brands could be pulled out to set in place the next restage, readjustment in positioning, or other critical next step?
If David Lee Roth can turn himself into an operations expert, there is hope for all brands about repositioning.
Off to work on this one!