40 years ago to the day, during Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, notorious punk rockers the Sex Pistols set sail on the Queen Elizabeth (coincidence I think not!) in what would become one of the greatest examples of gorilla marketing in history.
Having been banned from playing gigs up and down the country, including dates in Scotland because “we have enough hooligans of our own”, the Sex Pistols were in full anarchy mode and so the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations were the perfect opportunity for them to not only gate-crash the royal celebrations but also cement themselves as the greatest punk band in history.
For those of you who do not know what happened on that historic night let me explain.
The Sex Pistols, backed by Richard Branson and their marketing genius manager Malcolm McLaren, took the decision to hire a boat and sail it down the River Thames, playing a live concert to a select group of fans, blasting out Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen as they passed parliament in defiance of what seemed like a national ban that had been placed on them by the ‘establishment’.
The evening ended with the boat being raided by police with many people being arrested and assaulted, including their manager Malcolm McLaren.
Many viewed this as a typically reckless and spur of the moment act by a notoriously controversial group of social delinquents. However, it was actually a carefully planned publicity stunt carried out by a group of very intelligent individuals that connected with the hearts of their target audience.
Unable to play live or gain much positive mainstream media coverage, Malcolm McLaren had to come up with new and creative ways to connect with their audience, an audience disillusioned with the government and looking for a sense of belonging.
Having already been influential in renaming the band’s hit song from ‘No Future’ to ‘God Save the Queen’ the wheels had already began turning in Malcolm’s head and the Silver Jubilee was the perfect opportunity for him to take it to the next level.
Everything was planned down to the finest detail. Not only did they hire a boat that was named after their beloved Queen but, knowing that the police would turn up within minutes of the gig starting, they made sure they had all the correct permits in place so that they were not breaking any laws.
Malcolm also ensured that all the right people were on board, from journalists and editors to photographers and filmmakers, so that, regardless of what happened that night, everyone would know about it.
Malcolm was so committed to the cause that he was determined to get arrested that evening, even taking a beating from the police in the process, whilst everyone else ran away as fast as they could.
There is no denying that this piece of marketing genius propelled the Sex Pistols to the next level, so much so that 40 years on it is still being talked about.
What I urge you all to take away from this incredible event is to not be afraid to take risks and to stand out from the crowd but always remember to do so with your target audience firmly at the forefront of your mind.
And in the words of Johnny Rotten “We mean it, ma-a-a-a-a-an!”