Robin Teets joins Tim to revisit the time in 1993 when Prince turned the music world and pop culture upside down by changing his name to a symbol. Tim and Robin discuss how Prince also broke the rules of branding and marketing and in the end changed them for good.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 7th, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His mother was jazz singer Mattie Shaw. His father was John Nelson, a musician whose stage name was Prince Rogers.
Prince’s parents broke up when he was a child. He then lived with his mother and step-father for a time but would run away from home.
After being adopted by a family called the Andersons, he and the Anderson’s son Andre joined a band called Grand Central. The band was later renamed Champagne.
At 18, after working on demo tracks, he caught the attention of Warner Brothers Records, where he signed a recording contract.
His debut album was in 1978 and it was called “For You.” From there, he had a string of hits. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”
Other memorable hits: “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious.” In 1984, he released his album “Purple Rain,” largely regarded as his masterpiece.
After signing a new contract with Warner Brothers in the early 1990s, Prince wanted to release material when it was ready. There were reports he had 500 unreleased songs in his studio vault.
The execs at Warner Brothers said that would saturate the market and dilute demand, so they did not allow release of the music.
Since Warner Brothers technically owned and trademarked the Prince name or brand, Prince decided to change the terms of the deal.
In 1993, Prince announced that he would no longer go by the name Prince, but rather by a “Love Symbol” which was a combination of the gender symbols for man and woman.
According to all accounts Prince wanted out of his contract.
It was the news media who, by default, came up with a way to verbalize the new name. Journalists started to refer to him as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.
Record sales declined.
In 2016, the magazine Wired published a more detailed account of the name change.
Prince died on April 21, 2016 in Chanhassen, Minnesota, at his Paisley Park recording studio complex. He was 57.
- Could anyone else have done what Prince did by changing his name to a symbol? Robin says, “No.”
- But he adds there are many lessons for brands and marketers in how Prince was able to change the narrative while remaining authentic and true to himself artistically and in a business sense.
About this Episode’s Guest Robin Teets
Robin Teets is Principal at ARIA Strategic Communications, LLC, where he taps his 25 years’ branding, marketing and strategic planning experience for clients. Robin has worked in corporate communications, government affairs and stakeholder engagement with an extensive background in branding and marketing. Previously, he led marketing communications and government affairs at a Fortune 500 consumer brands company. Before that, he was a Vice President at Ketchum. And before that, he was a Prince fan.
Photo credit: Robin Teets