Published on: June 11, 2021
by Kevin Coupe
Longtime MNB readers know that almost from day one, I've tried to quote Jimmy Buffett song lyrics whenever possible … I've always been.a big fan of Buffett, having been to numerous concerts over the years and even having spent more than a few nights in his restaurants, bars and resorts.
Now comes a Bloomberg Businessweek feature about how there's a new Margaritaville Resort about to open in New York's Times Square … a $370 million, 32 story hotel that is opening just as New York reopens.
The story points out that this is just the latest in what has been a branding blitz for Buffett … the story says that "It may sound counterintuitive for a 74-year-old crooner whose songs include Too Drunk to Karaoke and Math Suks, but the branding bacchanalia puts Buffett at the cutting edge of so-called experiential marketing."
Let's be clear. Next time I'm in Times Square, I'll probably check Margaritaville out, just because I'm curious. But … and I hesitate to say this because Buffett is a lot smarter and more successful than I am … but as I read the Bloomberg piece all sorts of alarm bells went off in my head.
It's not just because there are elements of the story that suggest a greed that seems unseemly and a little out of synch with the persona that Buffett has carefully crafted over the years - actually, one of the miracles of Buffett Inc. is that somehow, through it all, the singer-songwriter seems completely authentic and maybe even a little incredulous at all the brand development.
Let me give you three reasons the story made me worry about the brand.
The first one has to do with the New York opening. A Margaritaville resort in Times Square may have a natural expiration date, and it may not be that far in the future. I was one of the people who went to see Buffett's Broadway show, "Escape To Margaritaville," which closed fairly quickly and lost money - even while watching it (and, admittedly, enjoying it), it felt to me like a show that was made more for a touring company or Las Vegas. Not New York City. Not Broadway. It just doesn't fit. (If I want to have the island experience, I'm not going to Manhattan island … I don't care what the brochures say.)
My second concern is that I'm honestly not sure the degree to which the Margaritaville brand will outlive the 74-year-old singer. I'm not trying to be morbid here, but it seems to me that I'd be trying to figure out ways to make my fan base wider and more sustainable. In other words, figuring out a succession plan. I'm not sure that the solution is to bring Kenny Chesney into the Margaritaville fold, but when Jimmy stops touring or worse, is there going to be a natural decline in fan loyalty and brand equity?
(A subset of this concern is the Margaritaville brand of retirement communities. I just think that sends the wrong message about who the audience is, and that it skews really, really old.)
Third … I'm a little worried about the lack of control. The story makes the point that Buffett Inc. - the actual name is Margaritaville Enterprises - doesn't actually own very much except for intellectual property. Almost everything is a licensing deal (which actually reminds me of another fellow from New York who has his name all over stuff that he didn't actually own). That's great in terms of not having to lay out much money, but there's also the risk that comes when you put your name and reputation in the hands of other people who may not share your priorities or values. Again, you can vet everybody best you can, but the risk always is there.
As I said, I'm a huge Buffett fan … but there's something about this story that worries me. Maybe Margaritaville Times Square will work out better than "Escape To Margaritaville," and will have a better end than the experiential restaurant that Guy Fieri once opened nearby (and that was savaged in one of the cleverest, bitterest reviews ever published in the New York Times).
But when I think of Buffett, I think of the guy who sang…
"My old red bike … Gets me around … To the bars and the beaches of my town … And there aren't many reasons I would leave … Yes, I have found me some peace."
And the refrain from that song:
"You can have the rest of everything I own … 'Cause I have found me a home."