What Nikki Sixx Can Teach Us About Comms Planning

Lessons from the Flyer Wars

When it comes to the battle for attention and building an audience, it's hard to think of a more crowded and competitive market than the Sunset Strip in the early '80s.

Imagine dozens of glammed-up hair metal bands pushing out flyers and stapling them to every telephone pole up and down the strip, hoping to entice some of the thousands of club-goers lining the streets. (For a look at this, I highly recommend the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. For anthropological reasons and to see the guitarist from WASP down a bottle of Jack in his swimming pool at night in full leather.)

During that era, the strip on Sunset Blvd. was so thick with glittered-up people promoting themselves to the mob, police had to shut down the road and reroute traffic almost every weekend. Think the Gutter Bar with more hairspray and fewer expense accounts.

In the fight to build a club audience, bands would rip other bands' flyers down or staple over on top of them, often multiple times throughout the night. Every band fought for prime eye-line space on the telephone pole. They literally called it "The Flyer Wars." Every generation has its battles.

Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe took a different approach. On Friday afternoon, when the flyers started going up for the weekend, he would get on one of his bandmates' shoulders and post flyers way above the rest, where no one else cared to post. Seemed foolish, because why would someone look up and notice their flyer when there were dozens right in front of them?

But what Nikki observed was that early Saturday and Sunday morning, city workers would go down the Sunset Strip and remove all the promos that were put up the night before. Nikki figured no city worker making minimum wage was going to go to the extra trouble to climb up and get a flyer. An insight into human behavior that turned out to be right. So, for the greater part of the weekend, the only hand-made ads that lined the Sunset Strip were Mötley Crüe's.

They also made the type extra large and bold so it could be read at a distance; that would make up for the height.

After a few weeks of filling the clubs, and a possible contract with Satan, Motley became the talk of the town. And a pretty good case study for the power of comms planning.

When media and creative work together, when you can influence or at least understand how, where and when your message is going to be received, you have a new set of ways to create maximum impact. Which also sounds like an '80s hair metal band.

The ability to tailor messages to work within—or more interestingly break through predictable patterns—is another color with which creatives can paint.

Take Paris Hilton's 10-minute TikTok. Paris understood that most TikToks are viewed for less than 25 seconds. However, Hilton broke through and created a ton of buzz by learning the viewing habits of the environment and going against them. But in a way that still felt right for the platform.

When you understand the mindset of the audience at the exact moment they are receiving your message, you don't have to be flashy or loud to get their attention. Mischief drew upon that learning for Tubi's Super Bowl ad.

Some key takeaways (let us not let the lessons of "The Flyer Wars" wither):

  • Study the environment: The cluttered, eye-numbing Sunset Blvd telephone poles became less cluttered Saturday morning.
  • Exploit hidden insights: City workers were not incentivized to go the extra step of taking down a flyer out of arm's reach. Human behavior created an unseen opportunity.
  • Design specially for the platform: Knowing that their flyers were going to be read from a great height, Mötley Crüe used oversized type and simple bold images. 
  • Don't do heroin: Not part of this lesson but something else you can learn from someone who was dead for 10 minutes. 

This will all be on the test.

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