New York City is nicknamed Gotham, the City That Never Sleeps, the Big Apple and the Empire City to mention just a few. When people think of New York City Broadway, Wall St., the Yankees, the Empire State building, 30 Rock come to mind – not surprisingly, I think of Ellis Island :). Famous New Yorkers include Donald Trump, Alec Baldwin, Philip Falcone, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lenny Kravitz, Rudy Giuliani, Olivia Palermo and countless others.
With all of New York’s notoriety, landmarks and celebrities it’s Robert Burck who has been declared by the New York State tourism department as “more recognizable than The Statue of Liberty”, been named “The Ambassador of New York Tourism” and crowned the Spokesperson for “The Times Square Survival Guide”. He’s reputed to be the most photographed person in the world, has run for mayor of New York and President of the U.S.
In spite of these accolades, you may never have heard of Burck. This notoriety is not what makes him a fearless brand – rather this is all the result of the brand which he has built – Burck is better known as The Naked Cowboy.
Fearless brands don’t just appear, they are built with vision, determination and consistency.
The Naked Cowboy was born Robert John Burck in Cincinnati, Ohio. His was a fairly normal childhood where he was one of four kids. From an early age he enjoyed singing, joking, kidding around – he was for all intents a bit of a performer from the start. The Naked Cowboy first appeared at Venice Beach on Christmas Day in 1997. He began busking at Times Square in New York City in December of 1998.
As the Naked Cowboy, Burck wears only boots, a cowboy hat and white briefs with his registered trademark ‘Naked Cowboy’ moniker hand painted on the seat. He not only plays his ever present guitar, it is often used to give the appearance that he is actually naked. He sings, poses for pictures and engages thousands of tourists. It no doubt helps that he is in terrific physical shape. He has become a true New York icon. But don’t be misled by his outfit and his character.
Burck graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in political science. He is a voracious reader. He is the head of Naked Cowboy Enterprises and has very successfully monetized his brand. Merchandise sales, appearances on TV and music videos, attendance at various events throughout the U.S. and the world all produce income. He has various sponsors including a sports supplement company- which given his physique makes all the sense in the world. As an ordained minister, the Naked Cowboy performs weddings in Times Square – for $499.00.
He is not one to challenge in business – as Mars Inc. found out. They had featured one of their M&M characters on the animated board outside of their Times Square store wearing essentially the same outfit as the Naked Cowboy. He filed suit and reached an undisclosed settlement (standard for large corporations) – but the cowboy M&M was no more. However, those interested in using the character can purchase a Naked Cowboy franchise and there is a licensed Naked Cowgirl.
Here are three things that you should learn about building a fearless brand from this quirky, likable, successful entrepreneur.
- Fearless brands are built – They begin with a vision and are forged from a platform of authenticity
- Brands are dynamic – Your brand must remain stable – but never stop moving. Adjust – improve – evolve
- YOU are the value – Embrace your uniqueness
Bonus – If your brand involves getting naked at Times Square – be in really good shape.
Remember – it’s about branding for results. Building your brand creates value for yourself and for those you serve. Delivering value generates profits – financial, emotional, spiritual.
It’s important to restate a basic tenet of branding – if you don’t manage your own brand, someone else will. Building a brand requires effort. Branding is a never ending process – requiring vision, diligence and conviction. So even if you are building your brand in your briefs – don’t be brief in your branding efforts.
Great post, Bill. I was in New York last month. Walking through Times Square with my 17-year-old daughter, we noticed a commotion — a large crowd gathered around…what? We made our way to the edge of the crowd, got on tiptoes, craned our necks, and saw him… The Naked Cowboy. There he was, just as Bill describes him, strumming on his guitar and building his legion of fans. The temperature was about 40 degrees F. Fearless indeed!
Great story Tom…no doubt your daughter caught quite a few first time sights…and yes, he’s fearless in so many ways.
Love the article, Bill. He is definitely one who has ‘put himself out there’, fully committing himself to everything he does.
Just my ‘brief’ 2 cents…
Thanks Chad – your two cents are always welcome – briefs are optional. 🙂