Musicians from all genres have been rocking out on Fender guitars since the company was founded in 1946. But these days, Fender is trying to stay relevant by attracting, and retaining, younger musicians with a new content-driven campaign focusing on the guitar's style and accessibility.
It's no easy feat: Ninety percent of people who start playing guitars drop out in the first year, many in the first three months, according to Fender's CMO, Evan Jones.
"We don't have an awareness problem; we have a retention problem," Jones said. "If we can reduce the abandonment rate, we're going to have a lifelong relationship with people, and they'll come back and buy more guitars. The next generation of players isn't spending their time in guitar shops, so it's up to us to keep guitars relevant in culture."
Fender previously focused on advertising to the music industry, with product placement deals with artists. Its new yearlong campaign, launched this month to promote its American Professional Series guitars, is designed to reach a broader and younger audience through digital and social media, along with print ads in guitar magazines.
The campaign video is simple yet captivating: It features slo-mo shots of beautiful, shiny guitars and outlines their features as a guitar riff plays in the background.
"There's an undeniable sex appeal to a guitar," Jones said. "Now, our strategy is to drive better storytelling and engagement."
To do so, Fender will release a series of videos and mini-documentaries with artists from various genres explaining how guitars fit into their lives. Duff McKagan from Guns N'Roses, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Marlon Williams, who plays guitar with Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, among others, will appear in the campaign.
"If you look at our legacy and heritage, there's an undeniable authentic position of the brand, but I describe us as a 71-year-old startup," Jones said. "We want to respect nostalgia while introducing the brand to the next generation of artists and players."
Fender's new website includes more content to help beginners, such as Tech Talk, a series of articles with tips on how to care for and maintain guitars. The company also launched an app that teaches you to tune your instrument, and Fender Academy, a digital platform that helps store retailers boost their Fender IQ. By increasing guitar sellers' knowledge of the product, they can help reduce new consumers' intimidation factor, Jones said.
"In the past, we had been guilty of leaning on nostalgia and celebrating virtuosity, but the accessibility factor is important," he said. "All of these digital tools are intended to make it easier for someone to stick with it. Romancing the experience of it is important, too. If a kid plugs in a guitar and learns three chords and feels that rush, we want to be the brand that celebrates that."