I’ve told this story before, the definitive history of the Rolling Stones, Start Me Up and how that song became part of the Windows 95 marketing campaign. By request, here’s the tale once again as told by Brad Chase who was a key part of the Windows 95 effort (and one of the best war time consiglieri that Microsoft has ever employed). So what song would you pick for Windows 7?
We were struggling to find an ad campaign that worked. The agency WK (Wieden+Kennedy) was well briefed, had a good understanding of our goals, was working hard and had alot of creative ideas but we kept asking them to go back and try again as they just were not hitting the center of the bulls eye. I am sure we were hard clients. Finally they presented the idea of a campaign based on the song “Start Me Up”. I immediately loved the idea (as did Brad). Without going into details it was on strategy, creative and catchy (commercials based on famous rock songs were not done then as i recall) but then WK told me that they had been unsuccessful negotiating the rights for the song so the campaign was a non-starter. The Stones wanted us to pay $10M to sponsor their next concert tour and then they would consider the rights to the song. WK knew we would not do that. That created a pretty big debate as I wanted to know why they would finally present a winning idea if it wasn’t possible to do. They told me that the reason they pitched it was to see if I could negotiate with them myself – they figured we had nothing to lose.
Time was at a premium at that time as the launch planning and execution was a whirlwind. WK set me up with sort of an entertainment broker who set up a meeting in Amsterdam with key Stones personnel. The key contact for the Stones at that time for this negotiation was Michael Cohl the promoter and organizer of their concerts. The Stones were performing two “unplugged” concerts May 26/27 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Some of the tracks on the Fall 95 Album “Stripped” came from the May shows. Someone on Amazon claims Richards said those concerts were the best the Stones have done. I flew out to meet their team and discuss things on May 25th but had to return on the 26th. I don’t remember the hotel name but it was an old elegant posh European hotel and we sat in a big ornate conference room discussing the details. Outside Stones fans huddled hoping to catch a glimpse of the rock stars. Cohl had a litany of folks with him and we discussed the deal for a few hours. We did not make substantial progress. Cohl asked me if I could stay the next day to discuss the deal more and attend the concert. Since I could not, he instead invited me to the dress rehearsal that night. The dress rehearsal was fantastic. I was one of only two nonStones personnel even in the place. They played for two or three hours. They were tight. They would stop periodically to discuss something and joke around. I remember Jagger giving Ron Wood a hard time about all the cigarettes he smoked but mostly they talked about the music. It was very cool.
Back & Forth
For a good month we continued negotiations mostly on the phone. I had only so much I would and could pay and that made things easier on our end. The fact that we had to fish or cut bait to get our TV ads done in time for the August 24th launch served as a forcing function and eventually we agreed to terms. They rushed WK the “Start Me Up” recording as we were already working on the ad. The next day I got a frantic call from WK saying that the Stones had sent a later live version of “Start Me Up” that wouldn’t work. I called up Cohl and told him that I had to have the original version or there was no deal. Eventually they agreed. I found out later that the reason they gave us the live version was that it was recorded after Bill Wyman had left the band. Giving us the original meant that Wyman got his allocation of the deal which of course meant that giving us the original version of “Start Me Up” meant that Jagger, Richards and the rest of the band got less.
Jagger & Richards
I also found out later that Jagger and Richards did not always see eye to eye on the deal. As Brad indicated, Jagger was less inclined to commercialize their music in this way. I was told he was especially ready to just forget the deal when we made it clear we needed the original version but that he did not want to piss off Richards over it because Richards wanted or needed the money.
After the deal was done but before the launch, Prince Rupert Lowenstein the manager of Jagger’s and the bands money who had been involved behind the scenes (Cohl had to clear things with Rupert as well as the band members) decided he should come out and visit Microsoft. We had to have a limo pick him up at the airport and bring him to the campus.
Prince Rupert was smart and funny. He was an investment banker and came dressed on a baby blue suit. He talked with a strong wonderful British accent. For example he said sometimes at the end of a concert tour bands like the Stones would get “naughty.” He was a Prince because he was a descendant of some royalty (I read on-line that he was a descendant of the Rothschild family). He explained that in the 70’s he got a call from a friend saying that a musical group called the Rolling Stones were in a financial mess. Rupert was told the Stones were stuck in a bad deal they had done with their manager Allen Klein, they had tax problems etc. His friend asked if Rupert would take them on as a client. As Rupert explained it he asked his friend to hold for a moment, put his hand over the telephone and yelled up to his wife, “Honey who the heck is the Rolling Stones? They want me to be their manager” Rupert said that his wife immediately told him to take the job so he did.
Meanwhile of course the team was frantically working on the ad. WK and the person running advertising on the team for me Cynthia Krass were on locations shooting and then editing etc. I remember when they came to preview the final ad to me and how impressed I was with their work. I gave them only one material comment and that was that they had to fix the end of the ad. It needed the compelling emotional ending that fit the aspirational nature of the ad. The little girl who turns to look at the camera was added after that point. The team did a great great job. Even today folks tell me it is the best ad Microsoft has ever done and one of the best ads they have seen. I recall analytically that it scored very very high on the advertising testing that we did.
The $14 Million
After it was announced that we did the deal with the Stones a rumor (started in a British paper) started that Bill had called Mick and asked for the rights to the song. According to the rumor, Mick through out a crazy high number – $14 million figuring that Bill would say no but that Bill suprised Jagger and immediately agreed to the $14M. We all laughed uproariously when we heard this (we paid a fraction of this). In fact, when one a reporter called us to get our comment our PR person just laughed and laughed. As I recall, the story quoted that the Microsoft spokesperson just busted out laughing when asked about the rumor. Though never confirmed, as Brad said, it was believed that some Stones personnel made up the story to help them with future negotiations with other vendors. The story is still quoted (often as “legend”) on the web to this day.
In terms of the overall marketing Windows 95, the start me up ad was a small though visible component of strategy. The overall strategy itself is very interesting to look back on and I should write it down at one point. But when it comes to stories around Windows 95, and there are many, “Start Me Up” ranks up there.