And Then There Were Eight


What does an icy ball 3.67 billion miles from the sun have to do with an LA hard rock band? In a word, everything. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of Pluto, astronomy’s version of David Lee Roth. And while there might not appear to be parallels between the former (and current…with an asterisk) Van Halen front man and the former (and current…with an asterisk) planet, they have had remarkably similar careers over the last 20 years. And more importantly, the role that public opinion has played for both of them has been almost identical.

To recap: Roth sang on Van Halen’s first six albums, became a superstar, and ultimately left the band in 1985 because – depending on the version of the story one chooses to believe – he didn’t fit in with the other members. After having a few early hits, Roth sort of faded away until Van Halen dragged him out of mothballs and grudgingly put him back on stage. Pluto, which was discovered in 1930, enjoyed more than 60 years as a planet before the International Astronomical Union (IAU) declared that it wasn’t really a planet at all. That might have been the end of it…but people freaked out. After a few years of bad publicity, the scientists compromised and sort of let Pluto back in the club when they declared it a minor planet.

This is a marketing blog, but what do an aging rocker and a frozen rock have to do with marketing? In a word, everything.

That’s because both of their orbits are proof that public opinion matters and that enough sustained pressure can make a difference. Van Halen was actually more successful after Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar, but the band’s older fans never let the band forget who the real singer was – going so far as to derisively dub the reformulated group “Van Hagar.” For over 20 years they kept the drumbeat of criticism going until bandleader Eddie Van Halen finally relented and invited his nemesis back into the fold. In a similar vein, Pluto aficionados immediately went on the offense in support of their demoted orbiting body. Several state legislatures proposed and even passed resolutions declaring Pluto to be a planet. Pro-Pluto shirts became de rigeur for the nerdcore crowd, and a number of Web sites advocating for Pluto’s reclassification as a Planet, rather than a lame-ass “Kuiper belt object,” popped up. Under public pressure, the IAU sort of caved in and upgraded it to the status of “minor planet.”

When most people think of public pressure, they think of it in terms of calling politicians to task, forcing companies to change policies, or simply getting people to change their attitudes and behaviors. But the strange case of Pluto and David Lee Roth is proof that enough people caring – and voicing their opinions – can make a big difference.

And they will both go down in history as rock stars.







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