Throwback Thursday: Headphones vs. Beats by Dre

Like all things, headphones go in and out of fashion. From those used in the early twentieth century by wireless operators sending and receiving Morse code messages to ’80s teens rocking out to their Walkmans and today’s population talking hands free on their cellphones, headphones have a long history. This Throwback Thursday, we’ll look at the throwback quality of today’s most popular headphones and why it might be the factor influencing consumers.

Where once little white earbuds were synonymous with trendy youths blocking out the world in favor of music, now everywhere you look it seems people are wearing a pair of much larger Beats by Dre cans. Having gone out of style when smaller technology was developed, large headsets like these transformed into a niche product that was more expensive but produced better sound quality. Beats by Dre blew into this space and quickly took over the market, not necessarily with sound engineers, but with casual music listeners.

Audiophiles, those hobbyists in constant pursuit of the purest sound, describe Beats by Dre as having good, but not great, sound quality attached to an expensive stylized shell. The headphones are certainly better than the ones that come in your iPhone box, but if Beats are disproportionately expensive based on their quality, why do so many people listen to them? They have a fashionable look, sure, but so do lots of cheaper headphone brands. The answer, as always, comes back to branding by none other than rapper Dr. Dre (who’s a bit of a throwback himself).

But how popular is Dr. Dre, the man who made his name with The Chronic, an album that is now old enough to drink?

He did manage to renew his “cool license” by mentoring Eminem, ushering the Detroit rapper into the stratosphere as the highest-selling recording artist of the first decade of the 21st century. The prospect of Dr. Dre’s long-gestating new record, Detox, despite releasing a few singles, has only served to turn it into the rap version of Chinese Democracy, the Guns N’ Roses album that required 17 years of production and was released to disappointing sales and reviews.

Maybe Dr. Dre is able to coast by on the good feelings of music aficionados who are fans of his or Eminem, but the high school kids who save up for these headphones likely didn’t grow up with Dre’s music. They could just be digging through back catalogs to find good tunes. At any rate, Dre’s status has been preserved, and his protégée likely kept his rep in check. Rather than Dre losing his audience with a bad  record, he’s been very careful about what he releases under his own name while keeping himself in the loop, whether he’s contributing guest verses or sitting behind the boards for other rappers. These decisions show Dr. Dre to be a savvy marketer and a case study in protecting a mature brand.

Dre’s Beats seem to have the perfect ingredients of a thrown-back look mixed with a sleek modern fashion (as well as function) that keeps this product at the top of the industry. Even the advertisements hold true to the blend. Released in September, this Beat’s commercial features Eminem and his single, “Berzerk” (which samples Billy Squier and the Beastie Boys).

 

 

Cover Photo Source: Everett Collection

Kaz is a Junior Executive at SJG. He earned BAs in English Writing and Business Marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University and is currently pursuing an MA in Advertising at The University of Texas at Austin. Outside the office, Kaz consumes gobs of media including but not limited to books, magazines, music, movies and television.