Fifa/sony score own goal in heavy­handed at­tempt to ban the Beats

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - Brian Boyd on mu­sic bboyd@irish­times.com

P oor Ney­mar. The suits in Fifa have or­dered the Brazil­ian foot­baller to re­move his beloved Beats head­phones when in or around World Cup sta­di­ums for of­fi­cial matches and me­dia events.

The no­to­ri­ous Luis Suárez and oth­ers have also got­ten a fin­ger­wag­ging from Fifa for the same head­phone of­fence. (And we await a sterner Fifa sanc­tion over Suarez’s lat­est on-pitch trans­gres­sion.) This is ex­actly what the Beats mar­ket­ing team wants. Be­ing banned by Fifa is yet an­other coup for a prod­uct that, de­spite be­ing es­sen­tially a load of over­priced non­sense, places a pre­mium on its “bad boy” sta­tus.

The play­ers can’t wear Beats be­cause of Sony, which is one of the of­fi­cial spon­sors of the World Cup. Sony pro­vided each and ev­ery player with a free pair of its head­phones, but there has yet to one in­stance of a foot­baller wear­ing the of­fi­cial prod­uct. In con­trast, the Beats head­phones are every­where.

The mak­ers of Beats don’t do any­thing as ba­nal as main­stream mar­ket­ing. They pre­fer “am­bush mar­ket­ing” – gate-crash­ing a party they haven’t been in­vited to but work­ing the room to great ef­fect any­way. They pulled the same stunt at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics by giv­ing free Beats to prom­i­nent ath­letes, which led the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee to “de­nounce” the head­phones.

Beats don’t need to do ads – word of mouth works for them just fine. But, just to piss Sony and Fifa off, the com­pany spent a small for­tune get­ting Ney­mar to do a promo slot for the new Solo 2 head­phones.

Their trendi­ness is the rea­son Ap­ple re­cently paid the mad sum of $3 bil­lion for Beats. That money was for the brand and im­age rather than the ac­tual prod­uct. Beats now com­mand the heights of the mu­sic/ life­style econ­omy. There’s a Beats stream­ing ser­vice and plans are un­der way for a Beats record la­bel and Beats mu­sic fes­ti­vals.

Would the same thing have hap­pened if the same head­phones were called “Beats by Cold­play”? No. Beats by Dre has the whiff of ghetto cordite, the straight-outta-Comp­ton back­story that plays into the id­iot heads of the com­pany’s white, mid­dle-class tar­get mar­ket.

Beats are a mar­ket­ing con job: snake-oil for hip­sters. They’re not bad head­phones, de­spite the hor­ri­ble over­loaded bass, though there are plenty of in­de­pen­dent stud­ies out there, con­ducted by re­spected and über-geeky au­dio­philes, that con­clude that Beats are, in fact, “ex­traor­di­nar­ily bad”. Time did a com­pre­hen­sive study of top head­phone brands (time.com/ 74886/best-head­phones), which ranked Beats as the sec­ond worst prod­uct out of 18 tested.

There’s the irony: those Sony head­phones that Ney­mar prob­a­bly threw in the bin be­cause they weren’t “cool” enough con­sis­tently rank among the best head­phones out there. Sony and a lit­tle known but bril­liant brand called Shure are the only two makes worth look­ing at. Sure, Shure aren’t en­dorsed by ’slebs. But then, who wants to be seen in pub­lic wear­ing the same head­phones as Wayne Rooney?

The bor­ing truth mat­ters not a jot in the mu­sic/life­style world. Beats have al­ready won the World Cup im­age match. In­cred­i­ble but true: the suits at Fifa are ac­tu­ally right about some­thing: Sony does make the bet­ter head­phones.

Sound footage: Ney­mar in Beats’ star-stud­ded The Game Be­fore the Game promo video

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