Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.


It's easy to think of entertainers as being fortunate in business.

They have some sort of talent, it gets packaged by some sort of clever people, and suddenly the entertainers are worth more than supposedly proper businesspeople.

It may well be that, in some cases (or even One Direction), the management deserves a lot of the credit for being able to discern what teenage girls find attractive this week.

But I was moved to wear an intensely tight skirt on hearing that Katy Perry is the world's highest-paid female celebrity.

Forbes declared that she earned $135 million last year. That's more than two Kim Kardashians. That's around three Giseles. It's more than four Sean Hannitys.

What glory it would be to imagine four Sean Hannitys.

But what has Perry done to make all this money?

Some might say that she's purveyed pop pap with a smattering of fashion and a dramatic stage show.

But that dramatic stage show, which even adorned the last Super Bowl, earned a lot of money.

More than that, however, it was an encapsulation of Perry's overall strategy. It's based on thinking about, knowing, and reflecting how her customers feel.

They have hopes. They have frustrations. Perry turns those feelings into anthems.

You might not like those anthems. You are, I would guess, not a 15-year-old girl.

Perry knows that it's one thing to write a song that creates good feelings; it's another to create something that's supposed to appeal to millions yet still feels personal.

Apple has mastered that art.

Making your product personal, while wanting to sell a lot of it, involves true attention to detail and some very human skills.

Kim Kardashian has arguably less obvious talent than Perry. But she is another who has mastered a true connection with a large audience. Her followers seem to believe she's not only their friend, but also the personification of a lifestyle they wish they could have--and one that feels curiously almost within their reach.

Hers and Perry's customers buy into a feeling, one in which they're prepared to participate by seeing their heroines live or by buying replicas and mementos of their world.

Perry, for example, makes $20 per head in merchandise sales. Clear, loving profit.

Understanding a fundamental emotional need in a customer is rarely easy. Do some research and people will probably offer something very human--they'll lie.

If Apple had followed research results, the company would have produced generic, dull phones. Yes, they'd have produced the Josh Groban phone.

Perry might surround herself with clever songwriters and marketers, but at the core is her ability to identify a personal feeling that can be shared. And from that she makes money.

It's not enough to have a good product. The way to sharp success is to have a product that creates a visceral reaction in the customer. It might be one of need. It might be one of recognition. It might be one of solidarity. But the product doesn't just fulfill a rational need. It attaches itself emotionally.

Perry found it. She has more than 71 million followers on Twitter. Yes, that's actually more than Donald Trump has.

There is, though, a truly depressing element in her elevation to the top of the celebrity earnings chart. It's the two celebrities above her.

Perry came in at number three, you see. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao were first and second.

These two also understand their customers very well.

They create scarcity, spending far longer teasing a fight than actually having one. They appeal to the basest instincts of males who believe themselves fighters.

Yet Mayweather versus Pacquiao was an embarrassing hugfest, in which few punches were thrown and even fewer landed. It was the sort of fight that boxers of old would have sneered at in disgust.

Katy Perry throws a lot more punches than these two.

Somehow, though, the customers were happy to spend $100 just to watch Mayweather and Pacquiao fight on TV. They'll no doubt do it again to see another pair of aging brand-name fighters waddle about the ring for a few rounds (while the customers drink a few rounds).

What deep, emotional knowledge could Mayweather and Pacquiao have about their customers?

Could it be they know that if members of their target market ever got into a real skirmish on a Saturday night, they'd fight like frightened babies too?