A Lesson in Transparency from the Red Hot Chili Peppers


Did you watch the 2014 Super Bowl? I did. Not because I’m a huge football fan. In fact, I didn’t watch any of the games leading up the the Big Event. I watched because I’m an Ad Geek.

I’ve enjoyed a 20-year career in advertising, a field in which it’s practically mandatory to keep tabs on which agencies are concocting the best creative concepts and which brands are willing to shell out $4 million to land a 30-second spot during the game.

I’m also a fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were scheduled to play with Bruno Mars during the Halftime Show.

So, the game was a blowout, the ads ran the gamut of “heartwarming” (Budweiser, Chevy) to “LOL” (Doritos, Radio Shack) to “pretentious agency fodder” (Masarati, Chrysler), and the Halftime Show was awesome…until the next day, that is.

Bruno Mars is a talented musician and a great performer, and his band—resplendent in matching gold lamé jackets and black ties—was reminiscent of the energetic, choreographed excitement of the Motown era.


After a couple songs, the Chili Peppers emerged, studly and shirtless, out of nowhere and shredded through an intensely exuberant, pogo-rific, version of their hit, “Give It Away,” before disappearing as quickly as they arrived.

Internet Trolls Emerge, Pitchforks Out

The next day, the Internet was inundated with images showing that bassist Flea and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer didn’t have their instruments plugged in during the performance.


The public was indignant, letting the accusations and insults fly. The Peppers were deemed “sellouts” and compared to acts like Milli Vanilli and Beyoncé, who has been known to lip sync her way around a song once or twice.

Even I was a little let down, although I knew the track they were miming to was 100% theirs. It was also a custom version pre-recorded specifically for the event, so it’s not like they were just playing along with the album version as if they were on Soul Train or Top of the Pops.

The truth eventually came out: the NFL runs a tight ship, and can’t afford sound problems to muck up their broadcast. They will allow live vocals, which are easy to control—plug in a mic, slap on some reverb, BAM! you’re ready to go. However, the music tracks must be pre-recorded because miking multiple instruments creates too many variables and there’s simply not enough time to troubleshoot sound problems.

Okay, fine. You would expect a karaoke performance from artists like Madonna, Fergie, Miley and the latest pop tart du jour, who’s too busy counting dance steps to focus on pesky things like pitch and breath control.

But the Chili Peppers are real musicians who write their own songs and can perform the hell out of them, so it came as more of a shock to see them lumped into the same category as all the other precious pop divas.

How Much Transparency Is Too Much?

A couple days after the incident, Flea wrote a letter to his fans on the RCHP website, explaining the scenario and saying that Anthony Kiedis was singing live, but since the rest of the band was pre-recorded, they decided not to plug in at all.

I played guitar in rock bands for many years. One of the best purchases I made was a wireless unit that allowed me the freedom to get crazy without being tethered to my amp. This unit comes with a small transmitter that plugs into your guitar jack and attaches to your strap, and a receiver that plugs into your amp and picks up your signal.

All Flea and Josh had to do was simply plug their transmitters into their guitar jacks, slap ‘em on their straps and keep ‘em turned off. If the public saw plugs sticking out of their guitars, no one would have questioned the performance at all. With this one simple move the entire scandal could have been avoided.

So why didn’t they do this? “We thought it better to not pretend,” said Flea on his blog post. “It seemed like the realest thing to do in the circumstance. It was like making a music video in front of a gazillion people, except with live vocals, and only one chance to rock it.”

In other words, they opted for complete and utter transparency.

Herein lies my point: transparency has become an essential attribute in business and in marketing. The public is tired of being lied to by companies who are trying to sell them junk, lies and propaganda at any cost. The rise of social media has given each and every consumer a platform upon which to amplify their voice. Brands can no longer get away with tricks, deception or shady maneuvers. They can’t afford to breach the trust of consumers because today’s consumer is more empowered than ever.

This is a good thing. It holds brands, companies and entrepreneurs accountable, which has been lacking in our society for too long.


But, does this mean we don’t want ANY mystery in our lives? Do we really want to peek behind the curtain at every turn? Do we want to obliterate every ounce of mystique, allure and intrigue? Do kids really need to know that Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and unicorns don’t really exist?

Methinks not.

So, How Does This Apply to Artists?

I encourage artists to engage their audience, to learn how to discuss themselves and their work deftly, concisely and poetically. Understand your art history and know where you fit in stylistically. Understand what you are trying to say with your art, be able to articulate your point of view on the subject you’re tackling.

However, just because you know all this, understand all this, and are able to articulate all this doesn’t mean you should spew it upon every patron who inquires.

  • Dole your creative secrets out skillfully
  • Play your cards close to your vest
  • Invite viewers to form their own conclusions
  • Keep a little bit of mystery for yourself
  • Be more translucent than transparent
  • Don’t blow the whistle on all your techniques

And for Pete’s sake, plug in your goddamn guitar—even if you’re not actually playing! After all, people need a little mystery in their lives and it’s up to us artists to create it for them.

Art Marketing Book Author Nikolas AllenNikolas Allen is a Contemporary Pop Artist with a background in advertising, music and video production. He is passionate about art and marketing and wrote his first book, “Death To The Starving Artist – Art Marketing Strategies for a Killer Creative Career” to help ambitious artists reach a wider audience.

View Allen’s Portfolio Website at: nikolasallen.com.

One thought on “A Lesson in Transparency from the Red Hot Chili Peppers

  1. This is very similar to what was stressed at L & L Studio where I began my career in 1963. When I started as part time help in my mothers studio there were five artists working there. Robert Stuart was one who left in 1967 to go to work at a large ad agency in New York. The last we heard from him he had moved to Florida and was teaching. With the exception of myself everyone who was a part of L & L Studio has died or retired. Now, I’m fat, disabled, and past the age of retirement. I still paint maybe about six canvases a year. My available inventory of paintings and photos are posted on this link . http://www.artwanted.com/paintpeeler
    I enjoyed your posting.

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