What is Simon Cowell? A TV presenter? A music producer? An pop manager? Well, undeniably all these things; but ultimately he's one of the most accomplished marketeers the UK has ever created.
Just look at his greatest achievement. He not only managed to turn the rather prosaic process of auditioning hundreds of fame-hungry hopefuls into entertainment, he's managed to persuade ITV to pay him for it. For twelve years. And when a star is discovered, is it ITV who signs them up and sells their output? Not a chance. That's Cowell's cherry on his showbiz cake.
"Make no mistake, the big decisions are Simon's."
Of course he doesn't just have the task of marketing his stable of singers, he has to market the X-Factor itself. And although he has the weight of the network behind him, make no mistake, the big decisions are Simon's. Each series he's faced with tweaking and re-inventing the format - keeping it interesting enough to pull in that vital Saturday night audience.
Hence we have manufactured departures of Louis Walsh, who then returns a week later. Auditions in front of a live audience (not a great success actually), rotating panels of judges, rumours, gossip - it's all part of a subtle marketing mix designed to keep the show, and Cowell, on top. Any day now, we'll be greeted with series twelve of the X-Factor, and the changes are considerable. Gone is Dermot O'Leary as grand host, and in comes former contestant Olly Murs. Back comes Cheryl Cole, whose on/off platonic romance with Cowell obviously has plenty of mileage left in it. Radio One's Nick Grimshaw is in there somewhere, and in a rather odd trailer we're promised 'Anything could happen'.
"Cowell is rolling the dice again."
In truth, that's pushing things a bit. We can be pretty certain the first three or four weeks will be filled with toe-curling try-outs from the untalented and deluded - a routine which can border on the cruel. Then we'll be into the star-search and phone votes via 'judges houses' (not their actual houses). So Cowell is rolling the dice again, and hoping to inject some freshness and innovation into what is slowly becoming a bit of tired idea. But if anyone can pull it off, it's Simon.
Don't misunderstand me, I don't worship at the feet of his funny pointy shoes (for a multi-millionaire he has some awful clothes), but I do believe he knows exactly what he's doing and is in the enviable position of being permitted to take almost any chance he fancies. His confidence is supreme. X-Factor failed in the USA, but he merely waltzed back to the UK and picked up where he'd left off. And that's not to mention the whole 'Britain's Got Talent' shebang.
One day, ITV will call time on X-Factor. There's every possibility this will be the last series. However, this won't faze Mr. Cowell. You can be sure he's well prepared for that day, and a dozen ideas ready to roll. When you're the master of marketing, you can afford to be very cool about such things.
Magnus Shaw, copywriter and blogger