By Matt Pigott - April 6th, 2015
Brands collaborate more than ever to build buzz online, but does it always pay off?
Brands collaborate more than ever to build buzz online, but does it always pay off? We all know about so-called publicity stunts. They’ve always been a staple of the PR toolkit, a cheap and arresting way to grab attention for brands, both personal and corporate. Rock stars have been trashing hotel rooms for literal generations. Keith Moon of the Who used to get a kick out of nailing, gluing, and strapping hotel furniture to the ceiling. A Busted band member launched a TV from a hotel window, but was then full of remorse (even though the TV likely survived the unspectacular two-storey drop). But smashing stuff up is a marketing ploy of yesteryear—a hangover from the dysfunctional seventies, brash eighties, and lurid nineties that predated the easy distribution of information that came with the advent of social media. Now, it’s far easier (and more effective) to kick up a digital fuss on Twitter than it is to kick a hole in the wall at the Hyatt. Brands, take note. (For more insight into getting the word out about your brand over social, check out the upcoming Incite Summit: West, May 18th and 19th in downtown San Francisco.) Today’s super-connected superstars have discovered ways of generating acres of online and offline coverage without so much as breaking a fingernail. When Jay-z’s multi-brand management company Roc Nation struck a $20 million deal with Korean mobile giant Samsung, they established a new transactional model. With a quarter of the money, Samsung bought a million downloads of the rapper’s twelfth studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail for five dollars a pop, and then gave them away exclusively to Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II users via the Google Play store—72 hours ahead of the album’s official release. The story gained widespread coverage, everywhere from tech magazines and entertainment websites to mainstream TV and radio. Giving away the album was an unabashed overture to the core demographic Samsung wanted to appeal to: the young, connected, and tech savvy. So-called millennials were accurately identified as the people most likely to start social conversations about the freebie, partly because they got it ahead of Apple users. But this wasn’t just a brand-loyalty giveaway, it was orchestrated by Samsung as a viral marketing campaign from the start. Now, major brands look to validate their products by pairing them with high-profile celebrities who have come to be regarded as brands in their own right. Entertainment and other industries are becoming increasingly dependent on large brands and tech companies as a means of helping their marketing and funding their products. But the third and most important part of this paradigm are the consumers who carry out, almost by default, brands’ publicity—posting, sharing content, and tweeting for them.
By working hand-in-hand, Roc Nation and Samsung were able to aggregate the sort of exposure and gain the type of market penetration that neither one would have been able to achieve alone. Their contract got competitors talking strategy and, roughly a year later, Apple struck a similar deal with U2: $100 million to distribute the band’s album Songs of Innocence for free, through iTunes, to every iPhone and iPod user on the planet. However, assuming everyone was a U2 fan turned out to be a bit of a PR fluff, initially at least. Customers thought both U2 and Apple were presumptious in their actions–anti-social even–and both took a fair beating on social media sites. Consumers felt that their devices had been gate-crashed and wanted an apology. They got it. Unreservedly. But even before the dust of this low-level crisis had blown off, Songs of Innocence was bathing in the afterglow of 50 million downloads, and Apple’s share value continued to trend blithely up. We’re in a strange new digital world, one where different kinds of brands have to collaborate more than ever to get the word out. There’s room for unprecedented creativity and flexibility, but also unprecedented screw-ups. Next week, we’ll take a look at what happens when brands decide to get anti-social with one another to get their consumers talking. This can go very right, but also very, very wrong. For more insight into getting the word out about your brand over social, check out the upcoming Incite Summit: West, May 18th and 19th in downtown San Francisco.
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