Beck and McSweeney’s show us how to market in the age of collaboration
Let’s start with a simple premise. In an day when we can all create, publish and distribute content the best ideas are those that inspire creation, publishing and distribution. Uniqlo got us to tweet about its products. Nike gave us a digital megaphone to rally cancer victims. Old Spice made us part of a real time campaign. Intel and Google let us customize digital content and attach our name to it.
But Beck’s new initiative – releasing not a new album but simply the sheet music for 20 new songs — may be the most interesting approach yet. The first time we hear the music is when we play it ourselves. Or listen to a friend’s interpretation. Or click on one of what are sure to be hundreds of YouTube videos created by Beck fans and wannabe’s. Or hear the featured interpretation’s on the website of McSweeney’s, the innovative publisher (founded by Dave Eggers, another brilliant pioneer of cool stuff like 826 Valencia and spinoffs) that will co-produce the Beck Hansen Song Reader, due out in December 2012.
Beck has essentially composed the music, the marketing campaign and the viral trigger with a few pieces of paper and a totally original creative idea. I suppose you could argue that none of this is new. Before vinyl and radio all music was released this way. But it’s a different idea entirely in the new hyper connected digital age.
Just today I was invited to speak at BMA of NYC in September at their event Transformations: Now and Next. The session contrasts the opinion of the data geeks, who argue that social, mobile and big data will reduce the importance of creativity, with the creative community, which claims all the new technologies are leading to a creative renaissance and entirely new ways of telling stories.
Sadly, I have a conflict. But I know my answer to the question “Creativity: Renaissance or Retreat?” It’s the same as Beck’s and Dave Eggers. The real future of creativity may not be who tells the story, or even the stories themselves. Instead it just might be the novel processes and experiences we invent to inspire the creation and telling of those stories.
For more on Beck’s new project, check out this great post from Ideasicle founder and Forbes blogger Will Burns.
I call this marketing tactic *meta-action*, or a self-referential abstraction around the original action meant to seed buzz. CP+G were the masters of this, launching supposed campaigns that were discordant enough that everyone talked about ... the campaign concept. Wieden + Kennedy's Old Spice "man your man could smell like" was another great example; a rather funny spot with a bit of sex appeal, but people talked about it most because its complicated staging was shot in one take. We liked the concept of the concept more than the concept.
This approach breaks through but has three basic challenges:
1. *Attention doesn't equal digestion.* If we are inspired to talk about the campaign concept, are we really taking in the campaign message? Or this case, the music. I still don't hear it and don't know if I like it.
2. *Provocation doesn't equal duration.* The timeframe on such meta-actions is fleeting. The buzz about the buzz is fleeting, and soon people move on. I haven't thought about Skittles or Old Spice for a while now.
3. *Originality precludes frequency.* Meta-actions, by their original break-out nature, cannot be easily repeated. The next artist to release sheet music will be laughed at.
None of this is meant to be negative, but I would love your take on how these three barriers can be overcome. The good news, I suppose Edward, is that all of this creates ongoing demand for creative agencies to find new ways to break out of the clutter.
I think you need to take your Advertising/Marketing cap off for a bit. You're looking at this project and the ones you referenced through the narrow lens of an advertiser/marketer. And that's okay. In that regard, I think you're right that lots of concepts of concepts can actually be distracting. With Old Spice, when you say "people talked" I can't help but think that you're actually referring to the industry folks that did, in fact, talk about how the spot was made. But the majority of the people who saw it might have never realized it was shot in one take. They just thought it was funny.
And for the record, you thought about Skittles and Old Spice two days ago...long after the campaigns were over. I wouldn't go so far as to call them fleeting. They've made a lasting impact on everyone, even the non-industry people, who were exposed to them.
With the Beck project, I think it's half novelty and half experimentation. The music and entertainment industry has been in a state of flux and, in some cases, sheer terror since the dawn of the mp3. I feel like this project falls into the a similar category as the "pay what you want model" employed recently by Trent Reznor/Radiohead/Louis CK/Aziz Ansari. Although this one seems a bit more novelty than game changer. We're still in a very experimental phase with lots of room for big ideas.
It'll be interesting to see/hear how the thing actually plays out. Clearly Beck is willing to take some chances and even fail. That's the best part of this. Put it out there and see what happens.
benkunz These are all good and valid points. And you could easily argue that this is a gimmick. On the other hand you could say that marketing today is about getting to the very core audience and inviting/embracing their participation. So if this campaign only gets to those who might perform it, and those who might hear it from them, it is still valid in getting Beck closer to fans who care about him. Furthermore, it is possible that the music, which will inevitably be heard and performed by others besides Beck, attracts attention to the artist's inevitable debut of the music live, or recorded or co-recorded with some of the content that gets created. Too soon to tell.
And yes, there is a huge question about the long term impact of some of the new ideas -- Skittles, Old Spice, Ford Fiesta, Uniqlo, Corona's journey to the ocean, et al. -- but that makes them no worse than any traditional paid media, and, in fact, may be what's necessary to get any attention at all in an age of too many interruptions, too much content vying for our attention and an increasingly ADD consumer.
One advantage of the fact that no one can replicate for fear of being invisible -- as you said re Old Spice and others -- is that creative people will have to keep inventing new and what's next. Otherwise we pay no attention at all.
Thank you for the heads-up. I will submit some recordings for sure! Here's the think, though: on the one this project excites me because it's so novel; on the other hand it depresses me because it shows how hard it has become to get people to pay for music. Also, what's to stop folks from simply scanning the sheet music and posting it for others to read? Yes, this is an end run around piracy, but for how long? Will sales cover costs before the pirates take over? Hard to say. Still, cool idea.
JeffShattuck Will probably generate enough buzz that it will sell tickets and eventually also generate recordings that people will pay for. Yes?
edwardboches Perhaps, but it's a hard thing to swallow that copyright law has become so weak that Beck doesn't dare try to sell something non-physical. Also, I don't buy the notion that recorded music is an advertisement for a live act. I mean, obviously a good record drives ticket sales but what of record sales?
At least Google finally seems to be waking up to its nefarious role in the destruction of the laws that protect the expression of ideas. Sadly, Google's language about its new search policy hedges by noting that Google "may" lower a site in search results when that site has been the target of valid copyright infringement claims.
"Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results," Singhal writes, although he does not specify how high the number would have to be to affect the search algorithm
So pathetic. And what about YouTube results? Yeah, um, I'm gonna wager they will be right at the top.
Don't be evil? Please. (By the way, what the hell does "evil" even mean? A much better principle would be "don't break the law".
Sorry, but Google's whole no flies on us attitude really bothers me. They run a crack house, of course they know their tenants are breaking the law.
This all seems to tie back to delivering immersive experiences, where the engagement and participation runs much deeper. Where technology combined with creativity are delivering the narrative that empowers the audience to interpret that experience in personal way. So to your question, I believe that social and especially mobile are enabling a renaissance with creativity, but it still needs that idea to inspire the crowd.