Brand building is a marathon, not a sprint

Take the viral success of Kate Bush’s 1980s classic Running Up That Hill as inspiration and heed the rallying call for continuous advertising.

If you don’t have a Netflix subscription or are relatively in tune with the current music trends, you may wonder why Running Up That Hill – a beautiful song by Kate Bush – has appeared in music charts, all over the world, more than 35 years after its original release.

Earlier in June, Running Up That Hill was a US top 10 hit (Bush’s first ever), and within weeks, the single finally reached number one in the UK chart, toppling Harry Styles’ As It Was. Bush’s 80s ballad also reached the Daily Top 100 in 112 countries worldwide from 28 May to 31 May. By the end of May the track was charting top 10 in 34 countries, including Germany, Belgium and Norway.

The trigger? The release of the first volume of Netflix’s Stranger Things season four on 27 May, featuring Running Up That Hill in the fourth episode. Within days of its release, the series clocked more than 287 million viewing hours. It broke the record for the biggest-ever premiere weekend of an English-language series on Netflix.

Although Running Up That Hill is still enjoying a buoyant position, its popularity is not sustainable in the longer term.

What makes this interesting from a marketing point of view though is seeing the principles of marketing science at play. Research from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute shows that for sustainable growth brands need to grow mental availability (that is to easily come to mind) and physical availability (to be easily accessed and bought).

When Running Up That Hill was played in the series, those who knew the song from its original release date in the 80s were reminded of the track. Many Gen-Zs, however, were exposed to the song for the first time in that iconic scene in episode four (don’t worry, no spoilers!) – a huge boost in mental availability for both the song and Kate Bush.

But just as award winning ads don’t guarantee sales, millions of people hearing a song on a show doesn’t guarantee a top 10 hit. The second half of this success story is that the song could be instantly accessed (great physical availability) via Spotify, Apple iTunes and YouTube.

On the Apple iTunes chart, the song currently sits in the top 10 of the top 100 US chart. By mid-June, on Spotify the song sat at number one on weekly top songs globally. The popularity also spills over to YouTube, Instagram and TikTok – with millions of views across different video versions, which are spawning by the day.

Call for continuous advertising

Let’s shift the focus to brands. So, does this mean that brands should race to place their products on the next blockbuster series or movie to enjoy the surge in popularity?

Not necessarily. The uplift movies or series bring to brands is variable and also depends on whether consumers can have easy access to purchase the brands. The broad evidence is clear that both mental availability and physical availability are important for brand growth. There is not one single way to build them and one is not more important at the expense of the other.

Along with highlighting the importance of both physical and mental availability to achieve growth, the Running Up That Hill example is also consistent with the need for marketers to have a continuous brand presence and keep the brand fresh in consumer memory. You can’t put all your advertising budget in one burst and then sit back for the rest of the year.

Ehrenberg-Bass: Linking brand messages to buying situations wins ‘the mind and the market’

Although Running Up That Hill is still enjoying a buoyant position, its popularity is not sustainable in the longer term – as new tracks and trends come into the mind of consumers. The number of tweets mentioning the track are already on the way down. The release of the second volume of Stranger Things tomorrow will spark another interest for the song, but then it will inevitably trend downhill again.

Just to highlight the need for continuous advertising – can you name the brands that advertised in the Super Bowl this year? How many of those brands that you remember continued to advertise beyond the mega blip at the beginning of the year?

As marketers, there’s no stopping at the top of that one hill. We need to keep on running.

Dr Arry Tanusondjaja is a senior marketing scientist at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for marketing science

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