What you can learn about launch marketing from Beyoncé and Prince

Prince and Beyoncé are experts in ‘spontaneous’ marketing, each launching albums with little or no warning. So how can brands from other sectors use the ’no publicity is huge publicity’ mantra?

Above: Beyoncé’s album launch last year generated huge interest, selling 1 million copies in six days on iTunes

Earlier this month, pop legend Prince grabbed the headlines by holding an impromptu concert at the Electric Ballroom in London – the first in a series of ‘guerrilla gigs’ by the artist. The concert was announced on Twitter just a few hours before it began, prompting a rush of fans to the venue and a huge amount of press coverage for Prince, who is promoting a new album.

Prince’s exploits might seem spontaneous but in reality they are part of a carefully planned PR strategy aimed at maximising interest in the star. As the music industry grows ever more competitive in the wake of digital channels, artists are seeking to stand out from the crowd and engage with fans by adopting innovative pre-launch strategies for their new records or concert tours.

Beyoncé’s unexpected album launch last December was another audacious stunt that surprised both fans and commentators. The self-titled album launched on iTunes with no pre-promotion whatsoever – meaning none of the songs received any airplay prior to the release. Beyoncé also took the unorthodox step of releasing a batch of 17 new music videos to accompany the album. The sudden launch generated a surge of interest, resulting in an iTunes record of 1 million albums sold in six days.

Innovation in music

Tim Dellow, co-founder of independent record label Transgressive Records, notes that innovation is rife in the music industry, with pre-launch marketing strategies no longer following a set template. He praises the Beyoncé launch for encouraging people to engage with an entire album and the video content around it, rather than simply listening to one song.

“Historically, there was a very simple, standardised technique [for launching albums],” says Dellow. “Big labels would traditionally release two or three singles before releasing an album to build up some anticipation and provide different reasons to buy. That’s changed as the market has changed and there’s now much more of a bespoke approach to each release and different ways of doing things.”

As the market has changed there’s now much more of a bespoke approach to each album release

Transgressive takes this bespoke approach with its own acts, which include Foals and Two Door Cinema Club. To support the release of a new album by Australian DJ Flume, for example, Transgressive has incrementally launched a number of different versions of the record, including a ‘deluxe box edition’ featuring special guest artists and an extra disc that allows people to remix Flume tracks on their home computers.

“It’s not about a one-album cycle any more where if [artists] don’t sell ‘x amount’ of that record, they’re dropped,” says Dellow, who is also creative director of music media company LoveLive. “It’s about building on each release by delivering music in a way that’s vital and exciting and targeted at the right audience.”

Book publicity

Beyond the music business, book publishers are also fighting to combat consumer apathy and maximise the buzz around launches. David Beckham has released various books in different guises over the years so to generate excitement about his most recent offering, the ex-footballer teamed with Facebook last autumn for a ‘world first’ launch campaign aimed at subverting the traditional book launch.

Rather than sign physical copies of the book, Beckham used a tablet device and stylus to sign the Facebook timelines of fans around the world at a launch event in London. The occasion in late October was hosted by TV sports presenter Jake Humphrey in front of a live studio audience and streamed on Facebook.

Selected Facebook users in Hyderabad, New York and São Paulo also appeared via video link to ask Beckham questions about his life and other users could submit written questions. Some of these were put to Beckham by Humphrey during an on-stage interview with the former England captain.

Fans on Facebook

The book launch was announced on Facebook nine days prior to the event to encourage users to sign up for the live stream and receive an autograph on their timelines. Facebook reports that in the week following the announcement, Beckham gained more than 500,000 new fans on the site – five times more than his weekly average increase.

“We’re looking to create different programmes that make it easier for public figures to reach out and connect authentically with their fans,” says Glenn Miller, head of entertainment partnerships for Facebook EMEA. “This was both a fan event and a global event.” The book is currently ranked at number 1,391 in Amazon’s bestseller list, behind Alex Ferguson’s autobiography at number 40.

David Beckham held a digital signing in collaboration with Facebook as an alternative to the traditional book- signing event

Of course, it is not just music stars and media personalities who are finding new ways to launch products; corporate brands are experimenting too. This month, car brand Peugeot is running a teaser video campaign on social networks such as Vine and Instagram in order to build excitement around the launch of its new RCZ R sports car.

The campaign, developed by creative agency BD Network, consists of nine short videos, the first four of which do not even feature the car itself. Instead they show ‘artists and performers’ working within their field of expertise “as an emotional expression of the RCZ R”. These include a boxer, artist and dancer who represent traits such as power, technique and beauty.

Teasing the public

The other five videos hone in on a key attribute of the car from a tightly cropped angle. This includes a close-up of the gearstick as a driver pushes the car to the limit and a view of the exhaust as the car goes from first to sixth gear. None of the teasers show the car in its entirety, but the campaign builds to a 60-second YouTube video that provides the full reveal.

The teasers are in six- and 15-second versions for Vine and Instagram respectively. Peugeot’s head of advertising and brand image, Stéphane Levi, says this short format is ideal for the campaign, which aims to convey the speed at which the RCZ R travels from 0mph to 60mph.

“This is the most powerful production model we’ve ever made for Peugeot,” says Levi. “That’s why we focused on the emotions and the experience that this car generates, rather than just the features. If you want to know the technical features, you can click through to the site to find out.”

Although Peugeot is restricting the teaser campaign to online activations, Levi says the pre- launch video series is carefully designed to build interest among car enthusiasts and the wider public. In addition to using Vine and Instagram, Peugeot is sharing the videos via motoring blogs and other social channels such as Twitter.

“The main objectives were to create awareness of the product, drive traffic to the [RCZ R] site and drive engagement,” he says. “I don’t necessarily mean [people] buying the car. I mean engagement in terms of what this car means for the brand.”

However, not all launches use a teaser strategy. Coca-Cola chose not to give people a sneak preview of its America Is Beautiful Super Bowl ad, perhaps because it wanted the commercial to produce maximum impact on the day itself, or because it feared a backlash from conservative Americans. Whether you are into a Prince or a Coke strategy, it is wise to decide on whether your consumers want a hint of what is to come – or if they simply need the whole hit.

Social solutions

Brands are increasingly finding new ways to build interest in a product launch via social media.

Earlier this month, art house film distributor Peccadillo Pictures launched a new tab on its Facebook page dedicated to its forthcoming release, Stranger By The Lake.

The tab, developed by digital agency Brandmovers, is part of an ongoing strategy by Peccadillo to promote theatrical releases through its main page rather than through microsites or movie-specific Facebook pages.

Peccadillo Pictures director Kahloon Loke says: “Our releases are very niche, so there is greater value in building a strong Peccadillo Facebook audience than in promoting several individual film pages whose value diminishes once a title moves into our back catalogue.”

The Facebook tab includes details about the film, a picture gallery, a trailer, reviews, cinema listings and video-on-demand links as well as an area for fans to share their thoughts.