This July, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Mandatory Fun” became the first comedy album since 1963 to reach number 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s a momentous achievement for any artist, but how he pulled it off is even more impressive. Using some original content, smart partnerships and a Q&A on an unlikely source, Weird Al was able to consolidate his scattered base and get old fans interested in his work again, even as he gained new ones
Staying relevant over a 30-year music career is no easy task, and the rise of Internet culture posed unique challenges to Weird Al’s parody-heavy style. In fact, the challenges were so great that many speculated he would not be able to stand out in a digital culture awash in YouTube parodies of every big musical hit. What was largely overlooked in these arguments was Weird Al’s influence on parody culture, and when Al decided to release eight videos from his album, he found that many sites were willing to fund and distribute videos from someone who’s viewed as an industry pioneer. This grew Weird Al’s reach while giving credibility to these sites, and helped to maintain enthusiasm throughout the campaign.
The music video for “Tacky,” Weird Al’s first single and a parody of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” was distributed by the podcast and video entertainment network The Nerdist. Featuring cameos by well-known comedians including Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Aisha Tyler and Kristen Schaal, the one-take video got people talking and widened the song parody’s appeal, and the addition of modern comedians showed that Weird Al was more than just a “legacy” act. The presence of other comedians also increased the range of conversations about the video, as evidenced by the following meme making it to the front page of Reddit the next day.
Building on the momentum of “Tacky,” Weird Al released “Word Crimes” the next day on his personal Vevo account. The song, a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” also made it to the front page of Reddit. Not wanting momentum from these two songs to slow, he took part in a Reddit AMA later that day to talk about his new album, which helped sustain interest over the remaining six days.
His candor with fans struck a chord, and the following releases of “Foil” (a parody of Lorde’s “Royals,” distributed by CollegeHumor) and “Handy” (a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” distributed by Yahoo!) also made it to the front page of Reddit.
Following four days of parodies, Weird Al released videos for his original songs, which benefitted from residual interest and additional distribution from sites such as Funny or Die and Popcrush. But the campaign saved the best for last with “Mission Statement,” a pastiche of Crosby, Stills, & Nash that skewers corporate-speak. This piece was notably successful because it was distributed within a native ad on the Wall Street Journal’s website, reaching a part of his audience that may have been unreceptive to his work at the start of the campaign but were willing to give him a try because of his current relevance. Yankovic then connected with them using a message they can relate to in a style that they recognize.
Getting positive reaction from the Wall Street Journal and Reddit in the same digital marketing campaign is no easy task. We all know how hard it is to make the WSJ audience crack a smile, but it is equally hard to crack the front page of Reddit during a digital marketing campaign. Reddit users tend to have an anti-corporate view and are against the idea of giving free advertising to companies (some Redditors even pointed this out in threads about Weird Al’s videos). The fact that Yankovic’s videos achieved the front page repeatedly is a testament to the video’s virality as well as their ability to connect with the audience, and Weird Al would not have succeeded without his unique distribution.
Over the course of his eight day album promotion, all of Weird Al’s videos were accessible from his website no matter where they premiered, making it a great source of referral traffic to his partners (who received royalties from each view), and driving cross traffic between sites. Yankovic may have been forced into this route because his record company chose not to fund the videos, but in the end the model worked to his advantage. While other artists such as Beyoncé kept with traditional wisdom and consolidated her brand, Weird Al exploded his across the digital landscape, leveraging the “link economy” to benefit his publishers while mitigating production costs. Looking back, it’s a great example of bucking tradition and sticking to what you do best (in Al’s case, connecting people around a common, if a little silly, idea), and the campaign is already proving to be one of the most successful of the year. All in all it’s pretty surprising, especially when you consider that this is the man who gave us “I Want A New Duck.”
Keep being weird, Al.
Everyone has their guilty pleasures. One of my many is watching singing competitions on TV. American Idol is in its 11th season, and there are only so many ways Ryan Seacrest can suspensefully inform a singer of his or her fate. So I was beyond giddy when I heard about The Voice for two reasons: 1) Christina Aguilera 2) social media. Let's just get Xtina out of the way — I love her, she’s my favorite singer ever. I could gush on and on, but let’s focus on what really makes this show stand out: its social media integration.
Ok, moving on for real now...
WHY IS SOCIAL TV SO IMPORTANT?
According to B&T, 27% of people polled watched a TV show based on a recommendation from a friend via a social networking site. On top of that, 26% of people polled also reported being made aware of the existence of a TV show by seeing a post about it on a social media platform (I first heard about The Voice on Twitter). Furthermore, Nielsen, the holy grail of TV ratings, recently released a study that reports 45% of tablet owners, and 41% of smartphone owners, use their device while watching television. So why not just steer the viewer’s online conversation? The Voice has done just that by strategically placing #TheVoice on the screen when they think people are most likely to tweet about the show.
The powers that be think we should feel compelled to tweet about Adam's sultry stare.
Producers at The Voice attribute their high ratings to use of this hashtag. As many as 70% the show’s tweets during the first live episode included the hashtag “#TheVoice,” which is about twice the industry average. Upwards of 3,000 tweets per minute are hitting the web during its airtime — and that doesn't account for the thousands of tweets during the other 21-22 hours of the day. The Voice has successfully become a 24-hour social media conversation.
WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE VOICE?
What separates The Voice from other TV shows is that it doesn’t use social media only as a marketing tool — social media is the core of the show and its integration is organic. One of the first things contestants are given when they land in LA is a Samsung Galaxy Tablet, and training in blogging and social media use. The Voice has a room dedicated to social media, and contestants interact with fans on the air when they're not singing. Several times during the show contestants answer Tweeter’s questions live. Leading the social conversation on air is The Voice’s Social Media Correspondent. Last season, Alison Haslip held down the fort, and since The Voice was considered so successful in the realm of social media, I am unsure why she was replaced by singer Christina Milian for the second season.
The V Room is where the social media magic happens!
STARTING A TREND
According to Bluefin's rankings, The Voice has one of the highest levels of social-media engagement among all shows. During its first season, it held the #1 ranking among all episodic TV shows. This is in part because the official twitter account for the show, @NBCTheVoice, keeps time with the West coast broadcast. Now that The Voice is in its second season, the competition with American Idol is really heating up.
American Idol is copying many of the social media techniques utilized by The Voice, but not well. AI contestants' Twitter handles (quite obviously created by some higher-ups, with no respect for individuality) are now being pushed onto the audience regularly. The show has started showing screenshots of Twitter conversations between the contestants and the artists whose songs they've been covering. There have been rumors that AI judges (unlike the "coaches" on The Voice) have been asked not to use the phrase, “the voice,” when providing feedback to singers. But The Voice definitively knocked any competition between the two by the wayside when Kelly Clarkson, arguably the most popular American Idol winner, tweeted she was cheating on American Idol by watching The Voice. Then in season two, Kelly was brought on The Voice as a guest mentor.
I have to admit, while I love the concept behind the blind auditions and coaches in The Voice, American Idol still has better singers. My interest in the expanding world of social media, and love for Christina Aguilera, however, are what keep me tuning into The Voice each week. I have a feeling we are going to continue to see crossover elements in both shows, and I hope the competition to stay atop the ratings benefits the viewers, and continues to pave the way towards more social television shows.
Do you think the social media integration found in The Voice is the future of television?
- Allison Rossi
Want more choice than the classic white casing of the iPod empire? Enter the Pez mp3 player
… designed by a stay-at-home dad, it holds 512 mb of music and is less than $100. It even comes with some pre-loaded music, which Shecky’s
claims runs in the indie vein.
Subway commuters in Atlanta who are bored with reading the paper, listening to their iPods, or staring at the
other passengers may soon have other forms of entertainment. By
late spring, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or
MARTA, will become the first North American subway to pump TV and radio
feeds into its rail cars. 230 rail cars will be outfitted with 15-inch
flat screens that will offer a local television news loop from ABC
affiliate WSB-TV and transmitters that will offer top 40, jazz and
R&B music. Washington and Vancouver, Canada, may be next on the list of cities to follow this lead.