Rihanna and Samsung Create an “Anti” Moment

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Rihanna’s Anti went platinum in 15 hours. But before you think, “albums are back!” bear in mind a big caveat: Samsung bought one million copies of the album and gave them away. For Rihanna and Samsung, Anti going platinum is not about record sales — it’s about creating a moment that earns attention for two giant brands at a time when attention is currency, as Brian Solis has noted. There are many more moments to come, as prepares to launch her Anti World Tour, where the real money will be made.

What $25 Million Will Buy a Brand

A platinum album is certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as selling at least one million copies — a difficult feat to achieve in the digital age. Only three albums released in 2015 went platinum: Adele’s 25; Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late; and Justin Bieber’s Purpose. Adele, Drake, and Justin Bieber all earned their sales the traditional way: by releasing and promoting music for consumers to buy, stream, and download (with the exception of 25).

But Rihanna rolls differently. In 2015, she signed a $25 million deal with Samsung, through which Samsung sponsors her album and tour, and Rihanna promotes Samsung’s Galaxy line of products. As part of their relationship, Rihanna and Samsung have been creating digital content together including video, website, and social media posts. Oh, and Samsung agreed to buy 1 million copies of Anti.

Samsung, in turn, gave away 1 million free download codes to its customers. Each of those downloads came with a 60-day free trial to Tidal, the high-end streaming service that counts Rihanna as one of its owners. The entire album was available on Tidal before any other streaming service could have access to it.

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Why Kanye West Should Be Twitter’s CEO

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Twitter should ask Kanye West to be its CEO — or at least a member of its board.

In 72 hours, Kanye has done more to make Twitter relevant and compelling than anything its beleaguered executive team has done during the past year.

First came the #SWISH moment on January 24, when he tweeted a hand-scrawled image of the track list for his forthcoming album, Swish, with the words “So happy to be finished with the best album of all time.”

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The low-tech picture ignited a fire. His tweet about the long-awaited album was re-tweeted 160,000 times and liked 210,000 times. But more importantly, he and Twitter both gained positive coverage in media such as Forbes and The Wall Street Journalan incredible feat given that Twitter had announced mass executive departures the same day. For once, Twitter was not on the receiving end of doomsday coverage. Twitter rode Kanye’s coat tails and became relevant: one of the world’s biggest and controversial entertainers had chosen the platform to announce significant news.

And then things got weird for Kanye — and better for Twitter.

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Millennials and Old People Rule the Music World

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Music fans have always reserved the right to identify with the popular artists of their time while harshly judging the tastes of the generations that follow them.

Those who came of age during World War II had Frank Sinatra, and they recoiled in horror when children of the 1950s embraced Elvis Presley. Today’s highest-earning musicians reflect the tastes of two of the largest generations alive in America, baby boomers and millennials, but their tastes are fairly complementary. The influence of baby boomers and millennials on music is the subject of today’s post, which is part of a series that examines the broader themes evident in the Forbes ranking of 2015’s highest paid musicians.

The annual Forbes list, created by Zack O’Malley Greenburg, is a snapshot of the music industry. In 2015, O’Malley Greenburg ranked 30 musicians, who reflect genres ranging from country to hip-hop. Collectively, they earned nearly $1.5 billion. All of them made huge bucks. The lowest ranking musicians, Dr. Dre and Maroon 5, made $33 million each. The entire list looks like this:

Rank Name Amount Earned
1 Katy Perry $135 million
2 One Direction $130 million
3 Garth Brooks $90 million
4 Taylor Swift $80 million
5 The Eagles $73.5 million
6 Calvin Harris $66 million
7 Justin Timberlake $63.5 million
8 Diddy $60 million
9 Fleetwood Mac $59.5 million
10 Lady Gaga $59 million
11 The Rolling Stones $57.5 million
12 Ed Sheeran $57 million
13 Jay Z $56 million
14 Beyonce $54.5 million
15 Elton John $53.5 million
16 Toby Keith $53 million
17 Paul McCartney $51.5 million
18 Michael Buble $45.4 million
19 Jason Aldean $43.5 million
20 Luke Bryan $42.5 million
21 Kenny Chesney $42 million
22 Bruno Mars $40 million
23 Drake $39.5 million
24 Foo Fighters $38 million
Tim McGraw $38 million
26 David Guetta $37 million
27 Florida Georgia Line $36.5 million
28 Jimmy Buffett $36 million
Tiesto $36 million
30 Maroon 5 $33 million
Dr. Dre $33 million

Many of the names on this list, ranging from the Rolling Stones to Justin Timberlake, reflect the collective tastes of baby boomers and millennials, who comprise 158.5 million Americans, or about half the total U.S. population. (Millennials overtook baby boomers as the largest age block in 2015.). Both groups continue to influence American culture even as more baby boomers age their way out of the work force each year.

Baby Boomer Acts: Adapting to New Rules

The top earners of the baby boomer era — Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Garth Brooks, Elton John, Toby Keith, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones — represent the last gasp of an age when musicians could build careers by releasing million-selling albums and then touring to boost the album sales. They are all white, reflecting the whiteness of the baby boomer generation.

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Snapchat and Vine: The Disruptor and Disrupted

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Remember when Vine was cool and Snapchat was dirty? How quickly their fortunes have changed. Vine, once the darling of visual storytellers, is losing brands and attention, sinking in popularity on the app store. Meantime, Snapchat has overcome its reputation as a fringe app run by a badly behaving frat boy. Adweek recently named Snapchat the hottest digital brand of the year for 2015 while Vine was making headlines for losing market share. Their changing fortunes demonstrate how easily the disruptors can become the disrupted. But the story ain’t over yet.

Vine: The Disrupted

Vine came along at the right time. The app was officially launched in January 2013 amid the rise of video storytelling. Brands, always looking for fresh content sharing platforms, latched on to Vine as a fresh alternative to YouTube. Vine’s format for sharing 6-second video stories seemed like a natural fit for a multi-tasking world with a shrinking attention span — and, crucially, Vine was (and remains) an easy-to-use mobile-first app at a time of rapid mobile adoption. Its user base grew rapidly, and Vine was hailed as a YouTube disruptor. Brands eager to extend their presence into mobile content, began adopting the app and bringing with them more users. By fall of 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts and Trident Gum were launching the first-ever TV spots using Vine.

But even as Vine was ascending, a multitude of forces were converging to disrupt Vine’s success. Just six months after Vine launched, Instagram rolled out its own video feature, with superior editing capabilities, Facebook would also beef up its video-sharing capability. Snapchat, which had existed longer, added more functions, exploded in popularity, and, in 2014, introduced advertising (while Vine did not). Facebook could wield its scale and targeted advertising effectively against Vine, and Snapchat had coolness in its favor. Meantime, YouTube kept evolving as a premier source of online entertainment for brands and YouTube stars such as PewDiePie.

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Glenn Frey and the Art of Collaboration

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Glenn Frey, who passed away January 18 at age 67, did not shine in the spotlight like David Bowie did. His solo career was somewhat successful and had its moments, notably with the 1980s hits “The Heat Is On” “Smuggler’s Blues,” and “You Belong to the City.” But he really excelled as a collaborator. As a founding member of the Eagles, Frey co-wrote and sang on songs that defined a generation, including “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Tequila Sunrise,” and “New Kid in Town.” He and Don Henley rank right up there among the great songwriting duos of rock. The Eagles could not have sold 150 million records without Glenn Frey.

As an ensemble member, Frey was often overlooked and underappreciated. Henley’s gritty singing style was more distinctive. Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh usually owned the spotlight as guitarists. But between his laid-back vocal style, gentle rhythm guitar playing, and narrative approach to songwriting, Glenn Frey deserves as much credit as anyone for shaping the mellow Southern California rock sound. And when the Eagles developed a harder edge to their music, Frey adapted while reminding the group that they were still a powerful force when writing ballads.

He made an impact with the Eagles from the start, co-writing (with Jackson Browne, a perennial friend of the group) and singing on “Take It Easy” on the band’s first album in 1972, a song that would reach Number 12 on the charts. He also sang brilliantly on “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.”

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Will the Women of Country Music Flourish in 2016?

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Country music produced several big moneymaking superstars in 2015, but none of them were women. To wit: in December, Zack O’Malley Greenburg of Forbes published his annual list of the world’s highest-paid musicians. Of the 30 names on the list, seven were country stars, and, boy, did they make some serious bucks. Garth Brooks came out of retirement to earn $90 million, making him the third highest earning musician of 2015 in any genre. And he had plenty of company among the men of country:

Rank Name Amount Earned
3 Garth Brooks $90 million
16 Toby Keith $53 million
19 Jason Aldean $43.5 million
20 Luke Bryan $42.5 million
21 Kenny Chesney $42 million
24 Tim McGraw $38 million
27 Florida Georgia Line $36.5 million

Those seven performers earned $345.5 million through extensive touring, a few new albums, product endorsements, and brand extensions. But where are the women superstars?

According to Billboard, country female artists are landing fewer charting singles and albums compared to men. Taylor Swift, the only female with country roots on the Forbes list, was the fourth highest earning musician in 2015, making $80 million. But her success came from touring as a cross-over artist with a pop album, 1989, which underscores the reality that women who stick to country are not dominating country music like men are. Similarly, country breakthrough star Kacey Musgraves was nowhere to be found at the 2015 CMA Festival, a big-time event hosted by the Country Music Association. She was playing the mainstream Bonnaroo Music Festival, supporting a perception that women in country need to find success elsewhere.

The Rise of Bro Country Continue reading

When Strangers Mourn

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Facebook elevates the loss public figure into a global events for widespread mourning. When David Bowie and Alan Rickman died the week of January 10, we posted our favorite video clips of Bowie singing and Rickman acting. On our Facebook walls, we wrote mini-essays about their impacts on our lives. We wondered aloud how two beloved people could have had died of cancer at age 69 within only a few days of each other. We said many other things, too, and shared visual icons (some of us changing our Facebook profile photos to honor one of them).

The mourning occurred on other social spaces, too, but nowhere was the sense of loss felt so heavily as on Facebook, where each time we checked our newsfeeds, a Facebook friend was sharing another memory.

I think Facebook mourning is good. Facebook gave me a place to discuss my reaction to David Bowie’s death and reach out to others who were touched by his passing. Facebook also helped me appreciate the magnitude of Alan Rickman’s loss. I had always appreciated Rickman’s acting talents and was personally inspired by his portrayal of Snape in the Harry Potter movies, but I did not appreciate his widespread impact until my Facebook friends posted their own reactions as well as reflections written by those who knew him personally. Good for Facebook and for those who were moved to share.

But on January 14, something happened that underscored how personal a public death can become: I participated in a face-to-face conversation about David Bowie among strangers. I’m talking about the type of sharing that forces you to look someone in the eye, take a risk and make a statement, wait for a reply, and build upon the other person’s words with your own additional insight.

I was a music resale shop near my home southwest of Chicago. I asked an employee about how customers were reacting to Bowie’s death. He confirmed what I expected, which was that sales of all things David Bowie had skyrocketed throughout the week.

Then he added, “It’s a shame about his death.”

I replied, “But what a way to leave the world, turning your mortality into art.”

I had in mind Bowie’s newly released album Blackstar, especially the song and video “Lazarus,” which contains clear references to his death, which he knew was coming when he wrote the song.

The employee smiled. I hadn’t mentioned Blackstar by name, but he knew what I was talking about.

“I love Blackstar,” he said. “Isn’t it ironic that one of his more avant-garde albums is Number One on the charts?”

A young 20-something guy thumbing through vinyl records jumped into the conversation. He volunteered that he first learned about Bowie not through his music but his visual style.

“You make your first impression from what you see right in front of you,” he said.

The employee and I both agreed and began comparing our favorite David Bowie personas with the 20-something guy, such as the glam-rock Ziggy Stardust and the elegantly wasted Thin White Duke.

Our conversation continued with other customers sharing their favorite Bowie songs and memories, including a man who had seen Bowie four times in concert. He remembered how surprised he was when, during his 1974 tour, Bowie began to introduce songs from an album (Young Americans) that Bowie would not even get around to releasing until 1975. The fans had come for hits, and instead they got songs they didn’t know. Typical David Bowie: not afraid to challenge, even confuse, his audience.

The irony was not lost on me: I was sharing memories about someone I had never met with people I had never met.

As the conversation wound down, no one vowed to exchange Facebook contact information. We didn’t even share our names. We just shared the moment.

I relate this story not to belittle the conversations that occur on social media, especially Facebook. After David Bowie died, you better believe I was posting my reactions on social spaces such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and I am grateful to others who have done the same.

But the strongest gauge of an event’s impact is something we cannot measure effectively: the number of people who are moved to share their reactions with strangers face to face. It takes more guts, and more effort, to open up in person, especially with someone you don’t know. You can’t post a remark on someone’s Facebook wall and return to binge watch Orange Is the New Black on Netflix. You have to take a chance that your remark will be met with stony silence and perhaps a bemused “And just who the hell are you?” look.

Occasionally a news event sparks this kind of public sharing among strangers. Shocking disruptions such as 9/11 have that kind of impact, and sports milestones do as well (the latter usually more so on a local level.) But how many times have you seen the loss of a public figure inspire the experience I had in that resale record shop? I would love to hear your stories.

Are You Ready for the Self-Driving Car?

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A few weeks ago, Adweek‘s Chris Heine asked me how soon Americans will accept self-driving cars — or vehicles that do all the driving while everyone in the car kicks back and enjoys the ride, freed up to bury our noses in our mobile phones, watch movies on longer drives, and do all the other things passengers do. I responded that many Americans are acting already as if they’re behind the wheel of a self-driving car, judging from the number of distracted drivers I see texting, reading, fussing with their kids, and, well, basically doing all the other things passengers do.

Silicon Valley and Detroit are bringing self-driving cars to our lives sooner than you think, as I discuss in a new blog post for SIM Partners. And I believe I believe a critical mass of consumers — enough to support the uptake of driverless cars — will accept autonomous vehicles as soon as automakers make them commercially viable and demonstrate how safe they are.

As I write in my post (which focuses on the marketing implications of self-driving cars), driverless cars are expected to be hitting our roads in 2020, and a number of developments are hastening the process. The two vanguards of autonomous driving, Google and Tesla, have generated plenty of headlines, and justifiably so, for making self-driving cars real and achievable. But the behemoths of the traditional model, the big automakers, are making breakthroughs, too. General Motors recently announced with Lyft a $500 million partnership that includes a self-driving service. At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford announced it is testing a self-driving car in poor weather conditions, thus tackling what is considered to be an impediment to driverless performance (which Google had been testing already). Mercedes-Benz rolled out the 2017 semi-autonomous E-class sedan, thus bridging between the world we know today and the one that’s coming (as Tesla is doing with semi-autonomous cars).

That so many automakers are adapting to a new role of “mobility company” (to cite words used by Jeremiah Owyang in January 12 VentureBeat article) tells me how real the autonomous world is. Legacy brands shaped by 20th Century assumptions are embracing a 21st Century business model instead of fighting it.

Are consumers ready for self-driving cars, though? I think the answer depends on a number of factors, including where you live and your emotional attachment to the idea of driving a car. The World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group recently surveyed of city dwellers around the world and found that 52 percent Americans are likely or unlikely to try a self-driving car, with 17 percent neutral. But it stands to reason that city dwellers are going to be more open to trying self-driving cars given the hassles of city driving. In 2014, Pew Research conducted a similar survey that included a more broadly defined audience. Interestingly, 52 percent of city dwellers also said they wanted to ride in a driverless car, but only 36 percent of people in rural areas were interested. Overall, 50 percent of respondents were interested in a driverless experience, and 48 percent were not.

Reservations about self-driving cars are predictable, ranging from concerns about safety (“what if this car makes a mistake on the expressway, and I cannot stop it?”) to loss of control.

I think it’s interesting that in April 2014, 48 percent of the public was actually open to riding in a driverless car — that’s nearly half the population being open to riding in a driverless car even though we’ve been conditioned to accept a conventional driving experience for decades. In fact, we’re already adapting our behaviors to smarter cars that do everything from help us search to manage our media. The development of semi-autonomous cars from Mercedes-Benz and Tesla will help ease in the self-driving experience, but more affordable brands such as Ford would have more of an impact

With effective marketing and the introduction of cost-effective alternatives, I believe self-driving cars will first gain the trust of key demographic segments such as city dwellers and aging baby boomers who have the most to benefit from driverless vehicles. The future will arrive in stages.

And once that trust takes hold, there will be no turning back.

I am curious to see how soon driverless cars emerge, especially after, a few days ago, I dodged a distracted driver who careened the wrong way down a one-way street. Computers make mistakes, too. But I’ll take my chances.

 

David Bowie’s Challenge to Us: Create

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I went to bed Sunday night thinking through the blog post I was going to write about David Bowie’s new album, Blackstar, released the day David Bowie turned 69. Here was an adventurous, challenging, and rewarding body of work from a man who had nothing left to prove — which is exactly why I was so blown away by the album and the eerie videos that Bowie had been dropping on us in recent days and weeks.

After I had posted a video of his single “Lazarus” on my Facebook wall January 8, a chorus of Facebook friends weighed in with their reactions, ranging from fascination to repulsion. I was inspired: if David Bowie could continue pushing boundaries and sparking conversations at retirement age, I should be challenging myself to grow and create.

The next morning, I learned he was dead.

Realizing now that Blackstar was a parting gesture from a man who had been battling cancer inspires me even more. Not only did he continue creating art up to his last days, but he drew upon his mortality, as is evident in the recently released song and video, “Lazarus,” in which Bowie is seen levitating over a hospital bed. He sings,

Look up here, I’m in heaven I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen

Everybody knows me now

Instead of blogging about Blackstar this morning, I talked with my wife, Jan, and daughter, Marion, about Bowie and his music. We remembered how on Christmas Eve 2014, we visited the “David Bowie Is” exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. This was a time of creative growth and new possibilities for us. Jan was writing her first novel. Marion was coming into her own as an actress, writer, and musician. I had launched my own business several months earlier and started acting in the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Visiting a retrospective on the career of such a creative genius as Bowie felt right. I figured we would see some memorable art and stroll down memory lane with his music for an hour or two before heading back home for some hot chocolate and a Christmas movie.

We ended up being immersed for hours.

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The exhibit was more than a career retrospective. It was a celebration of creativity. Many lessons revealed themselves among the rich collection of songs, costumes, artwork, and video, but the one that stays with me is how artists draw upon everything around them, past and present, the popular and the obscure, to create.

Rediscovering a video for “Space Oddity” in the exhibit taught me how artists can draw upon contemporary culture to create something deeply personal, as Bowie did by using our fascination with space exploration to create art that expresses individual longing and loneliness. I have heard “Space Oddity” countless times, but watching a video of the song in a dark corner of the exhibit drew me into a different world — where I could be with Major Tom but somehow never help him.

I learned how Bowie slyly drew upon the past to generate curiosity. A video clip of him singing “The Man Who Sold the World” on Saturday Night Live in 1979 at first seemed eccentric, with Bowie wearing a large, boxy cardboard tuxedo so awkwardly constructed he had to be carried to the microphone.

He was also accompanied by a strange-looking back-up singer dressed in heavy makeup and a belted kimono. By 1979, “The Man Who Sold the World” was already an established rock classic. Why was he singing the song dressed in such weird garb, and who was the artist singing with him? Was he tired of singing the same song and wanted to mix things up a bit?

But the caption alongside the video display explained that Bowie’s attire was inspired by costumes from a 1923 German production of the Dadaist play “Gas Heart.”

The back-up singer was a German singer, Klaus Nomi. As it turned out, by the time David Bowie appeared on SNL in 1979, he had been profoundly inspired by a productive period of recording in Berlin, a time during which he recorded Low, Heroes, and Lodger, and also recovered from drug addiction. Through the SNL performance, he was giving us clues about his life, and paying homage to a place and culture where he had experienced a creative renewal, but leaving it up to us to figure it out.

I left “David Bowie Is” determined to return to writing short stories and poems, which I had once done with great passion. David Bowie created great art and some misfires, too, but he never stopped drawing upon his life to create. I was challenged to do the same. Months later I had written one new poem and was working on two short stories with the encouragement of Jan and Marion. Thank you, David Bowie.

As Jan, Marion, and I were reflecting on Bowie this morning, Marion commented, “David Bowie is one of those people who you think will never die, you know?”

She is right. David Bowie will never die.

How Merriam-Webster Is Rocking Peach, the New Hotness for Content

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My first friend on Peach, the new hybrid messaging/content-sharing app, was Merriam-Webster — a brand, mind you, not a person. Peach, launched January 8 by Vine cofounder Dom Hofmann, has created a firestorm on Twitter and attracted a blitz of coverage from media such as Engadget and Mashable. Peach combines the messaging functionality of Slack, the real-time reporting capability of Twitter, and the fun personality of Snapchat to give you an easy-to-use mobile platform for sharing content ranging from GIFs to songs. Merriam-Webster’s presence on Peach shows how quickly brands adopt new apps to share content — and reveals a playful side to the 185-year-old reference publisher.

It doesn’t take long to discover Peach’s potential for injecting a sense of play into content creation. On your own Peach account, you can post everything from images to straight-text messages, which is not terribly novel. The real fun begins when you type one of Peach’s magic words, which call up a host of options for sharing content. Type GIF, and Peach then gives you the option of searching for GIFs on any subject. For instance, when I typed GIF and then The Hateful Eight, Peach instantly served up several righteously awesome GIFs from Quentin Tarantino’s new movie. Within seconds, I added a GIF of Samuel L. Jackson’s intimidating gaze.

Other magic words reveal a ton of other options. They include:

  • Draw: which calls up a whiteboard screen for you to draw something and post the doodle on your account.
  • Shout: use a variety of screen colors and fonts to create your own little billboard, as I did here to celebrate David Bowie’s birthday and the release of his new album, Blackstar, January 8:

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  • Song: identify a song with your phone’s microphone (a la Shazam) and post on your account).

A complete list of magic words is here.

Merriam-Webster is already making good use of Peach to engage its audience. For instance, @MerriamWebster on Peach previews its word of the day as it did the evening of January 8 by doodling the word “fealty.”

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On its first day on Peach, Merriam-Webster also created a shout that taps into a current debate concerning popular language usage:

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For good measure, Merriam-Webster even sent me a cake emoji.

Meantime, on Twitter, Merriam-Webster has been having some fun discussing how we might describe the act of creating content on Peach:

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The brand’s use of Peach sends a message: Merriam-Webster might be 185 years old, but the venerable reference resource is the authority on changing language use and adapts with the times. And I have to admit I’ve never been caked by anyone before.

Marketing expert David Berkowitz already asked (via his Peach account) the question you might be asking:

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Peach’s enduring power will depend on how quickly it can scale across mobile phones and how well brands adopt it. A mobile-first approach embeds Peach into our everyday mobile lifestyles, crucial for building a user base. Brands bring money and more users from platforms where the brands are followed already. Ello, the social media site launched in 2014, created problems for itself right out of the gate by being hostile to brands and by launching first as a desktop experience in a mobile world.

On the other hand, Peach has made a smart move by launching on Apple iOS to build an adoption base on mobile devices. Penetrating the world of Android is a sensible next move. As for getting brands (both companies and, inevitably, celebrities) onboard, Peach will need to quickly police the creation of fake accounts and develop a monetization model that convinces brands to add yet another mobile app to their arsenal of content sharing platforms.

The entertainment industry is an obvious play for Peach, but as Merriam-Webster shows, there is no shortage of companies adapting to the more emotional, visual, short-form style of content creation that connects with millennials and digital natives. Peach should be courting the mainstays that always seem to know how to embrace new content creation platforms: usual suspects such as Dunkin’ Donuts, GE, Mountain Dew, Taco Bell, and the major automotive brands. Oh, and Merriam-Webster can teach them all a thing or two.

PS: if you’re on Peach, my user name is @davidjdeal.