Why Ariana Grande Doesn’t Need the Grammys

The old music institutions are losing their grip. The Super Bowl LIII halftime show February 3 was a bust because of a musicians’ boycott. And now musicians who matter are blowing off the Grammy Awards. Childish Gambino, Drake, Ariana Grande, and Kendrick Lamar have turned down the chance to perform at the 61st Grammy Awards on February 10. What’s going on?

The Super Bowl halftime show boycott was a matter of principle. Musicians such as Cardi B, Jay Z, and Rihanna boycotted the Super Bowl halftime show as a show of solidarity with embattled NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Grammys are about relevance.

The Grammys, run by the Recording Academy, call themselves the music industry’s highest honor. But the Grammys have demonstrated an astounding lack of relevance year after year. This is the institution that once awarded Best Rock & Roll Recording to “Winchester Cathedral” over the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” among other notable gaffes.  In recent years, the Grammys have been taken to task for failing to recognize progressive music from women and people of color in its nominations and choice of performers during the telecast. In 2018, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow came under fire for making a condescending remark about women while at the same time the Recording Academy snubbed Lorde as a performer (even though she was up for Album of the Year), and Alessia Cara was the only solo female Grammy winner.

The lack of musical and cultural relevance has always earned the Grammys scorn from music and pop culture critics, and a number of musicians have skipped attending the ceremony in recent years. Turning down the chance to perform raises the stakes. In addition, Ariana Grande has torched the Grammys on Twitter, accusing show producer Ken Ehrlich of lying about her reasons for not performing.

Who can blame the musicians for skipping the Grammys? Artists build their fan bases on their own digital platforms, not at the Grammys. On digital, they can reach a more relevant audience that listens their music, attends their concerts, and buys their merchandise. Consider Ariana Grande. She dropped her new album, thank u, next, two days before the Grammys. You’d think a televised appearance before millions of people would be the perfect opportunity to promote her new music. But instead she just gave the Grammys a very public middle finger.

Ariana Grande doesn’t need the additional exposure. Her 294 million combined followers on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and YouTube alone do a powerful job promoting thank u, next, and to a more relevant audience (compared to the 19.8 million who watched the Grammys on TV in 2018). She’s already dropped two singles from the album, one of which was her first-ever Number One on the Billboard Hot 100. She was the top-streamed female artist in 2018. Ticket sales for her Sweetener tour, launching in March, appear to be strong based on her adding shows. She’s headlining Coachella in April. 

What would the Grammys do for Ariana Grande except associate her name with a stodgy, out-of-touch brand? 

It will be interesting to see if more musicians avoid the institutions of yore such as the Academy Awards. But I wouldn’t count on any of the old-guard television events adapting. They’re using a playbook created last century. Meanwhile, the artists are creating a new game.

Real-Time Marketing Is More Than an Oscars War Room

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The Academy Awards, Grammys, and Super Bowl constitute the peak of real-time marketing season. Throughout February, brands ramp up their efforts to generate instant buzz by capitalizing on the unexpected and exciting drama that unfolds throughout the course of these high-profile events. But as my recently published Gigaom report indicates, real-time marketing is more than a brand tweeting from a social media war room during the Oscars. Real-time marketing has become more influential across the entire marketing funnel, from awareness building to customer retention. To maximize the value of real-time marketing, brands should stop treating it as a one-off tactic and instead connect real-time marketing to their strategies across the customer lifecycle.

Real-Time Highs and Lows at the Oscars

The widespread perception of real-time marketing consists of companies building brand awareness by creating content that capitalizes on a time-sensitive event, such as a news development. Oftentimes, brands rely on social platforms, especially Twitter, to engage their audiences in real time. The popular definition might be limited, but it’s one that marketers can understand intuitively, and it has taken hold.

In 2011, David Meerman Scott’s Real-Time Marketing & PR helped trigger the adoption of real-time marketing as we know it today, although many thought leaders such as Regis McKenna and Monique Reese paved the way for Meerman Scott. By 2013, brands were experimenting widely with the insertion of real-time content into current events, with spectacular successes and failures resulting.

The Oscars have encapsulated both the rewards and drawbacks of event-related real-time marketing. The 85th Academy Awards in 2013 saw many businesses dropping real-time duds. As Jay Baer noted on the Convince & Convert blog, brands such as New York Life, Special K, and Bing used Twitter to spread content that ranged from the confusing to the ham-handed. The real-time content that night was so bad that David Armano asked whether real-time marketing had jumped the shark. But at the 86th Academy Awards a year later, Samsung pulled off a real-time marketing coup when the brand supplied Ellen DeGeneres with the camera that she used to snap the star-studded selfie that shook the world, a joyous image that depicted stars ranging from Bradley Cooper to Jennifer Lawrence hanging out together. Within 45 minutes, her selfie became the most reweeted content ever, and Samsung was enjoying 900 mentions a minute on social media.

But the Academy Awards constitute just one night for creating real-time content — albeit an important one, as are the Grammys and Super Bowl. What are some ways brands create real-time marketing beyond a single event?

Real-Time Marketing Across the Customer Lifecycle

Brands continue to swarm around major events such as the FIFA World Cup to generate impressions and social followers by sharing real-time content. But brands, agencies, and merchants are using some of these same techniques for multiple marketing objectives across the customer journey, influencing marketing tactics ranging from website development to media buying.

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New Report: Grammys Already a Hit with Real-Time Advertisers

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For decades, the Grammy Awards have been knocked for being out of step with the times. (After all, the Grammys once awarded “Winchester Cathedral” Best Contemporary [R&R] Recording instead of “Eleanor Rigby.”) But in its 57th year, the Grammy Awards are more culturally relevant than ever.

Consider this: a new report from Taykey analyzed the top cultural trends affecting the performance of advertising campaigns in the fourth quarter of 2014. Taykey wanted to assess the performance of advertising that capitalizes on real-time news events and trends such as the release of the new Star Wars trailer. Well, the top-performing trend for the fourth quarter was the Grammys — months before the actual event was to take place. According to Taykey, the December 5 announcement about the 2015 Grammy nominations was the top trend from an advertising perspective — creating better-performing real-time buzz for advertisers than the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies or Ed Sheeran performing on The Voice Season 7 finale.

In fact, brands that created real-time advertising capitalizing on the Grammy nominations generated click-through rates that were 1,145 percent higher than industry benchmarks — easily higher than any other trend by a wide margin.

The obvious question: why? According to the Taykey Real-Time Trend Report, “The music industry may be fragmented and suffering from a revenue perspective, but it’s clear that audiences still care very much about these nominations and their favorite artists.”

Moreover, the Grammys remain the leading destination where music fans can immerse themselves in the fragmented music industry, all in one place, at one time. For instance, at the 2015 Grammys, Paul McCartney, Kanye West, and Rihanna will perform the live debut of their new single, “FourFiveSeconds” — which perfectly demonstrates the way the Grammys, with one masterstroke, can appeal to multiple generations and musical interests. In 2014, the Grammys tapped into the cultural zeitgeist by featuring performers ranging from Lorde to Daft Punk. The 2014 telecast secured 28 million viewers. By contrast, the MTV Video Music Awards, considered the younger, hipper alternative to the Grammys, has never attracted more than 12.4 million viewers.

Music industry critic Bob Lefsetz argues that the Grammy nominations perform an important role of getting music fans to pay attention. “Attention is everything in today’s world,” he writes. “Used to be there was a river of songs, now it’s a veritable tsunami, which is why so many people get out of the way, they’re afraid of being buried. But if someone makes sense of the incoming, if someone turns down the faucet to a trickle, then we’re not so overwhelmed.”

In effect, the Grammy nominations turn the faucet to a trickle by presenting us with a curated short list of performers to program into our music streams, ranging from Sam Smith to Hozier. Even the controversies generated by inevitable Grammy omissions make the Grammys useful by shining light on the also rans.

But the Grammys are culturally relevant in another important way, too: its use of social media. Advertisers capitalizing on the Grammy nomination announcements probably benefited from the way the Grammys tapped into social media to announce the nominees. Instead of doing a mass announcement, the Grammys revealed the nominees over a period of six hours February 5 via the Twitter accounts of different celebrities — creating a real-time stream rather than a real-time moment.

Taykey updates the Real-Time Trend Report on a quarterly basis (the next one should be published in April). The fourth-quarter 2014 edition contains far more insight into cultural trends across industries and demographics than I’ve discussed in this post. Read it and form your own conclusions. After reading the report, my single-biggest takeaway is this: for advertisers, the Grammys have already won.

How the Grammys Help Fans Create Visual Stories

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The 56th Annual Grammy Awards sparked laughter, controversy, eye rolling, and a lot of conversation in our living rooms, pressrooms, and social media worlds. Beyoncé’s risqué performance raised eyebrows, and Lorde’s dance moves caused some serious head scratching. Pharrell’s gigantic Smokey the Bear hat generated instant parodies and its own Twitter account. And Kacey Musgraves officially arrived. But what you see onstage is only part of the experience. Thanks to a live stream available on the Grammy website, Grammy viewers can go backstage with the stars and watch them as they exit the stage, prepare for their official Grammy portraits, and glow for the media in the press room. I used my laptop to become a backstage voyeur and content creator by snapping screen shots of the stars and posting my visual stories across my social spaces. This is the new world of entertainment: empowering everyday fans to create content. Here are a few highlights:

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I captured a brief moment when Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard lingered for a pre-show interview. The Grammy Awards show really begins hours before the telecast, when performers and presenters arrive to rehearse. Moreover several entertainers and industry figures receive awards during a separate ceremony before prime time. Nelson, Kristofferson, and Haggard reminded me of three giant figures from Mount Rushmore. I used a black-and-white filter to accentuate that impression.

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