Editor’s note: Today’s post is from Docket CEO Jason Wesbecher. This will be Jason’s fourth post on the Funnelholic. If you like the post, please vote for Jason to give a talk about the marketing savvy of Weird Al at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference; you can vote here.
The web should have made Weird Al Yankovic irrelevant years ago. When the Internet killed the video star, much of Weird Al’s source material evaporated. Without Beat It or Like a Virgin playing in heavy rotation on MTV in the 1980s, how could Eat It or Like a Surgeon possibly exist?
Somewhat improbably, the accordion-loving artist was able to survive the media shift and attain cultural dominance in 2014. With last month’s release of “Mandatory Fun,” Weird Al scored his first #1 debut in his three-decade career with 104,000 units sold. Contrast that to the measly 24,000 units sold in July by last year’s king of summer, Robin Thicke, and you can begin to see just what a juggernaut Weird Al has become. There’s even an online petition (with 70,000 signatures!) requesting that the NFL hire him as the Super Bowl halftime entertainment next year.
How all of this came to be is a master course in savvy marketing that every practitioner needs to understand, if they want to maintain relevance with their customers. Weird Al breathed life into a 30-year old brand and landed millions of new fans along the way. His winning formula can be distilled into these 3 marketing lessons:
Weird Al now only releases music digitally. This allows him to work fast. Incredibly fast. TMZ posted this video in June of Weird Al “begging” Iggy Azalea to allow him to parody her ludicrously popular Fancy. The story behind the story is that Weird Al flew to Denver specifically to ask for her blessing as she walked off stage. She said yes, Al got back onto the plane and was recording the next day. Four weeks later, his song and video drop. The lesson here is that marketers than can be nimble and embrace the devastatingly low attention spans of the audience will fare better than the ones with the “3-year plan.” Move quickly, fail even faster, and discover what works in the moment.
Hacking Content Distribution.
Weird Al launched the 8 music videos for his album over 8 consecutive days. This is a strategy famously employed by Beyoncé last winter when she dropped 14 songs and 17 videos with zero promotion. But Weird Al took the production and distribution of these videos to a wickedly smart new level. Given that he did not have a big record label and budget supporting him, he needed partners to finance the videos. So what did he do? He selected niche channels like FunnyOrDie, CollegeHumor, and Nerdist to finance individual videos for which they would have the content exclusively for a few days before it migrated to YouTube. Win-win. Weird Al didn’t just get financing. He got the eyeballs of a small, dedicated group of fans committed to sharing the content.
Avoiding the Obvious.
Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines was the perfect song for a Weird Al treatment. It has a catchy and universally recognizable beat. And the singer and song both embody a douchey misogyny that is ripe for takedown. But Weird Al explicitly wanted to avoid the obvious path and harness that incredible beat in a surprising and wholly positive manner. And so was born Word Crimes, perhaps the greatest song ever recorded about the proper use of grammar. It’s a masterstroke in giving the audience some of what they want and a lot of what they didn’t expect. With 14 million YouTube views, it’s safe to say that the audience rewarded Al for delivering something unexpected.
Weird Al is not just a dork. He’s America’s dork. His career is owed in large part to his likability, authenticity, and his unwavering commitment to not take things too seriously. We see in him what we wish we had more of in ourselves but are perhaps too scared to embrace. It’s no wonder that he has more Twitter followers than Coca-Cola, BMW and Netflix combined.
Author: Jason Wesbecher is the CEO & co-founder of Docket, a tool that helps salespeople measure the intent of customers based on how they engage with their sales collateral.