Let today's post serve as a lesson on how not to execute a publicity stunt to drum up interest and sales in your new album (while our last 'Lessons' post showed a great marketing example by 50 Cent).
There’s no such thing as bad publicity, or is there? It’s a cliché, but it tends to carry gravitas. This is especially the case in music, where an infamous incident could add fuel to a legend.
For instance, the incident involving Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a bat has somehow mutated over time from a repulsive act to an essential part of his lore.
That’s not to say stupid publicity doesn't exist. You know, the kind of publicity that in retrospect makes it clear that someone’s hubris went amok, be it the artist or the suits behind the talent. In this era of at-your-fingertips electronic gizmos and social media, the scourge of stupid publicity seems stronger than ever before – especially when it takes the form of a publicity stunt. And oftentimes, the very term publicity stunt is a clue that something’s amiss. After all, the phrase is seldom used when something goes right.
The following six instances are prime examples of what can happen when a publicity stunt goes awry in a stupid fashion. While some may appear to be worse than others, it’s safe to assume that none of these events will add anything to the respective artists’ legend or Soundscan numbers.
If you don’t know who Rita Ora is, she’s a British singer whose dance and R&B music has made her a perpetual presence at the top of the U.K. charts. But don’t feel bad if the name didn’t ring a bell or if you had to ask your teenage daughter about her. It turns out that she may not be as massive as she thinks she is – at least, not according to Twitter.
In 2014 – Halloween at 2:45 PM to be precise, Rita Ora tweeted, “Dropping my new song Monday if this gets 100,000 retweets.” It seemed like a lot to ask for, but considering she had nearly 4 million followers at the time, it conceivably was an attainable goal. But as Twitter tends to do, the social media outlet ended up turning an ego-fueled promise into an enormous lead balloon. Only a scant few trickled in after her e-promise; a paltry amount in the neighborhood of 3,000 retweets.
As another board on the popular social network 4chan reminds each other constantly, "We are not your personal army."
Ora finally threw in the towel and deleted the initial message. She immediately went into what appeared to be face-saving mode, blasting out tweets that claimed her account had been hacked. Whether you choose to believe her defense or not (don't), one message rang clear – posting on Twitter can bite you... hard.
In 2010, Lady Gaga thought it would be a good idea to attend the MTV Video Music Awards, where she was set to win a moonman for her video for the song 'Bad Romance,' in a dress made entirely out of meat. No, it wasn't fake meat or even synthetic meat. It was 'meat' meat, big ole slabs of it, too.
You'd think she was protesting something related to the farming industry or making a statement for veganism, but no... she was protesting the U.S. military and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Her team later cooked up some statement that attempted to connect the two, but it didn't fly. PETA had some negative words to send her direction as well as other celebrities who used her misstep as a way to get themselves in the limelight. Her best move would have been to play it off as "Hey, Gaga is weird, okay," but instead she ended up looking stupid.
On paper, Rihanna’s infamous 2012 "777" tour seemed like a cool idea: Take 150 journalists, sprinkle in 35 lucky fans, and have them follow the R&B and hip-hop superstar and her band to seven exclusive club gigs in seven different countries over a span of seven days, in support of her “Apologetic” album.
Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between paper and reality (and a spoiled pop star's idea of it), as the journalists touted to follow the diva around quickly found out.
The schedule ran about as crisp as a moldy apple. What’s worse is the journalists found the in-flight bar and chose to deal with things like whacked-out sleep schedules and an uncooperative pop star by consuming mass quantities of booze. It didn’t take long for a scene straight from “Lord of the Flies” to ensue; a behavioral pattern that eventually caused Rihanna to hang out in a “panic room” rather than coming out to grant interviews (which she wasn't doing anyways). It was so bad the journalists were making joke fliers about it while still on the plane:
In the end, the saga of the pop star and journalists blaming each other for behaving badly on the plane became dubbed by some as “Flight 666,” and became the version of the story everyone remembered. However, cynics may feel this was all done by design – “Apologetic” was met with less than savory reviews when it dropped, and the woebegone flight was concocted to deflect from its poor reception. A suspicious story was then pushed across media outlets about a different Flight 666 to possibly deflect from the deflection, which you'll see all over the search engines when trying to find a real story about the event.
The KLF (or K Foundation) had saved up a million British pounds post-retirement from the music industry and had announced their intention to give it as a charitable contribution to struggling artists. After deciding that artists are supposed to struggle, they instead decided to pull a publicity stunt so stupid it costed them very dearly...
Known for their 'performance art' and anti-art art, like having deleted their entire music catalog from the UK and firing blank rounds from a machine gun at their own concerts into the crowd, they upped the ante and decided to take that charity money and put it in an old houseboat and burn it on the water in 1994. To no-one's surprise, in an interview in 2004, they admit that they regret burning the money. Who would have thought?
Being one of the world’s biggest bands has its advantages. If you’re U2, it means you can play 30-year-old albums in front of sold out football stadiums. Yet their massive amount of success does not leave them immune to stupid publicity stunts. This is something they learned the hard way in 2014, when they joined forces with Apple and shoved a download of their album “Songs of Innocence” onto the devices of around half a billion Apple iTune users.
I remember it pissing me off because you couldn't even get it out of your library.
In short, pretty much everyone hated the idea of having the album foisted upon them, from rock critics to fellow musicians like Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and rock icon Iggy Pop. The reason for the derision wasn’t because the music was bad – it ended up getting mixed reviews.
Rather, people felt the freebie was cheating and devaluing the art and craftsmanship that drives rock music; a topic of great concern for musicians in this era of easily pirated music. The immense flop of the publicity stunt taught them a valuable lesson: For their next record, perhaps they should go back to taking pages from The Beatles’ playbook and perform on rooftops. Or release a mystery album and let everyone think they're The Beatles.
In 1999, a new artist busted on the scenes out of nowhere. How did he get such huge attention and such a big marketing push by major labels? Heck, he was even set to star in an upcoming movie called 'The Lamb.' What gives? This was some guy with an unkempt bowl-cut hairdo and a little soul patch. Supposedly he was a big Australian star making his big break in Hollywood.
The problem was, everyone knew who he was instantaneously. It was Garth Brooks with a haircut singing emo music before emo was a thing. To make matters worse, even after everyone knew who he was, he hosted SNL as 'Chris Gaines' as they kept the act up far longer than they should have. What started as a fun marketing campaign became insulting to his long-time fans and pretty much everyone since he was such a huge star. It was a legitimately fun alter-ego ploy at first. Then it became a PR disaster.
Madonna is one to always push the limits and try new things. But she's no stranger to marketing campaigns that simply don't work out in her favor (like when she leaked a fake version of her own album and ended up having her website hacked and the album actually leaked from her homepage). In 1992, she put out a coffee table book simply titled 'Sex' that was basically a pornographic picture album of her in explicit poses and situations.
This was to build up hype for her next album, which was themed as sexually-explicit. Her use of album themes is honestly great, but she really botched this one with her book release which was just a little too raw for most people. Her subsequent album, called 'Erotica,' is now her least successful album by sales and ratings. However, that hasn't stopped her from being one of the richest musicians in the world (largely because she tours non-stop).
For some odd reason she chose to feature Vanilla Ice in the photo book, which did more for his career than the entire fiasco did for hers.
Never, ever let the denizens of the internet decide something for you. It should be marketing 101 at this point, but it’s not, because we're all trolls if encouraged to be. This point is something that probably will never be lost on Pitbull ever again. The rapper hooked up with Walmart for a contest that promised he would make an appearance at whatever Walmart location received the most likes on Facebook.
Enter the goons at the notorious websites Something Awful & 4chan, who caught wind of the contest early on and basically hijacked the contest with a campaign to send Pitbull to the teeny tiny Walmart in Kodiak, Alaska (population: 6,000). The prank worked, and Pitbull was headed north – way, way north.
It could have been a PR nightmare. However, the good sport Pitbull turned the prank on its ear by going to Kodiak and putting on an inspired performance for any fans there. He even publicly invited the pranksters to join him for the show. It was an act of supreme coolness that earned him a massive amount of respect, regardless of what one's opinion is on his music. Even when stupid publicity happens, it can still be salvaged and turned into something good.
Most of us learn this in some way well before we're already multi-millionaires, but tricks and shortcuts almost always backfire. It never pans out the way you hope it will. Marketing your music the traditional way is the path forward. Who'd have thought that your music should have to stand on its own two feet? If you are going to pull a stunt, do it right, like Radiohead did here.