One of the trending topics on Facebook today is how Kanye wants Mark Zuckerberg to invest $1 billion in him to support the ‘greatest artist of all time.’ It doesn’t really matter if you support Kanye or think he’s gone off the deep end. He still gets tons of free press for his album and fashion line – usually by way of a single tweet. Donald Trump and Kanye seem to share a marketing strategy.
Both Trump and West are going after prizes traditionally supported by long, expensive marketing campaigns (launching an album, campaigning for presidency of the United States). But instead of dolling out cash on expensive PR pushes to get coverage, the media outlets are begging to cover them. Three days ago, NYPost published an article entitled “What Kanye West has in common with Donald Trump,” referring to both Trump and West’s ability to gain media coverage by trolling the American people.
NYPost points to this Kanye tweet as a potential troll:
This tweet got Kanye trending before the release of his album.
“Does he genuinely believe in Cosby’s innocence, or is he just keen to stir the pot?” asked the NYPost.
Now, Donald Trump doesn’t just troll the media with shockingly politically incorrect statements (though he has many). He also actively criticizes and picks fights with media outlets.. and they still do his bidding. As of January 25, the Internet Archive reported that Trump had been mentioned on the media 195,000 times since he entered the race, more than twice the coverage of Bush, the next most-mentioned GOP candidate.
Other candidates are spending tens of millions of dollars for a fraction of the coverage Trump has. On January 20, NBC stated that Bush and Rubio have spent $91 million on TV ads, eleven times Ted Cruz and Donald Trump’s $8 million spend.
“Look, I was going to have $35 or $40 million spent by now. I haven’t spent anything. I almost feel guilty . . . I’m leading by, as you all say, a lot”
– Donald Trump on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
What’s going on is a total disruption of the attention economy.
For most brands, media is the gatekeeper of people’s attention spans. But Trump and Kanye have the American attention span in their pocket, so the media comes to them.
Can this translate to branding?
Can brands also flip the media model and pull attention directly to their own content? At first thought, my answer was no. Putting out ridiculous, scene-stealing content makes sense for an artist (Kanye). And it makes sense for a presidential candidate in a crowded field where news coverage can make or break your candidacy.
But there is a brand who does it: Apple. Whenever Apple has a new product, they get coverage. Hell if Apple posts a job opening that hints at a potential new product years down the line, it gets coverage. T-Mobile has done a decent job recently of being interesting enough to get free press. Their Superbowl ads were among the most talked about this year, by dialing into trending topics like Drake’s Hotline Bling video and Steve Harvey’s Miss America bungle.
Apple does not use the exact same strategy of Kanye and Donald Trump. Apple does not blast out whatever ridiculous statement will grab headlines. They don’t even use their Twitter. But what Apple does do is differentiate themselves and keep the quality of their content extremely high. People look to what Apple will come out with next because it’s likely going to be interesting. Apple is held to such a high standard that Apple gets criticized if its events aren’t newsworthy enough.
Kanye’s art is held to a similar level. People expect his album to change the game of music. Every time. Donald Trump also faces an increasingly high ante for his content. If he gets boring, he’ll lose the media, and he’ll lose his brand.
Having the media at your feet is only an asset if you can continue to be newsworthy.
Personally, I don’t think most brands have the endurance to do this. Keeping the media and public interested is a big job that requires a brand to continually outdo itself. It’s much easier to stick with what works. Case in point: DiGiorno (the pizza brand). DiGiorno has a pretty funny twitter account that got some press in the past.
Here is a DiGiorno tweet during the Superbowl two years ago:
Here is a DiGiorno tweet from this year’s Superbowl:
It’s still fun.. but the strategy is old now. DiGiorno is no longer newsworthy (and the number of retweets reflect that). Trump and Kanye are so ridiculous in part because they have to be.
If a brand wants to hold the same attention span as Kanye or Trump, it needs to focus less on creating always-on, evergreen, blah content, and more on consistently out-doing what’s already been done.
I think that a brand which posts 4 really good pieces of content a year will gain a larger, more loyal attention span than a brand that posts hundreds of pieces of content, 95% of which are not that interesting.
The band OK Go does this incredibly well. They do not release new music videos very often, but every video they do put out is better than the last (and they are all pretty good). The video they released last week was shot in zero gravity. It’s gotten plenty of free press, and racked up 46 million views on Facebook. News outlets made videos on the making of OK Go’s video, and there is a Wikipedia page dedicated solely to OK Go videography.
The press around OK Go’s video is not free. OK Go has to consistently up the ante or else risk losing its position. It’s a lot of work. But if you can stay interesting enough, the media will tune in.