If you’ve been following the marketing strategy used by team Beyonce on her latest self-titled album, you know that it’s been quite clever so far. To recap, the Beyonce album was released on the unsuspecting public without any advance marketing fanfare whatsoever, which caused a bit of a commotion as that fact was trumpeted far and wide by bloggers and news organizations (including me, I should add).
Of course there’s always more to the story and so it is here. The album was released as a digital-only product, with a one week exclusive going to iTunes. This didn’t sit well with retail giant Target, who refused to sell the CD when it was released as a result. A few days later, Amazon joined the boycott on the CD as well (although it still sells the download).
Even though Beyonce set smashed an iTunes record for the fast selling album ever with over 600,000 digital album downloads, having the number 2 and 3 retailers boycotting your physical product could put a crimp in your long term sales. So what did Beyonce do? She went on a shopping trip to a Tewsbury, Massachusetts Walmart on Friday night, announced to everyone over the store’s loudspeaker system that she was there to buy her album, then gave out approximately 37 grand worth of $50 Walmart gift cards to everyone she saw in the store.
Most of the press covered the move as Beyonce being nice to a bunch of people she didn’t know, but there was actually a grand design behind the shopping appearance. One aspect was the subtle reminder to her fan base that even if you couldn’t find her CD at Target or Amazon, it was readily available at Walmart. She also sent an unmistakable message to Target that said, “If you cross me, I’ll give all of my attention to your competitor instead.”
Still, the message sent by Amazon and Target might not actually be directed at Beyonce after all; it’s meant for any other artist that might try the same maneuver in the future. Beyonce is at the top of the music industry food chain at the moment, and she can get away with such a scheme without it costing her too much in sales (or so we think – we’ll find out soon enough). Not so for the vast majority of artists though, none of which can afford to alienate one of the retail giants. For them, the message was received loud and clear. Give a digital exclusive, and pay for it with a physical boycott, at least until such time when the CD is not longer a sales factor (it still is, by the way – much more than you think).
Of course, now Beyonce’s talking up a storm about how difficult it was to keep the album a secret, how she was nervous about dropping the album with no promotion, and how she wants to follow in Madonna’s footsteps, so the hype and promo that we were spared on the front end of her release has just been transferred to the back end. It looks to be paying off, as she’s currently at number 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. All the promo is now designed to keep her there for as long as possible.
As I wrote in my previous post on this album, the strategy by team Beyonce is sound, but it only works for Beyonce. Still, it makes for an interesting end of the year and beginning of next. And it’s a nice Christmas gift for industry observers like me. Thanks, Beyonce! Merry Christmas to you, too.