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As the year draws to a close, it's time once again to look at the most creative and effective techniques musicians used to promote themselves and their music.
This year has been another turbulent one for the music industry, dominated by the battle and evolution of streaming platforms. Apple has put a lot of energy into defining its role in the modern music experience, and Google recently launched YouTube Music -- quietly, but with a confidence fueled by positive consumer feedback so far.
It was a particularly strong year for top-tier artists, which is why labels are doubling down their focus on the global superstars. Household names thrived by running integrated approaches, leveraging all the connection points they have with fans, and operating smart publicity strategies that ensure they maintain a high level of buzz, not only during release periods but throughout the entire year. Here are my picks for the best music marketers of 2015, and what brands can learn from them.
1. Adele dominates
We have to start this list with the new queen, Adele. She disappeared, the industry stopped talking about her, but when she came back, she did it right. The album launch of "25" was executed brilliantly, and according to Nielsen Music it sold a record 3.38 million copies during its first week. Adele smashed the previous record-holder NSYNC by over a million copies. Her single "Hello" also broke the record for the most-watched video on Vevo in 24 hours, racking up 27.7 million views.
So let's look at her strategy. As has been a trend this year, she backed her influence and refused to offer the album via streaming services to maximize revenue. Aside from the traditional media approach, there are two things I loved about her launch. The first is how she threw a free concert in New York two days before the album dropped and collected millions of fans' email addresses through the entry process. The second was how she fueled the press buzz with fresh content by taking part in an Adele impersonator contest shortly after the launch.
2. Drake: "Hotline" memes
When Drake's "Hotline Bling" single came out it didn't make a huge impact, but then the video was released, propelling it up the charts. Drake appealed to fans to push it to No. 1, but by then the new music queen had returned, so "Hotline" settled at the No. 2 slot. The music video is a best-practice benchmark on how to design a music video for the internet. A selection of choreographed dance movies on richly colored backgrounds, it's screaming to be sliced into gifs and memes and it gave publishers a unique angle to cover.
3. Action Bronson: Boiler Room GoPro live set
Perspective is a powerful thing. Boiler Room is a big one to watch in the live content space. Check out this partnership with GoPro to view one of its signature events, from cameras attached to Action Bronson's head and microphone. So close you can smell the beard sweat.
4. The Weeknd: "The Hills" VR experience
Next year we'll see a wave of VR music videos, and this one is a nice kickoff. GoPro collaborates in the music space again for this immersive music video for "The Hills" remix featuring Eminem that lets the viewer take a walk with Abel Tesfaye.
5. Taylor Swift: #SquadGoals
This year Taylor Swift assumed and defined the #squad by amassing a multi-talented tribe including Lena Dunham, Cara Delevingne and "It Girl" Kendall Jenner. Her squad was then deployed across music videos, live shows and awards shows. She drove wide use of the term in culture and girl power and still benefits from it through a sense of ownership of the tag.
6. AJR : Interlude's interactive videos
Interactive video specialist Interlude continues to do amazing work in the music space, this time collaborating with Warner Music Group and S-Curve Records on a project for trio AJR. Interlude delivers six interactive experiences that let users do everything from look through their phones or go on a speed date. Also check out Interlude's voyeuristic video for Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot."
7. Justin Bieber: The comeback campaign
Justin Bieber's comeback campaign has been orchestrated brilliantly. It has been anchored in collaborations that help drive his relevance in the market. The naked photo fiasco felt like the oldest trick in the book, but it played out perfectly for him.