It was the hat seen around the world. When pop star Pharrell Williams appeared on the Grammy stage in 2014 wearing a Vivienne Westwood hat, the Twittersphere exploded. The hat got its own Twitter handle and comparisons were made to Smokey the Bear's hat.
Then Arby's got in on the action, demanding Mr. Williams return its hat. The conversation that ensued between Mr. Williams and the fast-food chain was just as popular (if not more so) than the actual awards show. Arby's initial tweet received more than 80,000 retweets and nearly 50,000 favorites.
It didn't end there. Arby's paid $44,000 to own the hat, with the money going to charity, and in August, the Newseum in Washington, D.C. added it to its exhibit on pop culture history. The hat is now on its way to the Grammy Museum, where it will be on display starting Jan. 15. That date also happens to be National Hat Day.
It's cultural phenomenons like this that the Recording Academy, the non-profit behind the Grammy Awards, is trying to capture in its latest marketing campaign for the awards show. In his more than 10 years as Chief Marketing Officer at the Recording Academy, Evan Greene has made it his mission to expand the brand's reach with storytelling and to connect with viewers beyond the one-night event.
"One of the things we have seen and has been reinforced year, after year, is the Grammy Awards' effect on pop culture," Mr. Greene said. At the most basic level, there is often a several hundred percent growth in record sales for artists that perform, present or win a Grammy Award, according to Mr. Greene.
The hat hoopla, coupled with the watercooler chatter that has become the norm on social media for live TV events, led Mr. Greene to pursue a new marketing approach. "This year when we were putting the campaign together we decided to focus on the experience of the fan; we wanted to take a bulls-eye look at the show itself and what it inspires," Mr. Greene said.
The latest spot (see above) in the "Grammy Effect" campaign from TBWAChiat/Day, which will debut this weekend, touches on the impact Mr. Williams' hat has had on pop culture. In the commercial, a woman is at a nearly empty movie theater, excited to not have to crane her neck to see the screen, when a man saunters in to Mr. Williams' "Happy" wearing the infamous hat. Of course, he sits right in front of the woman, blocking her view.
The campaign also includes spots that feature Taylor Swift's head-banging moment from last year and Lorde's performance of "Royals."
"No one could have ever anticipated Pharrell wearing that hat could ripple through culture the way it did," Mr. Greene said.
And while it's inevitable that other brands will seek to emulate Arby's, Mr. Greene said moments like those can't be planned. What brands can do and what the Recording Academy is doing as it gears up for this year's show, is ensure it is prepared to react when opportunities arise.
Brand in decline
The Grammy Awards has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Before 2010, the Grammy brand had been in decline. "Our relevance was questioned," Mr. Greene said, noting the group thought of itself as a not-for-profit trade organization that happened to produce a TV show once a year.
That's when the Academy started to look at itself more as a brand and developed a 365-day strategy that extended beyond the award show. The Academy ramped up its presence at concerts and other events involving music through the year, and built a two-way dialog with music lovers on social media. Mr. Greene said that's boosted the show's appeal with millennials, in particular.
During the 2014 telecast there were 34 million social comments, peaking at 172,000 tweets-per-minute. And the Grammy Awards ranked as the No. 2 most social TV special just behind the Academy Awards, according to Twitter.
Ratings for the awards show surged in 2012 when Whitney Houston died the night before the broadcast. That show was watched by nearly 40 million viewers, making it the second-most watched Grammy's in history.
The last two year's haven't been quite as impressive, but the Grammy's is still the No. 3 most-watched event on TV behind the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. Last year's telecast averaged 28.5 million viewers, nearly 10 million more viewers than just five years prior, when it was watched by about 19 million people.
It's this renewed audience base that has attracted brands to the awards show and has allowed the Recording Academy to partner with national marketers on deeper integrations. This year, for example, the Recording Academy is airing three Grammy-themed pieces sponsored by Glade in 700,000 movie theaters in conjunction with NCM, a cinema advertising company. Hyundai's "Grammy Amplifier," which gives up-and-coming artists a chance to share their music, will continue in its third year. And Pepsi is also returning with its Grammy video series, which last year boasted over 4 million views.
"We are not just seeing access to the Grammy brand," Mr. Greene said. 'We are building the right kind of partnerships with brands that have similar sensibilities and want to celebrate music."