Lessons From the Music Industry: Think Tracks, Not Albums

Four Reasons Why Agencies Should Think About Releasing Single Songs

By Published on .

I was in a Barnes & Noble recently and saw a healthy selection of vinyl in the music section. It's a pure nostalgia play -- and there is certainly a market for it -- but it stands in pretty stark contrast to where the music industry actually is today. So it's time for ad agencies to listen up, or our most surprising ideas will continue to fall on deaf ears.

According to Nielsen Soundscan, only 7.5% of the 1.4 billion digital transactions in 2011 were album purchases. Yet the industry was stubbornly holding on to an album-based business model not in tune with the way people consume music digitally in the new single-song economy.

Fast forward to now. The music industry has evolved from an album-based model to a track-based one and even has formulas to calculate revenue from downloads and streaming. It's still not perfect. Sales continue to plummet. There are looming court battles concerning performance royalties and songwriter fees. It's a mess.

But it's that shift from an album-based model to a track-based one that really matters here, because most agencies still create ad campaigns like the music industry creates albums.

Need proof? Think about your next campaign, especially if you want it to be integrated. You have a budget, a brief and a boatload of big ideas. But you and your client can only choose one. Then you craft, test and tweak before releasing it to the world. You have your album.

So, if you stubbornly follow the album-based model, the door is now closed to new ideas. After all, the track list is set. The album has been mastered. Tour dates are locked in. Everything revolves around the album. But what if -- and we live in the world of what-ifs, right? -- there is another big idea? Remember, you had a boatload of them. Or maybe someone on your team suddenly comes up with something so amazing and unexpected its power just can't be denied. Do you ignore it? Do you say, "Sorry, maybe next time," just to keep her motivated?

If you think in terms of songs instead of albums, you don't have to. Here are four reasons to keep the door open to new ideas after your campaign has launched:

1. Recording artists already do it. Artists like Jack White and Radiohead have been known to write, record and share new songs with their fans in a matter of days. They no longer wait for the next album cycle to roll around or worry that a new single will disrupt their current project. Even they know not every song on an album will be a hit or even purchased. Campaigns are no different. Some things will work. Some will not. A spur-of-the-moment "bonus track" could outperform the entire campaign.

2. It works. Geico has been successfully running concurrent campaigns on the same message for years. So has Old Spice. "The World's Toughest Job" campaign for American Greetings was originally an assignment for banner ads. But the creative team dreamed bigger and turned it into a pop-culture sensation with 25 million YouTube views. Even a comical TV spot for Sonic's candy slushes starring Kevin Durant wasn't on the approved "track list." But the agency didn't give up on an idea it loved and it trended on Twitter during the NBA Finals.

3. The world is digital. Big ideas are boundless. We can take a single big idea and make more and more things from it than we ever did before. And we can test things out with little risk, but with the potential for big rewards. Greg March, CEO of creative media agency Noble People, puts it this way, "No longer are all experiments public and expensive. Stunts and online and social can all be testing grounds where you can fail for a bit and invest when you see signals for success."

4. Your people will love you for it. At Dunn&Co., our staff never stops thinking about our brands. Even after a campaign has launched we're still asking, "What else can we do?" We know the media world is fragmented, and a campaign that inhabits one space leaves opportunities for disruptive ideas in another space. If the idea is big, on brief (or close enough) or simply right for the brand, we'll support and protect it. Our people love to work with that sense of freedom. And our clients love the results.

Sure, we will still craft big, sweeping, integrated campaigns for our clients, built on the best ideas we have at that moment. But we won't press them to vinyl. It's too finite for an industry that needs to make room for infinite possibility.

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