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Will Rogers once said, “”Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.” Advertising is the art of persuading you to buy — and then buy some more.

But if it was that simple, Miley’s album would have sold through the roof. After all, who hasn’t heard about her these last few weeks? Few people have mastered the art of (over)exposure in quite the way she has. Miley — and Twerkgate — has been everywhere. And yet Bangerz, her latest album, only sold 270,417 copies, which, considering the PR campaign behind it, is remarkable for how unimpressive it is.

Elton John’s latest album has only sold 78,109 copies over the last three weeks.

Disney’s The Lone Ranger had a promotional budget of $175 million, and even that couldn’t keep the movie from tanking.

And then you have a track like “Call Me Maybe” come seemingly out-of-nowhere, and it sells 13 million copies, ironically  the same number as the also seemingly out-of-nowhere “Somebody That I Use to Know.” We see the same phenomenon spreading with Lorde’s “Royals,” which has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks running and has sold 2.5 million downloads. 

All of which means that, with films, like with music, like with anything, the way to get someone to buy something isn’t about advertising. Advertising may generate exposure, but that exposure doesn’t always translate to sales. Instead, it’s about word-of-mouth, from making a product that people actually want. If you make something people want, if you make a hit song or a hit movie, people are going to find it — and then they are going to buy it, even if you’re giving it away for free.

[See Amanda Palmer or Radiohead: “In Rainbows absolutely didn’t kill the idea that music should be paid for. What it did do, though, was show that the idea of setting a single, one-size-fits-all price for an album was long overdue a rethink. Not just because a lot of people wanted to pay less or nothing, but because plenty of fans wanted to pay more.”]

In our increasingly jaded age, when we have become desensitized to conventional advertising — and even too obvious product placement causes a backlash — maybe we should spend less attention on our advertising and more on product development. Maybe we just be fostering creativity rather than advertising strategies, maybe we should be prioritizing artists rather than executives.

“Wrecking Ball” is a good song. “We Can’t Stop” is pretty catchy. But even those two tracks are ultimately forgettable. It’s hard to imagine them in rotation a year from now. And the rest of the album? I skip through it. I love pop music, but nothing on that album has the power of a real pop song, the kind of pop song that lingers years later on playlists and in memories. Everything on Bangerz feels dialed down, manufactured, soulless. I’d rather listen to Cher’s new album.

It’s about creativity first. Marketing comes second. How did we forget that?

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