Monday, 21 December 2009

All the Rage this Christmas

The real winner of this year’s fight for the number-one Christmas single is neither Rage Against the Machine nor Joe McElderry; it’s social media. And any businesses that still fail to see the commercial importance of networking websites such as Facebook are doomed to be mired in the 20th century.

The backstory in brief: Essex music fans John and Tracy Morter were tired of the annual winner of The X Factor--or as they put up, “Simon Cowell’s latest karoake act”--landing the top spot on the Christmas charts, as has been the case since 2004. So they set up a Facebook page encouraging people to buy Rage Against the Machine’s 1992 “Killing in the Name” the week of 13th December so that it could pip this year’s X Factor winner to number one. The campaign worked, with Rage’s not-at-all-festive ditty outselling Joe McElderry’s cover of “The Climb” by about 50,000 copies—or rather downloads, as “Killing in the Name” was available online only.

The obvious moral to this story is that one should never underestimate the breadth of a social network or the enthusiasm with which consumers participate in an online campaign. A sociologist might go so far as to argue that in our far-flung, techno-oriented world, people are so hungry to connect with other humans that they are especially inclined to get involved in virtual campaigns, as a way of sating their need to belong to a group. If this is indeed true, then online grass-roots campaigns will become more, not less, powerful as the internet becomes more a part of our everyday existence.

Leaving that aside, though, there are several other lessons to be learned:

1) Be careful how you respond to social media. After getting wind of the Rage campaign, Cowell told the mainstream media at a press conference that the Facebook campaign was “stupid” and “cynical”. In many cases, you do need to respond to web chatter concerning your brand. By doing so at a press conference, though, Cowell gave the campaign greater play than it might otherwise have received. He also demonstrated that he perceived the campaign as a threat, which of course established its credibility as one. He might have been better off by having the X Factor finalists respond in the weeks leading up to the final and then having winner McElderry launch a campaign of his own.

2) Never assume. “I now realise I’ve taken too much for granted,” Cowell said after the chart results were announced. “I have got to hold my hands up. I accept that there are people that don’t like The X Factor.” If he’d been more diligent in monitoring his brand (the subject of an article in our upcoming January issue, by the way), he would not have been so surprised. Hell, he could have just rung me (and if you’d like to call upon me in the future, Simon, feel free. I don’t like The X Factor, but I’m definitely a fan of Simon Cowell.)

3) People—and especially British people—like to support the underdog. So if you’re being perceived as Goliath, you may want to consider highlighting a few of your similarities to David.

4) Not everyone buys into the force-fed image of Christmas as a time of cheer and group hugs. The fact that the Morters selected “Killing in the Name” (sample lyric: “And now you do what they told you/Now you’re under control”) for their protest, as opposed to a more seasonal or cheery ditty, underscores this. You can’t get much less warm and fuzzy than Rage Against the Machine. Prior to the next Christmas selling season, you might want to conduct some research amongst your own audience to see whether they’ve overdosed on messages of yuletide cheer and, if so, whether you should take a different approach to your holiday marketing.

5) If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em—or try to hire ‘em. Cowell reportedly phoned the Morters to congratulate them and offer them jobs at his record company. So far, they’ve declined.--SC

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