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Taylor Swift performed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” the day after her album “Red” was released.

Charles Sykes, Associated Press

Swift marketing raises the bar

  • Article by: RANDY LEWIS
  • Los Angeles Times
  • November 2, 2012 - 2:20 PM

When Taylor Swift's album "Red" was released last week, the pop singer's most ardent fans wasted no time downloading the digital edition on iTunes, vaulting it to No. 1 on the online retailer's Top Albums chart in a quick 36 minutes. Those who wanted to hold a CD with her latest 16 songs were also able to snap it up as early as 12:01 a.m. Oct. 22 at thousands of 24-hour Walgreens and Wal-Mart stores.

By daybreak though, the options had multiplied: A deluxe 22-track edition was available at Target, and if the music alone wasn't enough, Swift aficionados could also pick up a custom pair of Keds "Red" sneakers ($49.99) or get the album along with a large pizza as part of a Papa John's deal that featured Swift's image on the pizza box (all for $22!).

The multipronged delivery of Swift's album is part of a sophisticated marketing campaign that has contributed to the extraordinary first-week sales for "Red" of 1.21 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the biggest first-week figure in more than a decade.

The success of "Red" equals hope for an industry hammered during the first decade of the digital age, one in which album sales plummeted 50 percent, but also raises the bar on what it takes to remain a pop star in the digital era.

Once upon a time in the record business, musicians created albums, and record companies manufactured and delivered them to retail stores, took out ads in magazines, newspapers and perhaps on TV to promote them, and then waited for the sales results to roll in.

Today, however, generating blockbuster sales requires the right combination of hit music, star power and marketing savvy that connects with consumers wherever they might be, from discount department stores and online retailers to shoe outlets and pizza places. Swift's album has benefited from largely laudatory reviews, with several critics calling it the best yet in her young career.

The type of exclusive deals that Swift and her label Big Machine struck with various and some unlikely retailers has become a crucial part of the pop music landscape.

The increasing customization of artists' music for different outlets means they are expected to come up with songs they can release only to certain retailers, along with other individualized content such as the photos and text for the 96-page book with Wal-Mart's exclusive "Zinepak" edition of "Red," also including a selection of Swift guitar picks.

Target has instituted extensive in-store promotion for "Red," as it has for previous exclusive editions of albums from Pink, No Doubt and others.

"We have so many different tricks up our sleeve to surprise and delight guests and fans of Taylor," John Butcher, Target's vice president of entertainment, told Billboard recently.

In return, artists and their recordings receive amped-up promotion of their music, although tie-ins alone don't automatically create mega-hits like "Red." It's just the 18th album to sell more than 1 million copies in a single week during the 21 years of the SoundScan era.

The plethora of different editions of a given album, however, carries a potential for backlash among fans who feel torn over which version to buy -- or feel compelled to buy all the editions to get everything available from their favorite artists. So far, however, there's been little public outcry of that sort directed toward "Red."

With "Red," Swift becomes only the fourth act to hit the 1-million first-week figure twice since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking actual sales back in 1991.

Not only has Swift repeated that feat despite continuing shrinkage of traditional album sales, but "Red" has topped the first-week figure of 1.05 million for its 2010 predecessor, "Speak Now," extending her against-the-grain trend of improved first week sales with each album she has released since her 2006 debut, "Taylor Swift."

It's also a sign that at least some players in the beleaguered music business are finding ways to reboot in an age in which consumers have become less inclined to buy the music they listen to.

"Big Machine isn't commenting on the marketing of the album," a label spokesman wrote in an e-mail. "Some of the new components with this release included Papa John's and Walgreens, but when we see the final numbers, I think we will see record-breaking numbers from Target and iTunes, meaning most of the albums were purchased through normal sources."

Last week, iTunes reported that first-day downloads of "Red" set a new single-day record for the digital retailer, with 262,000 copies. That's more sales in one day than the majority of No. 1 albums have posted in a full week in recent years. Target officials have indicated that they are expecting new sales highs from "Red."

Leading up to last week's worldwide release of "Red," Swift kept busy on her Twitter account reminding followers -- she now has more than 20 million -- how many days remained until it would be available. On Oct. 21, she shifted to an hourly countdown. (Her spokeswoman insists that all tweets are sent by Swift herself and that no one else has access to her TaylorSwift13 account.)

The day after "Red" was released she began a strategically organized blitz of national TV appearances, starting with a concert in New York City's Times Square as part of her visit to ABC's "Good Morning America."

She used a "20/20" appearance to unveil plans for a 2013 "Red" concert tour of sports arenas and nine stadiums in the United States.

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