By Tim Parsons
While working weekends at HMV during university, I remember seeing "Weird Al" Yankovic as an empty section header somewhere amongst the Js. Pre-July 14th that comprised my entire knowledge of “Weird Al Yankovic”.
I suspect this is pretty typical of my generation – save a cult following of advancing years, "Weird Al" was not well known amongst millennials, or their immediate elders.
So how in the big-budget age of Lonely Island and co, how did "Weird Al" and his offbeat brand of parody pop become an overnight viral sensation, culminating with his 14th album Mandatory Fun, debuting at number one on Billboard for the first time in his 30 year career?
Brands should be paying close attention, as many of them face similar issues. The traditional campaigns on which they built their success resemble a model similar to "Weird Al’s" MTV-based fame in the 80s. How can they establish a relevant presence as media consumption moves on?
The key to Al’s success was adaptation, but adaptation is about more than sticking a commercial on YouTube. Here are five things that brands can learn from his digital resurgence.
1 - Partner up
Eight videos in eight days is a nice idea, but producing eight music videos costs quite a lot of money. Not being Lady Gaga, "Weird Al" would have struggled to acquire the funds from his record company, so instead he approached popular video-based websites and proposed strategic partnerships. In the end, he partnered with Nerdist, PopCrush, Screen, Funny or Die, College Humor, The Wall Street Journal, Vevo, and Yahoo. Quite an array... The trade off is simple - they get exclusive content for their channels, whilst he benefits from their budget, resources and exposure – everyone’s a winner. It seems more akin to PR than advertising, but these kind of symbiotic relationships are something brands are starting to take advantage of. Many websites are all but geared for sponsored content, Buzzfeed being the archetype. To be successful in this space, brands must learn to imitate the content these sites produce, not simply in style but in substance. Essentially they must deliver the same value as the editorial.
— Nerdist.com (@NerdistDotCom) July 14, 2014
2 - Find your voice
Personally I’m not a huge fan of all eight videos – they are however, unmistakably "Weird Al" Yankovic. On digital, branding is about more than a logo, look and feel, or even tone of voice. It’s about developing an identity. YouTube is saturated with Robin Thicke parodies, 99.9% misogyny themed. "Weird Al" decided to go a different way entirely and talk about bad grammar, leveraging the stalwart Twitter hashtag #wordcrimes. It’s pedantic, silly, and unmistakably "Weird Al". Reactive is a term used a lot in relation to branded social media programs, but many brands are unable to pull it off because they haven’t developed that level of online personality yet. Successful brands all have.
“Whom are you going to call?” – the unused, more grammatically-correct tagline for Ghostbusters
— Al Yankovic (@alyankovic) August 4, 2014
3 - Social currency
The disadvantage of posting your content on multiple sites is that there is no unifying hub. The remedy to this was simply a hashtag: #8videos8days. It worked as well as a YouTube channel - at least if over 46 million views in two weeks is anything to go by… Hashtags have many uses, and in this case, as a tool for content curation, tagging over 4,000 articles and over 3,000,000 social shares, they can be very powerful. The lesson? Don’t just use hashtags for the sake of it – a good hashtag is one with a clearly defined purpose!
— Travon Free (@Travon) July 16, 2014
"Weird Al" has been very active on Twitter since the campaign, and has confirmed that despite his first number one record, he will not be making any more traditional albums – to be fair why would he? If his label won’t pay for him to make any more videos, the good people of the Internet surely will – that’s adaptation at it’s best.