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What Marketers Can Learn from Weird Al’s Rise to No. 1

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If you used the Internet last week, chances are that you encountered a clever marketing blitz from the king of parody himself, “Weird Al” Yankovic.

In conjunction with his new album, “Mandatory Fun,” Yankovic released eight music videos in eight days for songs like “Word Crimes,” a play on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines, and “Foil,” a parody of “Royals” by Lorde. The stunt paid off handsomely, as “Mandatory Fun” entered the Billboard Top 200 charts as the No 1. album – marking the first time Yankovic has achieved this feat in his three-decade-long career.

It’s clear that Yankovic has learned how to use digital to his advantage, as his approach to generating buzz around “Mandatory Fun” is a far cry from the way in which he released albums during the MTV era. In fact, “Weird Al” has emerged as a prime example of how established brands can evolve their strategies to make the most of new opportunities – while still staying true to the core of their brand.

Here are some takeaways for brands in light of Weird Al’s unexpected success:

Be cognizant of consumer behavior. Yankovic came on the music scene in 1983, two years after the launch of MTV. His early songs like “I Love Rocky Road” a parody of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Joan Jett and “Smells Like Nirvana,” a play on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” were mainstays of MTV’s programming in the 80s and 90s. During that time, teens and young adults religiously followed the network to catch the latest music videos to be released. The strategy made sense for the time.

But thirty years later, the music video landscape has significantly changed. MTV is famous for not playing music videos, and video content is a dime a dozen as 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Yankovic recognized that breaking through the clutter was growing increasingly more difficult and adapted his strategy accordingly. “Things go viral for a day,” he recently stated, “I figured the best way to advertise my new album is every single day of release week, a brand new video for people to get excited about.”

Explore multiple channels to get your message across. When Yankovic was informed by his label that they would not pay for videos to promote his “Mandatory Fun,” he looked for production opportunities elsewhere. Yankovic partnered with well-known content creators like College Humor and Funny or Die as well as independent artists to create the videos. From July 14 to July 21, a new video was released every day on a different host site. Some videos were premiered on sites targeted at niche audiences such as “Tacky” on Nerdist and the business buzzword heavy “Mission Statement” on Wall Street Journal’s site. The generic and niche video premieres paid off. Combined, the videos gathered a cumulative 20 million views in the first week.

Stay relevant. More than just the sound of pop music has changed during Yankovic’s thirty year career. With the push towards real-time content, staying relevant is increasingly challenging. Yankovic tries to release his parodies as close to the popularity peak of a pop song as possible, but this proves challenging given the 12 song album format  for which he is famously revered. While writing the album, the “song of the summer” for 2014 (“Fancy” by Iggy Azalea) didn’t make itself known until the album was under production. Yankovic’s solution: Go backstage at one of Azalea’s shows to get her permission to record “Handy,” which became a last-minute (but critical) addition to the album. In the future, Yankovic says that he will evolve his strategy by releasing singles in the future in order to remain timely and topical.

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While the man who penned “Eat It” and “Amish Paradise” is not the most likely source for marketing insights, there is something to be said for the ways in which he is bringing his parodies to life in the digital age. By knowing his consumers, exploring new partnerships and staying relevant, Weird Al has attained yet another career milestone – and inspired other creators in the process.

Cover photo via Rolling Stone