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Monday, September 14, 2009

Adventures In Gimmick Marketing

While Twitter, Facebook, and countless online message-boards and chat-rooms were taking up way too much bandwidth talking about Kanye West and Taylor Swift, it was the reactions of some that have proved the catalyst for this particular piece.

Here is what is being postulated – it was all staged.

As highly contrived, nearly complete preposterousness, as that seems to me, let’s run with this paper-thin thesis for a moment and take stock at what this all means.

The one question to ask is this - who benefits?

Certainly all interested parties, most notably Kanye, will benefit from the ensuing press that will pour through the internet, traditional print media, and radio, but that’s pretty much where it ends. People will talk about it for a few news cycles and then something else will happen and folks move on.

While it is being argued by some of the more rabid fans of the pop-music genre that this will have a direct effect on sales of not only West’s catalog of music, but Beyonce and Swifts as well, one has to question the overall effect of this sales bump. Are we talking about such a boost in sales of tracks ( both online and in standard retail outlets ) that it will rocket all three of the artists involved simultaneously upward on the Soundscan charts that the likelihood of one of them reaching #1 exponentially increases? Hardly. Although events like this do have a direct effect on sales of portions of the artist’s catalog, it’s likely to be nothing more than a modest gain at best.

And as it’s being argued this was all a set-up, who was actually in on it? If it was all three, then Taylor Swift and Beyonce would had to had known that they were going to win their respective awards. Does this violate some unwritten rule regarding the sealing of the ballots? Likely not, as this is a far cry from the Academy Awards. Furthermore, the ability for anyone in the pop-music field to keep their mouth shut about a gimmick like this is somewhat suspect. Had this actually been a preplanned stunt, it surely would have leaked just hours before the program.

But what if it was just Kanye, then what does that say about how much MTV cares for Taylor Swift? Even though she comes from the country genre, they are walking a pretty thin line. As country music begins to sound more and more like pop, and more artists like Taylor Swift are crossing over to such an extent that MTV is willing to recognize them, how will this play out for MTV. It’s no secret that MTV is a towering giant in the music industry, and can pretty much do whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t hurt their bottom line. But alienating an entire cross-section of the consumer market just so you can make fun of Taylor Swift on live TV doesn’t sound like a good business plan to me.

The only way to look at this is from the standpoint that MTV benefits more than any of the parties involved.

But what are the repercussions?

Kanye isn’t expanding his fanbase by any means by acting like a spoiled child. He already has a solid following that will defend him against virtually any and everything. But even those fans won’t be around for long. Consumers are quite fickle. Once they see something that is a little bit brighter or shinier or bigger and louder, they will slowly start to push Kanye West away.

And this is the point that some fans of pop music don’t seem to realize. Legacy is what matters to people like Kanye West.

While he is, at this particular moment in time, safe in the arms of the MTV machine, it won’t be long until even they grow weary of him. If we continue to operate under the assumption that Kanye West’s behavior on the VMAs was staged, we have to ask the question – how much of the rest of his appearances are staged? Are all the blog postings, interviews, tirades during live performances, and temper-tantrums caught on tape staged as well? And if so, to what extent is this affecting him mentally? Has Kanye West lost the ability to discern between his real self and his corporately funded self? Have consumers lost that ability to tell the real Kanye from the bizarro world Kanye? Did they ever, and do they even care?

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