British singer-songwriter Paul Carrack has been a member of several bands, notably Mike & The Mechanics, but has been putting out solo albums since 1980. Soul Shadows is his eighteenth solo album and got to #25 on the UK chart on its release in January this year, his highest solo chart placing to date. Ben Bowdler, digital sales & online manager at Proper, explains how they moved into online advertising for this campaign, where YouTube cards were deployed, why windowing around streams is important for an artist whose sales are predominately physical and how a suspicious over- indexing of fans in Turkey had to be filtered out.
Background to the campaign
We started working with Paul at the end of 2013 for his previous album, Rain Or Shine . We also signed him for his solo back catalogue. We worked on that first album but not in the same way we did this time [for Soul Shadows]. It was more of a distribution deal where we handled the physical and digital for it. That did really well and it got the usual support he gets on radio. Five of the singles went onto the Radio 2 playlist, which was pretty amazing.
We have worked closely with him and his manager on promoting the back catalogue and the different campaigns that have been done around that.
We had couple of releases – not new studio albums, but a live album in 2015 [Live At The London Palladium] and a Best Of in 2014, which we got into the supermarkets where it did very well.
Soul Shadows came out on 15th January and we used the live album and catalogue releases to fill the gap between his previous album and this one. His manager is always talking to us about different ideas and different ways to bring Paul to the forefront again. The live album and the Best Of were in the in-between albums.
Moving into online ads
Paul’s manager was keen to start exploring some of the newer ways of advertising. In the past, they haven’t done a lot of print advertising because they have always relied on support at radio. This time we saw that they did a lot of print advertising for his tours but not necessarily for his albums. He tends to do long tours towards the end of each year and so they tend to do a lot of advertising around that, which usually has a pack- shot of the latest album in the corner.
We asked him and his manager if they had looked into Facebook ads and Google display ads. They were quite interested in:
a) doing them because it was something they had never looked at before; and
b) understanding the costs involved as they wanted to keep the costs down as, compared to a print ad in a magazine, you can be a lot more reasonable and be a lot more targeted as well.
They didn’t have any massive expectations.
” We said that we could definitely help with driving the pre-orders by doing this sort of online ad campaign. We put together a fairly straightforward Facebook ad campaign and a Google display ad campaign with a tiny budget of around £200.”
It started at the very end of December, ahead of the album release on 15th January, after which we switched it to say that the album was out now. We also updated the targeting based on what we had learned in the previous few weeks. So we had a few weeks of “out now” advertising and a few around the German release date that came slightly later.
Building his presence online with a focus on YouTube cards
He had a pretty big YouTube presence already. In December, he had around 3,700 subscribers so it was already pretty large [it is now over 4,000]. He had around 1.5m views [across all his videos]. It was pretty well maintained but, with some of the newer things, we went in and optimised them, adding YouTube cards to the most popular videos linking to buy the album or linking to the newer videos we had added at the end of December.
YouTube cards are similar to the annotations that you can put in YouTube as links overlaid on the videos. The cards are the updated version of that and they are mobile- and tablet-friendly. Annotations don’t appear on mobiles or tablets, but the YouTube cards do, with
a little indication that appears in the top-right corner which, if you click on it, it opens up a bit more and tells you exactly what you are clicking through to, be that a video, a playlist or an iTunes purchase link.
At the start, we were just using those on his most popular videos on his channel – so on some of the older videos we were linking through to the newer content. We had a half-hour video of him talking in depth about the album and about each track. He was sat in his studio and playing the album in the background as he talked through how he recorded each track.
We linked a lot of the older videos to that video as a way to drive more views of the new videos and raise awareness of the new album coming out.
He had quite a good set up on YouTube already, with a lot of official videos on there. It was all kept well up to date, but it was about adding some of the new tools like the cards and making sure the artwork was optimised and appeared in the right place for mobile and tablet.
They had already claimed all his tracks on there so they were being monetised.
Across all the social networks, Facebook is probably the one where [he and his management] had put in the most time. His Twitter at the moment is mostly just content that has already been posted to Facebook and then reposted there. It’s the same with YouTube. Facebook was a strong platform for him. He had around 59,000 fans in December. We went in and made sure that everything was optimised there. We also had a look at the demographics of his fanbase there just to educate us on where we were going to target his new album.
One of the interesting things we found was that he had a lot of Turkish fans, which was surprising to find out. We drilled down on that and found there were about 21,000 fans in Turkey. We think that might not be ‘official’ numbers. Maybe at some point someone tried to buy followers. There was something not right about that as they were all a lot younger than his typical fanbase there. We identified straight away that the numbers on his Facebook page were slightly larger than what they would be without those ‘fans’. We also didn’t want to start targeting people who maybe weren’t actually real fans of his.
Because we know his fanbase is in a slightly older bracket, all of those Turkish ‘fans’ were between 18 and 24, which is typically a lot younger than his normal fanbase.
“We just didn’t target ads to people in Turkey to start with and we also used an older age range to make sure we weren’t spending money on fans who weren’t real.”
It’s about trying to identify who your fans are, where they are based, what age range they are in, what their spending habits are and so on.
He does some posting himself on Facebook but he also has a good social media team around him. He is always on tour and they tend to be quite long. He is always posting photos from his tours and general stuff about what he is up to when on the road. It’s not necessarily a hard sales pitch, which a lot of fans appreciate. We will put a couple of sales messages for things like pre-orders on there – but making sure they were spread out between the genuine stuff he and his team were posting.
Physical dominates, downloads are slight and windowing around streams remains a priority
His sales are probably 80-90% physical. It’s something we see a lot with the older demographics who still typically want to buy a physical product. As the campaign goes on and as the album has been out a while, that tends to level off a bit more and start trending towards 50/50 once the album has been out for a few months. At the start, because of the way we were primarily pushing the physical product, we tend to see that kind of split.
In terms of streaming, he has got a big following on Spotify and other streaming platforms. But his management are always quite keen, initially, to hold back the album from streaming services. They’d have a typical window of three or four months. It was about three months on the last album. It’s a case of seeing how things are going and maybe, if something happens or the physical sales start dropping off really quickly, it is something we will look at. But at the moment there isn’t a fixed date for when the album goes to Spotify. It will do eventually.
Amazon is the main place we were pushing fans to. The Facebook ads and the Google display ads were driving people towards Amazon. We also ran a back catalogue campaign with Amazon . All of his albums were available between February and March for £7.99 each; these are the remastered titles. There was also a two-for-£15 deal on Amazon.
Downloads are still a small part of the market for us. We have had support from iTunes for the previous album, although we didn’t get any banner support this time. But the iTunes links are shared as equally as the Amazon links and we try to push people there as much as we can. On all the videos we have put up, they have the Amazon link and the iTunes link. Eventually they will have the Spotify link. We also try and make people aware the albums are available from physical stores as well, so they can go to HMV or a local indie store to pick up the albums. We try to cover all the bases but not cram loads of links in. It’s just about making people aware of wherever they want to buy it, it is available.
The online ads were the main part of it and that was the idea we came up with – just to show management that this was another way to push pre-orders and drive album sales.
He does a lot of print advertising for his tours.
“We see an increase in search when he is on tour, so we try and make sure that everything is optimised. His YouTube channel is a big driver of people. They see him on tour and then want to go and watch live videos; or they are going to see him on tour so will have a look at his YouTube channel first”
It’s about making sure that everything is up to date there and all the links are in place so that people are aware of the new album and can watch all the videos. The way we were doing the Google display ads was that they were all targeted at people who had watched one of his videos on his YouTube channel. We were able to make sure that all the ads we were targeting were aimed at people who had previously shown an interest in his music.
Germany is pretty big for him so we did some specific ads in German. The lack of music on YouTube in Germany is a little bit of a concern for us. A lot of the videos we put up weren’t viewable over there [because of the dispute with GEMA]. Some of them we had to send across as files on their own so that the promo people there could see them and use them and share them on their sites. That caused a little bit of an issue.
We weren’t looking at any other video platforms, so some of the videos we didn’t want to use on YouTube [in general] either as the monetisation thing is an issue for his team. If you are in Germany, unfortunately you can’t watch a lot of that content. We were using some of the videos as promo for the promo teams out there. On a consumer side, it wasn’t ideal. 🙂
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