For most Brits, Aurora would have first appeared on their radar with her cover of Oasis’ ‘Half The World Away’ for the John Lewis Christmas 2015 ad. But she had been building steadily long before that marketing coup. David Heath, senior digital marketing manager at Decca, and CHRIS KERSHAW, senior marketing manager at Decca, explain how blogs and Vevo were used to get the ball rolling, why the fan community was key and where new ad formats on Spotify and Facebook lead into the release of All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, her debut album.
Long before John Lewis – the slow build
DH: Going back to December 2014, after we signed Aurora, we started a slow build through blogs. We had an online PR getting her name out there. She already had a fanbase. Her fans were initially from Norway but what we have seen with her is a big spread – no one territory is leading the pack by any considerable distance. She was positioned as a global act right from the start. The songs are so appealing and broad that it was never going to be just Norway or just the Nordics.
We started from blogs, getting her music out there. She’d put out singles, starting with ‘Under Stars’ and then ‘Runaway’ was the first big single with a video to accompany it. That was in February 2015 and it was the start of her vision for how she wanted things to be presented.
Gathering momentum through Vevo
DH: We started from zero on Vevo and that has been her most growing channel. She has around a dozen videos on there now and has 28m views on Vevo across all her videos. She started 2016 with 11m and she has more than doubled that by May.
It is mainly her videos for the singles, but in between that are other things. We had a Discover piece quite early on with Vevo. Since then we got the Vevo Lift slot and we are in that cycle now; but the main driver of views on Vevo are her singles. They keep on ticking over.
We pitched her to Vevo a while ago and we got it after the album release. Vevo is a great platform for her and she has high engagement on there.
CK: They did a Becoming… piece which was an introduction to Aurora. There were then two live videos that were filmed specifically for Vevo. Then there was a catch-up piece where she is interviewed about what has happened since Vevo Lift started. We are also going to make a bespoke music video for them. Lift for her runs from March to May. They’ll deliver you around 20m impressions and give you social media support. She is now on over 211k Vevo subscribers. She is adding about 1,000 a day.
The power of the fans
DH: Her fans call themselves The Warriors and so we had a Warriors section on her website which is a place where, beyond her socials, she would only share, very infrequently, stuff that she wouldn’t put anywhere else. We wanted to create an exclusive area for her. We launched that quite early on as we wanted it to be a part of how she progressed and how she treated her fans. We didn’t want to lose that connection. We felt that was a good way of helping them feel they have a bit more ownership of her than they would if we had just swooped in and taken her away from them. That was a good way of doing it. She can post on there and sometimes she sends me stuff to put on there.
People can comment underneath and they are writing big chunks of text – almost like letters to her. It’s really interesting to see. That connection is incredible. I have never seen a fanbase with such a warm ownership of an act.
“It brings something that platforms like Instagram and Twitter don’t have – that kind of inclusiveness.”
She is amazing on Instagram, but everyone gets that content and so it doesn’t feel special. Your comments on Instagram don’t really cut through if you leave one there.
Sometimes she just puts stuff up from inside the studio when she wants to share something. Sometimes, before a video is put out, we have put an animated GIF from the video on there. We have announced some news stories on there first.
The way we announce that stuff is on the Warriors page is through a little code she uses on Twitter – a thumbs up emoji and a link to the Warriors page so fans know a new piece of content has gone up there. You have to sign up to go in and we get mailing list data from that. That is how we have built up the data that we own.
There are 7,100 people on there and we do mailouts to them. We got a 55-60% open rate on mails across the campaign. It is easy to get data, but it’s hard to get quality data. What we have done is build a page where people are putting their details in because they want to find out things; so we know when we send them stuff, they are going to open it.
It depends what is going on in the campaigns, but at the moment, as it’s post-release, we are sending something out every two or three weeks about new stuff that’s going on. During the campaign, at times we were doing one a week. I always try and hold back, keeping an eye on click-through rates to make sure it’s not intrusive. People want stuff, but not all the time. It’s just working out what we have in terms of content and building an email campaign around that.
The John Lewis ad
DH: We had someone from the sync team who was involved in the John Lewis discussions from long before any of us knew about it. They were keeping the conversation going and making sure the
John Lewis team knew who Aurora was. We knew they wanted a female artist. When we found out they were interested, there was other stuff going on at the same time. We were still doing our normal campaign and that wouldn’t have been affected by the John Lewis deal. We were doing acoustic videos and so on, keeping the campaign going – as we would have done either way.
We assumed we wouldn’t get it [the ad]. We wanted to make sure that her campaign was her campaign. Whether or not we got John Lewis didn’t matter in a way. We need to work her record. We knew that if we got the John Lewis ad we would have to change some things around and do some adjustments as there would be a different focus for a certain period of time.
The main thing was that, if she got the ad, there would be a different audience that weren’t necessarily people who would be interested in her album; but there would be a way to capitalise on that exposure for a certain amount of time that would be beneficial for her. That was the main thing we knew would be different if she got the ad.
She has a very young audience – aged 18-24, and maybe a bit younger in some countries. When you get a John Lewis ad, that goes into an older audience and we saw that from the stats that were happening during that period of time. So it was 30+ – like the general Facebook audience. We also didn’t want that data to skew what we knew about Aurora. We knew there were two separate audiences from the point onwards.
The album was always planned for early 2016, which was great as it was perfect for increased exposure. ‘Half The World Away’ was almost like an ‘extra’ single in the campaign. Maybe if we hadn’t got the John Lewis ad, there would have been discussions around that. But we always had our singles plan and that didn’t change. We would have found out about the ad in October and then it starts running in December. They start really early. It’s a huge moment and it’s amazing to see it happen on that morning. It happens so fast and moves really quickly.
Radio picked up on it and it was amazing as we hadn’t had a playlist by that point. So to get frequent plays on commercial stations and the BBC was great. Her reaction was great as she didn’t really know who John Lewis were before she got the ad. But she got involved a lot in the campaign as it went on.
CK: We knew [the ad] might happen for a while but it didn’t get confirmed until about 10 days before it actually aired. It was a mad rush once it was confirmed to finish the song – because it didn’t exist as a full song, just the advert version – so the whole thing had to be recorded. Artwork had to be created with John Lewis in mind, so it had to have a certain visual feel to it. We also had to make a music video which was turned around really quickly and build a marketing plan around it. Plus, we had to get it up on iTunes and Spotify in time.
The main thing for us was that we wanted to capitalise on the exposure. But we didn’t want it to be the be all and end all of her campaign.
We had special dispensation from Apple to time the release and have the track available to buy when the ad went live that morning. Spotify also timed the released. It was all coordinated. John Lewis sent a press release out as soon as the ad aired, with details about the song and Aurora. We also had a press release ready. From there, you just watch it go. It’s such a big thing and the whole country is waiting for it. You sit and watch it go and gauge the reaction as it flies up the chart. We then all fulfilled the media requests as lots of people wanted to interview her. We selected a few media outlets like the NME and The Daily Telegraph. We were quite picky about who we spoke to. We tried to avoid anything too tabloid-y. We made sure they were music-focused and not just things about the advert. It was a crazy thing and an amazing thing. It was a great platform for her.
The blessing and curse of her being “that singer from that ad”
DH: Obviously we didn’t want that to happen. It was just being aware that the audience coming in at that time was a different audience and making sure we treated them as such. That is where Facebook targeting messaging really helped. We could put the message out to different demographics on Facebook. You don’t want to hit all the people with the same message, especially if they are finding out about her from an ad campaign. They don’t want to get the same messages as people who felt that they have been a fan for a long time.
The demographics haven’t changed since that time, but we had a moment where we put her in front of a lot more people.
CK: We made a conscious decision and came off it quite quickly (so it didn’t become an albatross). She had ridden through it quite well. I don’t think she was quite prepared for how big the whole thing was.
In crude terms, it was going to make the album launch easier for us as people knew who she was. It would be easier to get TV spots and radio playlists that would add momentum to the campaign. It was not like Lily Allen or Tom Odell doing a John Lewis ad. No one knew who she was before the advert so there was a long way to go for people to become familiar with her. I don’t think it meant she was going to go from an artist who wasn’t going to chart in the top 100 to one who was at #1. But it has definitely helped and it has increased her sales.
With any new artist, it takes a long time to get into a position where they are selling lots of albums. It takes a long time to build a new artist today and for Aurora it’s part of the journey and part of the story. It was a nice thing to happen. The song is not on the standard version of the album – just on the deluxe version. She didn’t want it on there and we didn’t really care if it was on there or not. Having it on the deluxe version felt like a nice compromise.
Leading into the album with a cover reveal and a free track
DH: We did a giveaway at the end of December. She had recorded a nice version of ‘Walking In The Air’ which we gave as a free download just before Christmas. That is where we got a lot of our sign-up data from. It was the second most popular data capture mechanic we have done so far. The first was the Warriors forum.
We then did the cover reveal. Fans knew there was an album coming but we officially announced it with a cover reveal. The day before the album went onto partner sites, we did a tweet-to-unlock campaign.
We had the artwork on a page in a frame but it was completely dark and there was a light bulb that would light up the more people tweeted about it. Eventually the album cover was revealed and the next day they could pre-order the album. It was really popular and was the first time we really asked the fanbase to do something.
During January, I was making short- form video content for platforms such as Facebook and Connect . I took some of the artwork from the album booklet, adding effects on the top and adding music to the background so you had what was, essentially, native video content. To get the best reach as possible on Facebook, you need native video.
Spotify homepage takeover…
by moths; and using Facebook’s new Canvas ad format
DH: We had a homepage takeover on Spotify on the day of release. If was collaborative; you are releasing a moth but then you are seeing everyone else release a moth, so you are contributing to a bigger thing. That was the first time they had done anything like that and it just solidified what makes her unique.
What usually happens here is that we come up with a concept at the label, then we tell Spotify about it and meanwhile I’ll be telling a couple of developers about it to get their take. Then we’ll connect everyone, see if it works, do some tests in the background before it goes live to make sure it doesn’t get rejected by the API and displays properly. On the morning of release, we switched it over and let it run.
It was a 24-hour homepage takeover [in the UK]. It did go live in different territories on different dates. It was just on the desktop client of Spotify. Unfortunately, they don’t have homepage takeovers on the mobile version – just the desktop app. We had a lot of marketing running that morning [to direct people to the desktop app].
CK: It was about creating something interactive and something that gets across what’s individual about Aurora, playing on the moth theme. On any campaign it’s good to have a central motif to build the marketing message around. We also have a Facebook interactive Canvas post . There was a display cabinet where, if you moved your phone, it displayed more moths.
DH: Canvas is a new ad format on Facebook mobile and has been running for a few months. You get served an ad but it’s essentially like a mini site within Facebook. You click on the ad and it opens out. You can tell a story by having a bit of text, then a video and then a gallery.
“They are by far the most powerful ad format that Facebook has. The dwell time was around a minute and a half on this ad.”
We were targeting it to fans so it would be something they are interested in. What we have found is that you have to build content specifically for them. You can’t just recycle stuff you have in your marketing packs, like old photos. That is why we came up with the display case theme. The click-through rate was really good. It does a really good job of telling a story on the day of release. 🙂