We know all about the big digital numbers around the new Ed Sheeran album ‘÷’ (or ‘Divide’) – from 375m first-week Spotify streams to more than 1bn YouTube video views.
What we didn’t know so much about was the marketing behind the release, although our interest was piqued when one of Sheeran’s new tracks appeared in a Snapchat lens during the run-up to the album’s release.
Label Atlantic Records and its parent company Warner Music Group are playing a long game with ‘Divide’ – the overall marketing campaign for ‘Divide’ could last until 2019, tuned to the demands of the music-streaming era.
We asked them to tell us about some of the tactics being used around the world so far to get the word out on the album.
From Instagram cats in Japan to video trucks in Taiwan and pop-up shops in Poland, here are some of the highlights so far: a snapshot of some (not all) of the local elements to this kind of global music marketing campaign.
1. Pre-release Snapchat lens (Global)
Let’s start with the Snapchat lens: a pair of virtual specs for fans to take selfies with, accompanied by 30 seconds of co-lead single ‘Shape of You’. It went live at 8pm GMT on the Thursday before the track was released, with no announcement or even acknowledgement by Sheeran or the label:
Canny of Ed Sheeran's team to tease his new single on Snapchat yesterday… pic.twitter.com/q8GHGVvkS6
— Stuart Dredge (@stuartdredge) January 6, 2017
2. Dancing Instagram cats (Japan)
The Japanese team behind ‘Divide’ turned to Instagram for one feline-focused aspect to the album’s marketing campaign. The label enlisted five of the most popular Japanese cats on Instagram – with 1.1m followers between them – with posts showing them dancing to ‘Shape of You’ and posing alongside the album cover. More than 150k views as well as press coverage followed:
3. Cycle-by lyric projections (Norway)
Last Friday night, if you’d been wandering around Oslo, you might have found it hard to escape Ed Sheeran and ‘Divide’. The label’s Norwegian team sent a cyclist biking around the capital city, stopping only to use their mobile projector to virtually plaster the album on various famous buildings:
4. Find the ‘Divide’ Lyrics (Mexico / Argentina)
Lyrics from the album have been prominent in its local marketing campaigns. In Mexico and Argentina, for example, fans were challenged to ‘Find the Divide lyrics’ – spoiler: words from ‘New Man’ were on a billboard in Mexico, while ‘Hearts Don’t Break Around Here’ was featured on a shop in Argentina. Fans snapped and shared on social media to try to win concert tickets and a meet’n’greet with Sheeran himself:
5. Chase the video truck (Taiwan)
The ‘Divide’ campaign took to the roads in Taiwan, with an LED-screen-toting truck driving around Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. The screen played three of Sheeran’s music videos, with local subtitles, for eight hours a day. The label also published the truck’s planned route so fans could chase it around – once again, sharing their snaps on social networks:
6. #RussiaLovesEd crowdsourced artwork (Russia)
Japanese cats weren’t the only social influencers getting involved in the launch campaign for ‘Divide’. Warner Music Russia worked with YouTube and Instagram star Maria Novosad on a #RussiaLovesEd contest. Fans were asked to make their own artwork for the album and share it using the hashtag, sparking lots of fan creativity and media attention:
7. Pop-up shop with a cardboard troubadour (Poland)
Warner Music Poland opened a pop-up store for the release of ‘Divide’, selling the album and merchandise, as well as providing a cardboard cut-out of Ed Sheeran for fans to take selfies with. It also hired a DJ, with the label telling us the singing and dancing went on into the early hours “until the police came to turn down the noise”:
8. Busking throwback in Galway (Ireland)
‘Galway Girl’ has been one of the most popular tracks on ‘Divide’ so far, and the song spawned its own find-the-lyrics competition in Ireland. There was a bit of history woven in here though: the words were displayed in a shopfront in Galway, outside which Sheeran himself had busked as a young boy.
9. Instagram story listening party (Australia)
On the day of release for ‘Divide’, Warner Music Australia hosted a listening party on Instagram, using the social app’s Snapchat-style ‘Stories’ feature. 15 seconds of audio from each track plus customised artwork for each were published on the label’s Instagram account:
10. Road-safety billboards in East Anglia (Suffolk)
When Ed Sheeran sang about “driving at 90 down those country lanes” in ‘Castle on the Hill’ about his youth in Suffolk, it attracted the attention of Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing sergeant Chris Harris, who tweeted Sheeran to remind him “know you want to get home but please slow down on #SuffolkRoads”.
— Sgt Chris Harris (@RPFOUSgt) January 6, 2017
Sheeran’s response: a series of billboard ads in his home county reminding drivers to slow down:
— SuffolkRoadsafe (@suffolkroadsafe) March 1, 2017