Marketing

Harry Styles had 2019’s most cryptic music-marketing campaign


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The treasure hunt, scattering of Easter eggs and a good dash of the cryptic is a failsafe in music marketing. It is all a nice way to get the fanbase excited about a new album, an opportunity to test out a new platform and hopefully get some virality and/or wider media coverage in the process.

But the set up for ‘Adore You’, the current single from Harry Styles’ imminent second album, has taken all this to a whole other level. Billboard has the full breakdown of the campaign and has spoken to Manos Xanthogeorgis, SVP of digital marketing & media at Columbia Records, about just how huge and complex an undertaking it all was.

It involved leaving a convoluted trail of clues through videos, dusty corners of the internet and social media while also responding in real time to the Styles fanbase’s ability to crack clues (or not) and amending the rest of the campaign on the hoof as a result, giving them nudges in the right direction when required.

At the heart of it was an island called Eroda (“Adore” backwards) that had a mysterious backstory and its own curious tourist website that claimed there was “no land quite like it”. The more you dug into it and the more you found out about the attractions and read the testimonials, the denser and more disquieting it got.

This curious and unknowable island had a definite Wicker Man vibe to it and the attention to detail – with clues and allusions throughout – was so rich that the promoted ads purporting to be from the Eroda Tourism Board were enough to make Black Mirror fans think it was a teaser for a new series while gaming fans thought it was the set up to a new online game.

Harry Styles fans also rolled up their sleeves and went deep on trying to unlock the clues and make connections that required incredible esoteric knowledge, pooling resources and posting leads as they discovered them. And this was going on for months, everyone going deeper down the rabbit holes – and even digging some fresh ones themselves.

“They’re incredibly smart, they’re brilliant the way they pieced it all together,” said Xanthogeorgis of the fans and how they responded. “In this day and age when there is so much out there getting people to pay attention to one thing is really satisfying.”

We have seen complex marketing campaigns before for acts like for Boards Of Canada’s 2013 album Tomorrow’s Harvest. Or there was possibly the Palo Santo campaign for Years & Years last year. But we have not seen anything quite on this scale from a major international pop artist. It really is a remarkable piece of marketing that shows just how creative things can get.

Of course, this only works when you have a big budgets and a highly engaged audience who relish knowing everything about an act and will read enormous symbolism into everything they do. Even so, as a showcase for ambition in marketing, this will take some beating.

Eamonn Forde

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