What High Art + Hotline Bling Mean About Your Failed Marketing Campaigns

The above photo is a James Turrell installation. James Turrell is a light artist. I experienced this particular installation in person on a trip to Japan.

I was touring art museums and galleries all over Japan back in 2009. I hadn’t encountered a James Turrell installation yet. But he immediately became my favorite artist.

When I walked into the show area, the museum tour guide motioned for me to walk up the steps. From the floor, it appeared that there was a peculiar blue screen in the wall. It was bright and the light quality wasn’t like anything I’d seen. I thought it was some kind of high resolution OLED or Plasma screen. But there was no border.

I walked up the steps and stood with my face just inches from the blue light. The Japanese tour guide, knowing that my Japanese was limited, motioned for me to move forward. As her hand crossed the plane of the wall and the blue light, I realized that I was staring at a room. One that you could walk into.

I took initial steps. Apprehensive and overwhelmed. There were no seams. No corners. It felt like an infinite space. I almost lost touch with the floor itself. I was moved. I was inspired. I was in awe. I’ll never forget that experience and how I felt.

What That Has To Do With Marketing And Hotline Bling

Now that I mention it you may recall the music video for Drake’s song Hotline Bling, where he awkwardly showcases some of his more eccentric dance moves in rooms filled with dynamic and vibrant colored lights.

The inspiration was no doubt from James Turrell and there was very little attempt to hide that if the artist wasn’t directly involved himself.

The visual of the music video was immediately note worthy. It felt new and on a higher plane than usual rap video lasciviousness. The set design alone was note worthy.

But the dancing was meme worthy.

The song itself was a radio hit. People liked the song. It tied with a #1 record on the US Hot R&B/Hiphop Songs for 8 weeks. It reached number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and the US Mainstream Top 40. It was a crossover hit.

But the memes. Oh the memes. Just check some of these out.

Memes spread very fast because people love to be entertained.

Surely, the combination of the high art inspired visuals, the song, the man, and the memes conspired together to make this song a huge hit and in short a master class case study in marketing.

Your marketing might be failing because you do not understand what the music industry understands about their buyers.

Let’s take three lessons from this.

1. Good Marketing Is A Culture Thing

Seth Godin defined marketing as “anything that moves the culture forward”. We talk about things that interest us and that will make us seem interesting. Interest is valuable and when we share with others we let them know that we want to be a contributing member of their community.

As social creatures we need friends and allies for safety and in order to thrive. Capturing interest helps you make friends because it peaks curiosity and attention. And attention is the game.

It’s obvious how popular music and celebrity influences culture. It’s less obvious how high art is influencing the influencers of popular culture but to those who pay attention this is already known.

But how can business and marketing tap in to that same attention grabbing allure while trying to sell product?

2. Separate The Marketing From The Transaction

A music video is not a product. Yet the record label will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars producing a music video. Why? You cannot buy a music video. It is consumed for free. You may recoup the costs from ads shown on YouTube. But it is really a piece of marketing collateral.

The aim of the music video is to get you to hear a sample of the record. The record gets packaged and sold, and the more you listen to the record the more likely you are to buy tickets to the concert to see the artist live.

The music video did not have to say “buy my album”. The music video did not have to link to a click funnel. The music video simply contributed to the culture. It didn’t ask for anything in return. But if the audience wants more of it, they will figure out where to find more.

With the music video standing alone as a work of pop art, referential to high art, there is no distraction made by a transactional plea to make a purchase. The artist freely gives and the audience feels obliged to reciprocate by purchasing the thing that is behind the paywall. The audience is fine with seeking for the purchase on their marketplaces of choice or even on the artist’s owned marketplace.

3. Be Searchable On A Marketplace And Better Yet, Make Your Own

A marketplace is candidly different than a venue. A venue is just a place where something happens that involves people. This could be a physical space or it could be a digital space. Generally speaking, the venue’s purpose is to take part in an experience. People may make purchases secondarily. But those purchases have to make sense.

We’ll keep with the music analogy. At a concert, people are their to watch the music. They will get hungry or thirsty and may buy food and drink to satisfy the demands of their body or the desire to be…well, lubricated. They may buy memorabilia to remember the experience. But they are not there expressly to buy drinks and merch. They are there for the experience.

I think of this on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube. Those aren’t marketplaces. They are venues. Digital realms where people gather together to have an experience.

A marketplace is more like Amazon, and even Google search, a website, review sites, a store.

A marketplace is also a place (physical/digital) where people gather but the purpose isn’t to have an experience. The purpose is to make a purchase. The experience is secondary albeit important.

Getting yourself on a marketplace whether it is privately owned and you keep all of the profits from sales or it is third-party owned and you essentially sell your product or services wholesale, you must do it and you must make that distinction.

If you can capture attention in the right way at your venue, and offer your audience something of self standing, and inherent value without an overt pitch. Without the distraction of a transaction. You will actually capture interest enough to invite people to be a part of your culture.

When they begin to self-identify as a person who is in alignment with your cultural identity traits and they say to themselves “I am the kind of person who uses that product” that is when they will seek you out on the marketplace they are used to going to.

It may be easy to think that the place they are going to is more often than not Google and that you must optimize for SEO and run Google ads to ensure top placement and you are not wrong. But that isn’t the entirety of the story. They are going to Google primarily because their browser has their default search engine set to Google. But look at your website analytics. How many of your views are listed as “direct” or “none”? Meaning that the visitor just typed in your url.

The URL bar is now, in most browsers indistinguishable from search. On your iPhone in safari when you type in the url bar it is both performing a search and listening for a direct url. If it appears to the system that you are typing a URL, only after one letter will it produce a Top Hit along with Google Search results. That top hit will take your direct to the site.

This is important to understand because for one, SEO and your own browser history influences what shows up first. Two, people do go to their browsers in search of the companies that have brand marketing and content marketing that is influencing them to research more or make a purchase. Meaning they are bypassing search results to find the brands that they want to support. Three, brand recall is much more important when it comes to the overall strategy because of the natural way that buyers buy. They aren’t always interested in following an elaborate click funnel. They may. But usually your audience is a lot smarter than that.

We have to get used to the idea that today’s consumer is looking for things by name more than they are looking for things by product category. You may read that last statement and think the data doesn’t match such a statement. I thought that too until I did a keyword volume search for my product category and compared the top keyword to the brand name of our largest competitor.

People searching for our largest competitor dwarfed the category descriptor keyword by a factor of 16x.

People are searching for the brand in a marketplace more than they are searching for the problem that the brand solves.

Think about when voice gets mass adoption and the three powers that be, Google, Amazon, and Apple control who gets pushed to the top. For the people who search by category, the top hit is what will be chosen by the customer. But to the tune of 16x in my previous example, for every one person that searches by category, 16 people are searching by brand.

The brand that makes the biggest impression and causes the biggest splash gets the search.

Pulling It All Together

The things in this world that get the most attention are rarely transactional but instead they focus on creating a cultural shift. They take inspiration from the beautiful things in life. The art whose sole ambition isn’t the transaction but it is to move people and create a statement on our culture.

When borrowing from the world of art, the commercial entity can pay respectful homage as long as they are patient. As long as they are willing to provide an appropriate and worthwhile experience in a venue and ensure that they are accessible on the marketplaces that their audience is willing to purchase.

Torlando Hakes, is the author of the book Sprint and host of such podcasts as The CTA Podcast, and The PaintED Show. Torlando is open to meeting new friends and building a community of like-minded peers. You can jump on his calendar for a 1–1 anytime for advice, to share networks, for podcast interviews, and for help getting more bookings.

Join the CTA Slack Community Group to find more people like you.

Content sponsored by Periodic.is



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Torlando Hakes

Torlando Hakes

Author of Sprint | Craftsman Painter