It’s buzz, baby.

When “Do I Make You Proud,” Taylor Hicks’ obligatory saccharine Idol coronation song, hit the market, some of the more rabid members of the Soul Patrol concocted a marketing scheme. Driven by a fervent desire to see DIMYP go gold (which it did), some fans congregated on the official Idol boards and planned campaigns to purchase multiple copies of the single, whether it was for personal use, or whether the plan was to distribute the song to charities, hospital wards, or even overseas troops. In fact, to this day, one poster rather famously (or infamously) posts a daily status report of DIMYP’s position on…almost a full six months after the song’s initial release.

A couple of us had a real problem with this. First of all, the idea of sending what was essentially a novelty single to charities that probably would have preferred the cash money (so they could do, you know, charitable stuff) was simply absurd. Second, the song really did kind of suck. Third, and most importantly, the purchasing drive was entirely self-contained (meaning it never really left the AI boards), thus creating an artificial inflation of the sales figure. Yes, DIMYP got its gold certification, but how much of that is due to people like the woman who claimed to have bought 2000 copies? Was that number really a reflection of Taylor’s popularity? Was his Idol victory, for that matter? And did it even really matter?

Today, Gray Charles posted “A Call to Charge“–a similar (yet at the same time very different) effort. In exchange for the incentive of autographed copies of Taylor’s CD, Gray is calling upon his faithful blog posters to pre-order enough copies to move the debut up to the Top 10 in’s Top Sellers list. (As of this posting, the album had jumped from #59 to #18.) Because Gray Charles is now Taylor’s official blog, the campaign has the potential to reach a larger (and arguably more mature and more intelligent) contingent of Taylor fans than did the DIMYP campaign.However, there are other differences between the two drives. The DIMYP campaign was a push to inflate the sales numbers for an already-released CD. In no way would the general buying public be aware of the Soul Patrol’s effort, nor would it likely ever care. The purchase of multiple copies of the single didn’t spur the general public to buy their own copies of the single, because 1) the campaign didn’t generate any independent advertising of the single and 2) you don’t need to buy your own disc if some eager Soul Patroller has already shoved a copy in your hand.

Gray’s drive, on the other hand, is all about the independent advertising. Buy pre-ordering extra copies of the CD (which can then be given out as holiday gifts), the SP’s goal isn’t to artificially inflate the sales numbers (as it was with DIMYP). Artificial inflation might be a side effect, but not really a huge concern here. Why? Consider this–it took a massive Internet campaign, in which only a few die-hard fans participated, to move a $3 single to the gold level. It’s going to take a heck of a lot more than that to push a $15 CD beyond Bo Bice sales numbers, and for an Idol alum, 500K in sales is hardly celebration-worthy.

So hot-air concerns aside, Gray’s campaign (unlike the DIMYP push) has the primary goal of getting Taylor advertising, the theory being that when holiday shoppers see the album in the top 10 at Amazon, they’ll order a few copies as Christmas and Chanukah gifts. And in theory, really, that’s no different than the album being advertised on the MySpace homepage, or on television, or most importantly, via the radio airplay that Taylor is likely to be denied (though whether the straight-up-pop number “Dream Myself Awake” will be well-received by the KISS-FMs of the world is yet to be seen). It’s marketing, it’s buzz, and it’s the power of the Internet. Sneaky and underhanded? No, because the goal is to get the mainstream purchasing public to take a look at the album, not to elevate it to RIAA certification on the backs of a few foaming-at-the-mouth fans with too much time and disposable income on their hands. Unconventional? Maybe, but unconventional marketing is becoming quite the norm in the entertainment industry, from word-of-mouth box office sensations like The Blair Witch Project and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Internet buzz can also get people talking about movies. Sometimes it works, and the film becomes a hit (Borat), and sometimes, despite the most valiant (or tongue-in-cheek) efforts, it’s a miss (Snakes on a Plane).

The fact of the matter is, thanks to the advent of the Internet, the blogging revolution, the gloriousness that is iTunes, and the use of message boards to bring together the otherwise geographically diverse in one central cyberspace location, payola-fed radio stations are no longer the sole determiners of what music we’re exposed to. Sure, Top 40 radio will always be formulaic, and MTV will always play videos of the pretty people (Bo’s hair sure was shiny in his “The Real Thing” video, wasn’t it?), but at the risk of sounding like a dirty pinko (hee), the people have a power now, and why not use it? Why not use pre-sale numbers to get extra advertising that Taylor might not otherwise get? Hell, why does it even matter whether or not he’s getting a push in the mainstream media (and he is)–why not give him more? Is it really any different than word-of-mouth buzz? It’s not–except that the word is coming from anonymous mouths.

So my final verdict is that Gray’s effort is a good thing. It’s advertising without a fancy account. It’s marketing without the blessing of ClearChannel. I’ll stop short of calling it “grass-roots,” because Gray has a contract with Taylor’s people now, so they’re no doubt in bed with this to an extent. But even they have to know that Taylor comes with a triple stigma–he’s an Idol (which means automatic backlash), he’s not mainstream pop (people didn’t vote for him because they thought “gee, I’d like to hear him turn out Timberlake-like synthed R&B”), and he can’t move albums with the Top-40 crowd based on a cover shot that reveals ripped abs or a low-cut neckline (which may not even be as powerful factors as they once were, despite the labels’ hesitancy to think otherwise: see Hogan, Brooke). Taylor’s people–and his fans–are smart to use alternative (and valid) means of advertising to boost his exposure to the mainstream.


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November 2006
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What the kids are sayin’

"I hate them all. The judges, TPTB, the blatant manipulation, the songs, the contestants, everything. I'm a die-hard Cook fan, but for the love of god, at least try to look like you're enjoying yourself up there! Please? Syesha was awesome but she ruined it by being completely shameless and disgusting. Yes, being on American Idol is exactly like the civil rights movement, except for the part where you're fighting to make the world a better place."

"All I can say after the disgusting display tonight of favoritism towards the mediocrity that is David A. - good luck trying to market and make money off of that kid, American Idol. (Not to mention good luck dealing with his father.) All the teeny boppers may buy up his American Idol coronation single, but they will quickly forget about him before the album comes out. And I shudder to think of a David A. album - song after song of unrelenting sameness and heavy breathing. Why they are pimping him for the win is beyond me."

"This show was simply a hot buttered mess tonight. And Jason "needs to be arrested for what he did to I Shot the Sheriff. But I hope he stays. He amuses me. "

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