The majority of the Arcade Fire’s career has been one marked by meteoric success. They formed in Montreal as the antithesis of everything happening with independent music in 2003 and the long history of rock music before it – whereas bands in New York were reviving the sounds of CBGB, wearing skinny jeans and leather jackets, the Arcade Fire were cramming horns, strings and revolutionary war bass drums on stage, wearing emotions on their (thrift store) sleeves and unleashing memorable sing-along choruses to their sweaty hordes of fans. They’ve since gone on to release a string of critically acclaimed albums, have headlined countless festivals and even snagged the Grammy for Album of the Year for “The Suburbs.”
That is, until the release of their most recent record, “Everything Now.” Though the new record treads similar territory to that of their previous record, “Reflektor” – orchestral U2-esque rock giving way to Haitian rhythms and chilly electronica – what’s changed this time is the promotional cycle, which many fans and critics received poorly.
It’s no secret that with the advent of Napster, pirating and streaming, the once-mighty music industry has been sapped of its clout, and as a result many record labels are turning to sponsorships and crossovers to make up for lost profits. The Arcade Fire changed labels, moving from indie mainstay Merge to Columbia Records for “Everything Now.” The move plus the subsequent marketing campaign that came with the new label was enough to turn off a large portion of their fanbase.
The band’s official Twitter account sent tweets and interacted with several large brands including, but not limited to, Monsanto, KFC and Midas. The tone was playful, if not snarky, but whatever was lying behind the social media shenanigans remained blurry – was this a move to tie in the album’s theme of rampant consumerism and need-it-now attitude in the modern age? I think it’s very likely – the band does have a history of some political activism and social commentary – however if that were the case, why would the brands agree to play along? Wouldn’t the tongue-in-cheek tone of the content reflect poorly on brand messaging? And wouldn’t the people in charge of the brands’ social media accounts have taken that into consideration?
The other option is that they were they genuine tie-ins with a too-cool-for-this attitude – did the label force the band to interact with brands like Monsanto to make up for lost album sales? Would the band have interacted with them if they’d remained on Merge? I highly doubt they would, which is what makes the entire campaign feel cynical – a band whose most recognizable song is titled “Wake Up” shaking hands with Monsanto for record label revenue…ouch. Most likely, it’s a combination of the two, but regardless of intent, the messaging comes across garbled and whatever the band/label was trying to accomplish feels half-baked.
Marketers should take note and treat this awkward stab at corporate tie-ins as a cautionary tale. When finding crossovers for branding, make sure the brand and the content match the interests of the artist/celebrity you’re associating it with. It’s crucial that the consumer walks away understanding the connection between the promotion and the artist – leaving people scratching their heads is not an effective strategy. And finally, consistency of tone matters – some lightheartedness goes a long way, but if the person or people promoting your brand seem to look down upon your product or the people that associate with it, perhaps it’s not the right fit.