Remaining relevant for more than a decade is an unusual feat for a Pop icon, but Madonna certainly pulled it off for quite a long time. Over the years, she credibly re-invented herself and found her way back into the spotlight long after many would have expected her career to have waned. For her latest release “MDNA” her marketing team pulled out all of the stops, mounting a marketing push that included both traditional and digital media. Beyond her Super Bowl performance, traditional radio promotions and television advertising, Madonna heavily promoted the MDNA album through a well-orchestrated digital campaign and social media blitz. That campaign, however, appears to have failed to deliver substantial music sales after a promising first week.
We imagine that Madonna’s team hired all the best “social media experts” for this project. Did those experts make some sort of social blunder, or is there a larger branding lesson here? As we’ll explain, the answer is likely a bit of both.
Madonna’s social media blitz included her first appearance on Twitter where she tweeted for just one day only but promised to answer each and every fan question. Our question is whether this tactic generated an authentic connection with fans on there, or whether Madonna’s team misunderstood how consumers really use this platform, “shouting” there rather than engaging in real interaction with today’s music fans.
This certainly comes off as a social blunder. It appears Madonna couldn’t shake her 1980s values when she signed up for Twitter. Twitter isn’t a megaphone; it’s more like a whisper. It’s not a place for shouting. Rather, Twitter credibility is built over a long period of time. You don’t just show up at the party and grab the microphone. You have to get into the groove. You start a conversation subtly, and if you have something relevant to say, like-minded people “follow” you. Madonna didn’t follow those rules of engagement. Instead she came across like a virgin on Twitter, undermining her modern Pop icon credibility.
Lady Gaga, who many argue has replaced Madonna as today’s en vogue Pop icon, followed those rules and now has 23.5 million+ Twitter followers. Lady Gaga is the Digital Diva. Which may highlight a deeper branding lesson here. Despite Madonna’s incredible ability to reinvent herself, her brand is indelibly marked as “80s.” She defines that decade. Perhaps her brand cannot mean Twitter/Facebook/Digitally Enlightened in the minds of today’s music consumers? If her brand is borderline old, making the long leap to digitally hip is a tall order in a short timeframe.
Another potential mistake is that Madonna tried to be everywhere at once. Although you would think that being in consumers’ line of sight everywhere they turn would be a good thing, in the digital age it can come across as disingenuous to bombard the digital (especially social) media platforms. In addition to Madonna’s Twitter session, she had a one-night livestream interview with Jimmy Fallon on Facebook, sold her digital album in partnership with Smirnoff, Fab.com and Spotify with special versions and/or reduced prices on each, debuted an iPad app and ran contests on Spotify and Flickr for concert tickets. All of this might have worked fine had she not gone from zero to 100 in her social media engagement so obviously—All the digital marketing dollars in the world can’t buy you love or authenticity, and today’s savvy consumers ultimately saw right through these social media ploys to the profit-driven purpose. Being seen as a Material Girl this time might not be a good thing.
Madonna’s digital campaign also created another potential challenge to Madonna’s authenticity as she dressed up her “Girl Gone Wild” video to meet YouTube’s content restrictions. After YouTube restricted her “Girl Gone Wild” video due to some quite sexified content, her team created a cleaner version to follow the rules (likely to avoid missing out on the promotional benefits of this ultra popular platform). That cleanup job would have been okay for most artists, but when your brand image is built on being the queen of breaking the rules, following the rules made it look like she’d sold out even more for the sake of promotion. Can a girl legitimately go wild when she censors herself?
Finally, digital promotions aside, the MDNA album itself may not have lived up to consumer expectations. The album was offered free with purchase of Madonna concert tickets—and it appears 180,000+ ticket buyers chose not to receive the album—which makes one wonder if the album itself needed some work. Madonna herself said: “Music makes the people come together;” all the promotions in the world can’t make the people come together if the music doesn’t. The Pop world used to be Madonna’s playground, but is she now destined to be a tour act based on her extraordinarily popular catalog preferences vs. a modern Pop hit maker? Seeing how well her recent tour has sold makes this not sound too shabby, but it is a branding item to consider as she moves forward.
So while Madonna’s first week on the charts and dazzle of digital promotions seemed like a deck stacked to win, in the end, we’d argue her approach ultimately needed smoother integration into her brand and a better feeling of authenticity to succeed and perhaps a little less all at once. Her latest escapade exemplifies that heaping on digital hype without the proper approach may initially inflate you to the top, but it’s a risky investment that may just save your troubles for another day. To stay on top, ultimately, you must stay true to your brand and express yourself authentically in the language of consumers.