Gini Dietrich

Weird Al Teaches PR Pros a Thing or Two

By: Gini Dietrich | July 29, 2014 | 

Weird Al Teaches PR Pros a Thing or TwoBy Gini Dietrich

If you’ve seen me speak on the topic of Spin Sucks (the book), you already know I have a fantastic case study about PR, sex, and Miley Cyrus.

I mean, sex sells (when you’re selling sex) and Miley is a really great example of how, when done well, it truly works.

(I also really love starting a speech with, “Let’s talk about sex” and watch everyone’s eyes light up.)

Well, now I have a new brilliant PR case study to throw into the mix.

That is one of Mr. Weird Al Yankovic.

Weird Al, of course, is best known for poking fun at the late Michael Jackson with his song, “Eat It,” sung to the tune of “Beat It.”

More than 30 years later, Weird Al is back and in full force. This time because he wanted to prove his record label wrong. The record label that told him they’d release no more of his songs.

Weird Al Launches #8Videos8Days

His latest album (album #14), Mandatory Fun, was released on July 15.

To prove his record label wrong and promote the new album, he launched #8videos8days, which released one music video per day for eight days straight.

That’s cool in and of itself, but here’s the really interesting part: He partnered with one website per day and gave them each a video exclusively. Websites such as Funny or Die, The Wall Street Journal, College Humor, and The Nerdist.

So, you know, kind of a big deal, particularly with the audiences of each of those sites.

There were nearly 4,000 articles (4,001 with this one) written about him in that eight-day period (we even featured Word Crimes in Gin and Topics two weeks ago), which generated more than three million social media shares.

But, not one to get too hung up on the vanity metrics, I looked to see what else he accomplished.

Lo and behold! Mandatory Fun debuted at the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200, which was a first for Weird Al…ever.

More than 30 years of performing. Lots of fun songs. A well-known name. And it takes a traditional business to tell you no for you to look at things differently and knock it completely out of the park.

What He Did

Following is a breakdown of how he managed this:

  • Pre-campaign buzz. On June 16, he released, ‘Transmission,” a teaser that lives on his YouTube channel. After that, he released three more Transmission videos‚—#2 was on June 27, #3 was on July 7, and #4 was on July 11—to stay top-of-mind.
  • Launch of #8videos8days. On July 14, the day before Mandatory Fun premiered, Weird Al released “Tacky,” a parody of Pharrell’s “Happy.” This ran exclusively on The Nerdist.
  • Mandatory Fun is released. With the release of his 14th album on July 15, Weird Al also released the video for “Word Crimes,” which is a parody of “Blurred Lines.” It also, according to Mr. D., is my theme song because bad grammar makes me crazy. He also participated in a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”), which is super risky and very cool.
  • College Humor release. On July 16, Weird Al worked exclusively with College Humor to release, “Foil,” a parody of “Royals.”
  • Yahoo! Screen gets a shot. On July 17, “Handy,” a parody of “Fancy,” was released with Yahoo! Screen.
  • Funny or Die is next. On July 18, he released “Sports Song,” an original piece that was produced by the humor website.
  • First World Problems. We all joke about our own “First World Problems” and Weird Al partnered with Pop Crush to make fun of our whiny “issues” on July 19.
  • Another original song. “Lame Claim to Fame” came out on July 20, which is in the style of Southern Culture on the Skids.
  • Last day! The final day—July 21—of the brilliant PR campaign had the release of “Mission Statement,” another original song that pokes fun at corporate lingo (kind of like our internal game of corporate Bingo!). It was released on Speakeasy, a blog that lives with The Wall Street Journal.

All of that…and the songs were all free, which means you don’t have to buy the album to get them.

That sorts of seems counterproductive, but as Louis CK proved before him, it works.

What You Can Learn

About a month ago, Andy Crestodina had a blog post run with The Guardian titled, “Search Engines Are Changing.”

Setting aside the fact that it’s a guest post on one of the most remarkable sites in the world, Sean McGinnis said:

Andy officially wins the SEO game. Whatever you or I or anyone else did today is completely invalid. Guest post on The Guardian. Link back to his own site using anchor text of “SEO best practices.”

Andy acted very humble about it, in his typical fashion, but what he did there was brilliant.

He partnered with a high-authority site to write interesting and educational content that provided the very valuable linkback to his site.

It’s the same thing Weird Al did with this album launch.

He found the sites where his audiences already hang out and he worked a deal with them.

He took the Brandscaping mantra of, “Who has your next customer as their current customer?” and exploited it (in a good way).

Think about that from your perspective the next time you launch something big: Who has your next customer as their current customer?

Go build a partnership with them and introduce your organization to new audiences.

If Weird Al can do it, so can you.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Weird Al has always, I think, been a marketing genius, particularly in his use of videos to promote his work. I find it odd the label wouldn’t pay for any videos given Weird Al’s success at using videos over the years.

    In one article, he talked about how MTV has changed from what it was in the 80s, making it a not terribly viable platform for using video to promote artists.

    This is just part of the evolution and he handled it quite brilliantly.

  • ClayMorgan We were just talking about the same thing happening at The Food Network. They’re more interested in game shows than in cooking shows.

  • How oh how have I missed “mission statement”??!! Fabulous points, Gini. The whole process Al ( <- not that we are on a first name basis … ) used is a case study in discarding assumptions and really thinking through how to do what you need/want to do.

  • Weird All absolutely ROCKS – and this stunt he just pulled proves what I’ve always said about him – he’s not just a parody guy – he’s brilliant! People forget that he’s been doing this since wayyyy before his Michael Jackson fame, early ’70’s in fact. Then in 1979 he released “My Bologna” (a parody of The Knack’s My Sharona) and in 1980 “Another One Rides the Bus” (from Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust). We’re used to today’s YouTube world, with talking animals, Bad Lip Reading, and music/song mashups. But never forget, that before all of that, there was Weird Al Yankovic. Blazing the trail. It appears he’s still blazing it.

  • Everything is a channel now. LITERALLY EVERYTHING

  • So who is this Weird guy and how is he connected with a famous beer brewer SeanMcGinnis and crestodina the famous toothpaste brand to talk about….SEO?
    I love the case study. I also love that these things are so random and unrepeatable when it comes to social media. The key is the stuff has to be good. If the songs were lame the effort is dead in the water (haven’t watched them yet).. You can’t get people to do something on social just to flip the bird at the establishment. 
    But that doesn’t mean this wasn’t a really smart strategy. I guess my curious mind wants to know how many views came from the sites the videos were launched on vs ‘Hey I watched this on Funny or Die and now sharing on twitter or facebook or email’
    because that is a very important question. getting into say the You Tube top trending videos isn’t really a feat of being viral because once there discovery is via You Tube not via other people. My last blog post which was really focused on consumer brands in stores discussed how distribution trumps everything you could ever do in marketing…and Weird Al set up distribution up front. He set up tens of millions of eye balls who go to those sites every day and most brands can never get that without paying millions in advertising.

  • Sadly my next blog post focused on how to get distribution for your product won’t help anyone in the music industry!

  • I believe after society breaks down, the world be comprised of two groups of people. One, the overwhelming majority, will be enslaved by squirrels. The rest will rebuild society based on the teaching of Weird Al Yankovic. These people will be known as “The Yankovicians”.

  • OMG Happy is Pharrell? I always thought it was Bruno Mars. shows how much I know pop music LOL I hate that song! lol

  • ginidietrich, digging this. I especially enjoy how artists bands are trying to market themselves these days. Who can make their album release cooler and more innovative than the next guy? Whether it’s Coldplay releasing their track “Midnight” at Midnight without telling anyone or Weird Al partnering with sites that help compliment his brand. It’s totally thought out and honestly unexpected. Weird Al is really a comical marketing genius.
    On a similar note, U2 hasn’t released an album in 5 years and you can bet the songs are ready to go at this point, but the integrated marketing effort is still being worked on. Will it be an integrated social media blitz? Who will they partner with? What rooftop will they show up on in broad daylight? What will they help invent to make their music more accessible and meaningful to people. Remember the iPod…

  • MikeHale Gini will be a Yannkovician. I’d bet good money on it.

  • Matt_Cerms I didn’t know that about U2. That’ll be super interesting to watch!

  • Matt_Cerms I didn’t know that about U2. That’ll be super interesting to watch!

  • Howie Goldfarb How can you hate that song?! It’s so HAPPY!

  • biggreenpen MikeHale You’re right, Paula. Because I hate squirrels.

  • Todd Lyden Even my desk!

  • belllindsay He’s totally blazing it and doing it brilliantly.

  • biggreenpen I actually read a blog post about his release of videos and the blogger kept calling him Al. It was a little over-the-top.

  • I knew about the eight songs in eight days from Twitter. I saw everyone talking about it and I even shared “Word Crimes” a few times, but I had no idea the marketing genius behind all of this.
    I do have a question about the second part of the post. You wrote, “He partnered with a high-authority site to write interesting and educational content that provided the very valuable linkback to his site.”

    I thought most sites used “No Follow” on their links so as not to give SEO credit to other sites.

  • ginidietrich Howie Goldfarb I love that song!! Have you seen the dog video version. It makes me so….happy!

  • I loved the videos! And, the corresponding campaign was brilliant. Word Crimes is my favorite – it’s the anthem for grammarians and word nerds everywhere! I think it’s the modern version of “conjunction junction” from SchoolHouse Rock! I hope teachers and professors start using it. 🙂

  • This is genius. The coordination with the other sites is just awesomely done. Music marketing as a whole has taken a crazy amazing step forward in the last decade, which makes it really fun to follow. I think the “democratization” of music helped changed the game and redefine how these musicians get their name and sound out there. The result has been fun to watch.

  • ginidietrich Being a huge fan, it is certainly my suspicion with everything I’ve read. Exciting for sure!

  • ginidietrich Love your case studies! They are so detailed and insightful (and, yes, you grabbed my attention right away at the Integrate Conference with your opening line about sex). I noticed Weird Al was coming back (shared his Word Crimes just last week), but I had no idea it was so directed. I like his new material even more now knowing what a musical and marketing genius he is. Thanks for sharing and always looking forward to your next case study.

  • I think we should do a follow up about consistent branding. Anyone remember that one time Weird Al cut his hair and looked normal? It was not OK.

  • JoshuaJLight

    Channel marketing is the fastest way to get traction (from what I’ve seen).  Great move by Weird Al.  Fantastic media pitch too…I’m going to prove my record label wrong.  No wonder it’s gotten so much attention.

  • Eleanor Pierce LOL! I don’t remember that.

  • MonicaMillerRodgers It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? A totally integrated program. I’m going to steal some of this for our clients.

  • lauraclick SchoolHouse Rock. LOL!!

  • LauraPetrolino I think the same is happening to journalism and there hasn’t been anything this brilliant yet.

  • JoshuaJLight Revenge is a great motivator! (Fun to see you keep coming back to join the conversation!)

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight can’t help myself.  Great site.  The best I’ve found in this area.  You’re killing it 🙂

  • JoshuaJLight

    Eleanor Pierce ginidietrich I was about to post that…haha.

  • Josh Williams

    ClayMorgan That demonstrates the difference in the mindset of Weird Al vs the studio in this case. The studio looks at spending money on Weird Al videos on MTV and says “not gonna happen” because look at the traditional outlets for video.

    Weird Al looks and says “of course MTV isn’t gonna happen, but there are a ton of successful parody videos online”, just not on traditional channels.

    He’s also stated that this may be his final studio album for similar reasons. Weird Al seems to understand the changing nature of the industry and is adjusting accordingly.

  • Josh Williams

    There’s also a ton of more guerrilla-style online canvassing at play on sites like Reddit. These videos are great successes in their own right, but the machine that is Weird Al’s marketing team extends even further.

    Great to see a fun and unique artist continue to defy expectations.

  • Josh Williams I’d be scared to death to do an AMA so I’m always pleased to see it work so well.

  • JoshuaJLight I wasn’t fishing for a compliment, but I’ll take it! Thank you!

  • JoshuaJLight Eleanor Pierce OMG

  • Josh Williams ClayMorgan Josh you make a great point. I think the establishment in Movies, Music, and Books, are in trouble because they can’t see the forest for the trees.
    Hulu is producing some of my favorite shows. Traditional publishing is becoming the new “Vanity Publishing”.
    Weird Al can afford to do everything himself, so why not keep all the profits?

  • ExtremelyAvg Kind of like what you’re doing with book publishing!

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight I know you weren’t 🙂  BUT you deserve it.  Seriously.  Keep it up.

  • JoshuaJLight Where in Utah are you? I grew up there. My mom is in SLC, a sister in Provo, and a brother in Sandy.

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight currently in Logan, but am in SLC 3 days out of the week.  Where did you grow up?  Utah is pretty rad.  Great outdoor scene.  Downtown Chicago is awesome though.  I’m jealous.

  • JoshuaJLight Maddox territory! Mmmmmm.

    We moved a lot when I was a kid so I’ve lived in Ogden, Provo, Orem, Bountiful, SLC. You name it, I’ve lived there. But not in Logan. We visited a lot because we had family there.

    Chicago is awesome. We live four blocks from Wrigley Field. I wouldn’t trade it for Utah, but I get really, really homesick starting in October through March (skiing). I get home three or four times a year.

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight Ahhhhh Maddox.  

    It’s tough to beat the outdoor scene.  I grew up in Montana…so I love the mountains.  Biking, snowboarding, white water rafting 🙂
    We’ll have to hit the slopes next time you drop by.  What’s your favorite mountain?

  • JoshuaJLight I usually ski Snowbird or Alta because they’re close. I also love Deer Valley because, well, I’m a snob.

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight oooohhhh Deer Valley.  One day.  One day.

    Where do you go hiking?  I haven’t done much in the SLC area.  Most of my hiking in Utah has been around Logan.  I did just run Desolation Canyon, and did some hikes around there.

  • ginidietrich Josh Williams I suspect you’d probably do a great AMA Gini. They seem to go well when they feature someone who is honest, works hard at what they do, and is not afraid to talk about the gritty stuff. All of which you handily qualify for.

  • ginidietrich JoshuaJLight Eleanor Pierce YES. Weird Al unplugged is one of the best things that happened in the 90s

  • JoshuaJLight I’ll come do that with you. That sounds awesome to me! And then we can go to Maddox.

  • JoeCardillo But they’re also really snarky and mean!

  • LauraPetrolino And isn’t it nice to see one of the good people crush it?! Weird Al is a great musician, but he’s also just a decent human being and cares deeply about the people he interacts with on all levels.

  • ginidietrich JoeCardillo True. But I’d argue that’s most at play when there’s a divide between who someone says they are and what they actually do.

  • JoshuaJLight

    ginidietrich JoshuaJLight deal!  Except we can’t do Desolation.  It’s a week long rafting trip…haha.

  • ginidietrich ExtremelyAvg Yep. 🙂 I love my life. I just signed my first Spanish translation deal yesterday for Henry Wood Detective Agency.

  • ExtremelyAvg I saw that!

  • TaraFriedlundGeissinger

    belllindsay I’ve always thought his songs were brilliant, but honestly thought he sort of fell off the face of the earth until last week. Then he seemed to be everywhere. Well done Weird Al! Well done.

  • Interesting details about Weird Al. I see that one can actually learn
    a good lesson of persistence despite all discouraging odds. Its pretty
    important that this is practiced by marketers who may want to make a
    difference in their online business.
    Although I hardly know about Weird Al before reading this post but I am inspired to checkout his full story!
    I upvoted this post in kingged where it was shared for online marketers and bloggers.

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  • I never thought I would say this about a man who is 54 with quite a questionable unchanging hair-do, but this man deserves a damn standing ovation. Such a brilliant campaign launch and WOW the amount of successful coverage he has received, not to mention the snub to his label. I suppose spending years in the music industry has really taught him how to accurately time his next plan of attack on diluted mainstream media and remind us all how embarrassingly shameless we have all become. The man has the brain of a marketing/PR genius! I assume this is from a lifelong career battling the mainstream industry, this time he is targeting the online audience that since has not even known he existed before “word-crimes” or “Tacky”. We almost owe it to his tactics as marketing and PR professionals to buy the album.

  • labraham400 I’ll give him a standing ovation with you!

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  • susancellura

    Great case study! Thanks for sharing.