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Are Jay-Z Style Surprise Album Releases the Future for Marketing Major Artists?

If you were watching game five of the NBA Finals (and didn’t walk away during the commercials), you were the first to see the now viral Jay-Z/Samsung commercial, during which Jay-Z casually drops that his new album will be released July 4.

The 3-minute video is essentially an ad for Jay-Z’s new album Magna Carta Holy Grail and for Samsung, which has purchased 1 million copies of the album to be distributed to Samsung users 72 hour prior to its official release.

Yet the documentary-style ad is not your traditional marketing fare. It has an intimate, candid feel, as if the viewer is just a fly on the wall, watching music icons Jay-Z, Rick Rubin, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, and Timbaland hanging out, chatting and creating music in the studio.

Heather Torres, Full Sail’s Department Chair for the Entertainment Business Bachelor of Science degree program, called it a great example of guerrilla marketing.

“The goal of guerrilla marketing is to get people’s attention in an unconventional way,” points out Torres. “I was impressed with the creative delivery of Jay-Z and Samsung’s message, and I’m sure we will see more companies and artists using guerrilla-type tactics to connect with their target market in the future.”

In fact, the surprise announcement and incredibly short window of time between the announcement and album release is not unlike tactics undertaken recently by Justin Timberlake, Kanye West and David Bowie.

In May, West tantalized fans with his cryptic tweet ‘June Eighteen,’ which turned out to be the release date of his latest album Yeezus. Justin Timberlake kept hush-hush about work on his album The 20/20 Experience, and only barely hinted that he was back in the studio weeks before he released the album’s first single “Suit & Tie.” And David Bowie recently blindsided music followers (many of whom thought he was long retired) when he announced the release of a single from his new album The Next Day and posted a video to his website, without any prior fanfare.

In Jay-Z’s case, the video commercial, created in partnership with Samsung, is intended to look decidedly un-commercial.

“Unlike traditional advertising, this approach is meant to convey authenticity and, in many ways, is an extension of the product,” says Israel Vasquetelle, Course Director for the Music Business and Entertainment Business Bachelor of Science degree programs. “The biggest risk for marketers that embrace this strategy is to avoid presenting content that is perceived as contrived or a thinly disguised sales pitch.”

We get a sense of what Jay-Z is up to with his comments in the video: “We don’t have any rules; that’s why we’re trying to figure it out. The Internet’s like the Wild West. The Wild, Wild West. We need to write the new rules.”

Of course, Jay-Z and other major artists have the clout to rewrite the marketing rules because people pay attention to their every move. Smaller artists have to play by the old rules of putting in a more vigorous and lengthy promotional effort or risk being completely overlooked.

What do you think?

Do you think these surprise tactics work? Are you more likely to buy an album that generates buzz because of its novel arrival? Do you think this is what’s required in an increasingly content-saturated world, and should we expect to see more stealth album announcements by other major artists? Do you think this type of marketing could itself get old?

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