Trend Watch: Stripping Away the Tease

As a film and general pop culture fan, I’m always interested in, and often enjoy, the latest trends in entertainment. But, as a marketing and communications professional, I’ll admit that one recent trend has me a bit concerned. In some instances, celebrities are surprising audiences by releasing their latest album, TV show or movie with little or no prior promotion. Which has me wondering: what are the implications for marketing?

But first, a few examples of what I’m referencing. Most musicians spend a lot of time talking about their upcoming albums long before the albums actually drop. Fans typically know the album title and delivery date well in advance. Not so Beyoncé fans. Queen Bey has been known to deliver entire albums with no advance notice whatsoever; she delivered her self-titled fifth album via iTunes in December 2013 just this way. What’s more, lack of pre-promotion did nothing to hurt the album’s sales; it debuted atop the Billboard charts.

Nor is Bey the only celebrity opting not to pre-promote. Earlier this year, comic Louis C.K., star of the critically acclaimed FX show Louie, debuted an entirely new series called Horace and Pete via his web site without any prior promotion. The comedian alerted his fans to the arrival of the show, which costars Steve Buscemi, via email. You read that right: email.

Even director J.J. Abrams, who helmed a highly publicized little film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is not averse to springing new work on his fans. His latest film is called 10 Cloverfield Lane and is a sequel of sorts to his 2008 monster flick Cloverfield. The new movie was produced under a fake title, and its trailer debuted with no advance word to the entertainment press. Of course, a trailer is itself promotion, but the point is, the film was completed and ready for release before fans even knew it was coming. In the internet age, that does not happen very often.

So what does this curious trend of skipping pre-promotion mean from a marketing perspective? A couple of thoughts spring to mind. First, not pre-promoting an album, TV show, or movie is really only feasible when the responsible party is already very well known. Beyoncé can get away with surprising her fans because she has so darn many of them in the first place. Could an unknown singer release an album online at midnight, as she did, and have any reasonable hope of it being noticed, much less becoming a huge seller? That’s about as likely as me winning a Grammy next year.

But while absence of pre-promotion may not be feasible in most instances, having lots of content ready to be consumed before promotion begins is very doable. And, I would argue, a very good marketing strategy: don’t make your audience wait. The true genius behind what Louis C.K. is doing with his pop-up web series is that he is not asking audiences to hear him talk about the show before being able to see it (as is typically the case when celebrities hit the talk show circuit to promote their latest projects, coming next week, month, or year). Instead, he’s meeting the demands of our instant gratification culture by stripping away the tease. His fans hear about the series and can watch episodes immediately. No delay, no chance for the audience to forget or get distracted by someone else’s offering. And that’s marketing brilliance, in any medium.

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