NEW YORK, N.Y. – The release of a pop star’s album usually comes with the typical cross-marketing splash — strategic magazine covers, a few major TV appearances, and perhaps a cosmetics or fashion deal to remind the public a new project awaits.
Yet the social media-powered blitz connected to this week’s drop of Lady Gaga’s third album, “Born This Way,” is bordering on epic, with partnerships ranging from Starbucks to FarmVille, and virtual giveaways of the album’s 17 tracks. It also represents the kind of bold, new business model that could help rejuvenate a deflated music industry.
Gaga already had a slew of magazine covers, from Rolling Stone to Vogue, and appeared on every high profile show, from Oprah Winfrey to “American Idol” to “Saturday Night Live,” as well as her own HBO concert special.
But she hasn’t stopped there. Starbucks — typically home to easy-on-the-ears artists like Emmylou Harris — is selling her album as well as launching a “digital scavenger hunt” for Gaga-inspired goods; Google Chrome debuted a commercial with Gaga with a track from the album; the online fashion outlet Gilt Groupe partnered with Gaga to offer Gaga-inspired clothing and VIP performances; Best Buy is giving away the album to anyone who purchases a mobile phone with a contract; and Zynga, creator of the popular online game “FarmVille,” created “GagaVille,” which allowed fans access to exclusive Gaga songs.
As if that wasn’t enough, on Monday, Amazon.com sold “Born This Way” for just 99 cents as a promotion for their new music cloud service, creating a demand so strong it disrupted the online retailing giant’s servers for a time.
And it looks like the campaigns are paying off: Gaga’s album is estimated to sell anywhere between a half-million to a million copies when the top album charts are revealed next week.
“It was really about expanding the distribution on this album and going into as many non-traditional retail partnerships and non-traditional marketing partnerships as possible,” Gaga’s manager, Troy Carter, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Just with the diminishing music labels, you want to find quality partners where you know you can reach new audiences and being able to push boundaries as well.”
Among the promotions connected with “Born This Way” is the Disney Mobile Tapulous game Tap Tap Revenge, which gives fans access to the entire album and other content if they buy the game,”Born This Way Revenge,” for $4.99. It’s the first time Tapulous has put out 17 tracks with a game for that price.
Tim O’Brien, vice-president of business development at Disney Mobile, said this was the third deal with Gaga, resulting in the total sale of five million songs so far.
While they’ve worked with other pop artists with their Tap Tap Revenge app, he said Gaga — who has 10 million followers on Twitter and was recently crowned Forbes’ most influential celebrity in part because of her tens of millions of followers online — is an act with unique appeal.
“I’ve never seen anything as powerful as when Gaga hits her social media channels compared to anyone else that we’ve worked with,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of how she’s utilizing social media.”
In pop history, there have been plenty of attention-grabbing publicity campaigns for debuting albums: Who can forget the huge statues Jackson had erected of himself and placed across the world for his “HIStory” album, or when the Backstreet Boys hit six continents in four days to promote “Black and Blue”? Then there was Jay-Z, who performed in seven cities in 17-hours for his comeback album, “Kingdom Come.”
But Bill Werde, editorial director of Billboard, calls Gaga’s promotional efforts “more of a landmark campaign” for the new music industry.
“There’s nothing about Gaga that’s subtle, so I don’t see why her marketing campaign would be any different,” he added.
One of the more unusual promotions was Amazon’s decision to sell the MP3 version of Gaga’s album for 99 cents on Monday, the day of its release, as part of its Amazon Cloud Drive, which gives consumers personal digital storage space on a remote network or cloud; 20 gigabytes of cloud space came with the album. However, there was such a demand it caused delays for Amazon’s customers, a spokeswoman said.
Though some people questioned the decision to basically give the album away, Carter wasn’t concerned at all, calling the promotional idea “incredible.”
“I am more concerned about piracy and people stealing the music. If you can get somebody to experience the music at that sort of price for one day only, I think it gets a lot of attention for the album,” he added.
Werde said that’s key in an age where album sales are deflated and serve more as a promotional tool for the artist’s other money-making projects, including touring, in an industry more focused on what is called the 360-model of generating revenue.
“It’s one of first big superstar releases that really grasps the potential of the new music business that everybody is talking about,” he said. “For a superstar artist like a Gaga, the sale of recorded music — not the quality of the music, mind you, but the sale of recorded music— really gets sort of assumed as a marketing cost to drive this 360-engine.”
Carter says his data indicates Gaga may sell over 500,000 copies in the first week, and perhaps 700,000; Werde said “Born This Way” could go as high as one million.
But Carter says the unique marketing tools used leading up to and during the album’s release wasn’t just to achieve monster sales for the album’s debut.
“Nobody ever pays attention in the second week,” he said. “For us it’s about being in this album cycle for the next 18 to 24 months.”
It seems Gaga-mania won’t be easing anytime soon.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody can be reached at www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi