It is late November. The world is still reeling from a chain of terror strikes. The music business is down and sales are dwindling. A singer releases a single and then launches an album referencing her age, filled with admissions about her personal life and suddenly the charts everywhere are ablaze. The singer appears on talk shows, her hit single is parodied and those parodies are parodied – the video itself hits 500 million views on YouTube in a matter of weeks. The sagging music business is revived.
I am, of course, talking about Taylor Swift and her 2014 smash hit 1989.
The same applies to Adele, her new song Hello and her album 25. It is a pop culture phenomenon and within less than three days of release it has sold two million copies around the world. Her BBC Special attracted a record audience. Hello is No. 1 in 106 countries.
Hello captures the pulse of our current zeitgeist perfectly. Between the refugee crisis, the Paris attacks and the fact that The Hunger Games is the first major Hollywood franchise in living memory to end in tragedy, this is going to be a sombre festive season. The song is goosebump-inducing; a lonely woman apologising to her former lover for breaking his heart – a polar opposite to Taylor Swift who collects exes like trophies and is proud of it.
Yet, no matter how excellent, a product requires good marketing. Adele ticks all the boxes. She markets herself as the anti-celebrity, proudly obese, wearing her heart on her sleeve and shrugging off all pretence. In this way she keeps the focus on her talent and provides regular sound bites and juicy clips that send waves across the internet. She is always in the news – like Jennifer Lawrence who follows the same strategy.
We all want to relate to something genuine. In the stylishly monochrome video, Adele uses an old fashioned Samsung flip phone (remember those?). She moves about in an abandoned house and goes outside to be showered by falling leaves. Every scene has been parodied to no end on YouTube.
Adele said she decided to use an old fashioned cell phone to avoid distracting the audience. Instead it has become a topic of conversation, further increasing interest in her new album.
Something has to be said about the packaging. ‘Hello’ is perhaps the most commonly used word around the world and the way she says it syncs perfectly with Lionel Richies’s last hit song Hello and she has exploited that connection no end.
The result is that she has monopolised the word ‘Hello’.
Adele’s brand was always strong. She is known as a great singer. Her previous albums, which were also titled after numbers corresponding to her age at the time of release form a perfect story. At 19 she was looking for love; at 21 she had fallen out of love and was grieving and now at 25 she has settled into a loveless life. It is genuine and moving.
It is a case of success succeeding. The product as excellent and Adele is the consummate marketer. She suddenly released the album without any warning to get the internet talking, and made strategic appearances in the UK and USA. Others have done so as well, but Adele’s masterstroke is the substance behind her façade – she gave her audience the album they wanted. An album about love, heartbreak and redemption through becoming a mom.
The unprecedented global success of her previous album 21 was essentially unexplained, as musically it was sad and depressing. Adele shows her marketing prowess by not deviating completely from the formula, yet showing enough emotional progress to provide something new. In this way she has achieved the rare feat of pleasing her audience as well as the critics.