This week we see whether Kanye West’s outrageous promotional tactics belong in your marketing mix.

Marketing lessons from Kanye

Kanye might be a college dropout, but he’s about to take you back to school.

Patrick Brennan

Creative

Learning Organisation

6 minute read

Ye. Pablo. Yeezy. Mr West. Yeezus. Martin Louis the King Jr (if you want to be fancy and respect his wishes). For every moniker Kanye West has, there’s a venture to match, from rapping and producing to designing and helming a fashion brand. Each of his projects comes with a host of controversies and tabloid material centred around the man himself – which can sometimes eclipse what he’s trying to promote.

His behaviour might seem counterintuitive, but I think there’s something more to learn from the spectacle that is Kanye. Love him or hate him, Kanye West is a marketing savant. So, here are four lessons to be learned from the Louis Vuitton Don.
In short
  • Kanye West’s controversies can sometimes outshine the projects he needs to promote.
  • Despite this – or maybe because of it – his ventures are hugely successful.
  • When looking to Kanye for marketing inspiration, there are four lessons we can learn from his unique style of promotion.
Don’t be afraid to take on big competitors

Kanye turned aiming high into a promotional centrepiece during his public feud with 50 Cent back in 2007, when he moved the release date of his album Graduation to coincide with the release of 50 Cent’s new album Curtis1. While promising to outsell 50 Cent, he positioned himself as a David to the multi-platinum-record-breaking Goliath that was 50 Cent. Combined with 50 Cent’s promise to retire if Kanye outsold him, the buzz around the feud helped generate more sales for both albums and propelled Kanye to outsell 50 Cent, establishing him as one of the top artists in hip-hop.

“Love him or hate him, Kanye West is a marketing savant.”
Timing is everything
Everyone knows that timing is important when it comes to marketing, and no-one understands this better than Kanye. Question: what do you do after running on stage at an awards show during a pop starlet’s acceptance speech, snatching a microphone out of said pop starlet’s hand and proclaiming that Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time (immediately making enemies out of everyone at the show and at home)? Easy. You take that attention and build anticipation for the next year, where your performance of a hit song at the very same awards show has been impeccably timed just before the release of your new album.

Kanye also considers timing when it comes to multiple releases. Take the middle of 2018, when he released a series of five albums that he produced over five weeks. The quick succession of this rollout gave him increased radio play and discussion over the Summer in the U.S. Add another Kanye rant (this time in the TMZ head office) and attention around the releases was at an all-time high.
Controversy is your friend
‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.’

Although Oscar Wilde couldn’t have imagined that his words might be used to justify the kind of controversies I’m about to describe, it still rings true. In the rapidly changing landscape of pop culture, controversy equals relevancy. And no one is better at courting controversy than Kanye. Whether by design or not, each controversy he finds himself in brings him and his brand to the front of the news cycle and often generates extra publicity for his most recent projects.
From exclaiming on live tv that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’ (during his album rollout) to tweeting that he and Trump both have dragon energy (also during another album rollout) Kanye has continuously courted controversy to great effect.

But before you go out to stir up your own controversy, there’s one clear caveat. This sort of attention-grab demands an incredibly loyal audience. So no, you shouldn’t slap a presenter at an awards show (unless you know your stans will ride and die with you).
Scarcity can be good
Kanye isn’t the first person to use scarcity to market and sell his products, but he has perfected the craft of leveraging scarcity at the right time. The best example of this comes from his fashion ventures, where his sneakers are released in limited quantities to an ever-growing audience. In fact, they’ve become a symbol of exclusivity and even a collector’s item that can go for as much as $1.8 million1. The hype for each new release fuels demand and has seen his company grow into a juggernaut, accruing brand deals worth $3-4 billion2.

But he doesn’t just use scarcity for his fashion ventures. Among many other limited releases, his most recent album was available exclusively on his Stem music player. An album only accessible through a $200 speaker seems crazy, right? But it paid off, netting him $2.2 million in the first 24 hours, which he claimed was more money than he otherwise would’ve made from releasing on streaming services3.
Marketing the Ye Way
So, should we all follow Kanye’s example? Well, it’s complicated. It’s obvious that Kanye isn’t without flaws or failures. Some of these tactics teetered too close to being just another failure from an out-of-touch, egotistical celebrity. But the fact that Kanye keeps trying to be bold and unique in his approach to music, fashion and his brand is something to admire – and perhaps apply selectively in our own work.
on a Superbowl stunt
Manically posting about your ex-wife and her boyfriend seems like it’s stooping low but… okay, it’s stooping low, no matter what. Yet while the Superbowl was in progress, Kanye was the top trending topic. The posts were labelled an outburst but drew countless eyeballs to Kanye’s next album, documentary and McDonald’s partnership.

Written by Patrick Brennan, 52 Words and editing by Abby Clark, key visual by Alice Guo, page built by Laura Murphy and Georgie Drinnan

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