How to stay relevant: A powerful lesson from Weird Al Yankovic
Unless you’re living in some sort of cyber cave, you’ve likely come across at least one Weird Al Yankovic video in recent days. The “King of Pop Parody,” as he’s affectionately known, just released his latest album, Mandatory Fun, which is raking in millions upon millions of views across everything from YouTube, to Vevo, to Facebook.
Some of my favorites are…
Tacky – A parody of Pharrell’s “Happy,” which features an impressive line-up of celebrity guest cameos
Word Crimes – Of course, as a word nerd, I love this one. It’s a very clever take off of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” featuring grammar mistakes we’re all guilty of. (I just ended that sentence in a preposition, for example.)
Mission Statement – For all of you serving a sentence in Corporate America, I highly recommend this. Based on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” this parody is comprised entirely of corporate jargon… complete with now overdone white board illustrations.
I think the guy is hilarious. And when you listen to his lyrics—I mean, really listen—you realize just how clever they are. The guy can write. I’ve read that he skipped second grade and would later graduate high school at age 16 as the valedictorian. He may play the part of a goofball, but Al is no dummy.
From the start, Weird Al always embraced the latest technology. He was in front of the video camera when that medium took the world by storm in MTV’s 1980s, and likewise, he was an early adopter of online marketing.
To promote Mandatory Fun, Weird Al released eight videos in eight consecutive days… all of which were hilarious and very well done (#8videos8days campaign). But the intriguing part of this is that Al’s model—the one he’s used for decades—completely changed.
Normally, Weird Al’s record label would foot the bill for the videos—a key component to the King of Pop Parody’s success. (Can you imagine Weird Al doing anything without a video attached to it?!?) But this time, RCA told Al they wouldn’t pay the pricey production tab. He was on his own.
So Weird Al did what a lot of those in marketing—and with limited funds—are doing these days: He partnered with people who had production and content resources already in place. Rather than pay for the videos himself, Weird Al approached such notable content sites as Funny or Die, the multimedia artist Jarrett Heather, College Humor, and others to collaborate and make his videos for him—according to a recent Ad Age article.
The result is a sidesplitting scope of work, with each video having that Weird Al brand we all love, yet unique in its own right. You can definitely tell that each video has the mark of its respective content partner, too.
In exchange for paying for the production, Weird Al’s partners get to keep the ad revenue from the videos. Considering that’s adding up to many millions of viewers, their ROI is probably proving to be very worthwhile. What’s more, Al’s work gets even more exposure on all those partner sites. It’s a winning concept for everyone.
To me, Weird Al’s decision demonstrates his creativity and brilliance—not only in satire, but in business and marketing in this era. The guy has been on the music scene for over 30 years now—a longer career than many of the artists he’s parodied. He has a crazy dedicated fan base, now multi-generational. And, he has street cred. From what I’ve read online, content marketers, sites and artists were waiting in line to work with him. He leveraged his brand without sacrificing any part of it.
This whole exchange either revealed or verified several other truths for me, too:
The music business is not what it used to be. RCA’s decision to not fund the videos was pretty bizarre. It’s a centerpiece of Weird Al’s brand, and what everyone who buys his music expects. Perhaps they just can’t justify the cost of the production vs. the revenue. Like most businesses in our time, technology has been a revenue enhancer, killer, or some ironic combination of both.
The right collaborative expertise can produce killer stuff. Today’s audience is sophisticated and expects a certain production value—especially from brands. But this level of production and consistent quality of content is costly to produce. Most brands aren’t doing it alone. They partner with experts: Videographers, artists, writers, digital gurus and more who can bring high-level expertise to the table, on a freelance basis, so it’s more affordable than having a whole crew on staff all the time.
All of us—without exception—have to be adaptable. I can’t think of one industry—marketing, education, finance, travel, healthcare or countless others—that…
- Hasn’t changed drastically in recent years
- Isn’t going through some sort of monumental shift
- Isn’t about to enter some sort of “new era”
You’ve probably seen it in your own world, too. For any of us to survive, we have to be aware of and roll with sudden change. Like Al, we need to move with the times, stay relevant and yet, never lose our own personal brand, or sense of humor, about it all.
– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group