Michael Lallana on Arcade Fire’s Buzzworthy Marketing Craft
Indie rock bands are not often thought to be the fodder of Bloomberg Business Week articles, but such is the case with the Canadian natives in Arcade Fire, says Michael Lallana. The band, in the process of preparing to release its latest record—a double-disc project titled Reflektor—on October 29th, has been called “experts of guerilla marketing craft.”
As Michael Lallana notes, Arcade Fire aren’t exactly the type of band that needs an aggressive and mysterious street marketing plan to be successful. After all, the band, who arrived on the scene with 2004’s critically-beloved Funeral and won a surprise Grammy for Album of the Year with 2010’s The Suburbs, is arguably the biggest and most buzzworthy band in the so-called “indie rock” scene.
Indeed, the members of Arcade Fire, which include husband-and-wife vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, as well as a seemingly ever-shifting group of versatile instrumentalists, could easily have rested on its laurels and depended on the success of their previous album and the marketing sweep of their record label—North Carolina’s Merge Records—to help the upcoming Reflektor toward a hopeful (and highly likely) number one berth atop the Billboard charts.
Instead, Arcade Fire have taken a marketing route for this latest album that is anything but run-of-the-mill, using an inspired set of guerilla marketing tactics that Michael Lallana believes other bands and record labels—or even major businesses outside of the entertainment industry—could learn a little something from.
Arcade Fire’s innovative marketing campaign began suddenly and unexpectedly in July, when one of the band’s Twitter followers sent them a tweet with the simplistic words of “you’re my favorite.” The band responded to the compliment with a tweet of their own, thanking the fan for his support and then tossing off a seemingly nonchalant comment that would function as the band’s announcement of their return: “Our new album will be out on October 29th.”
From there, the marketing campaign for Reflektor has been executed largely from the shadows and almost entirely at the street level. Sidewalk chalk and mysterious posters gave way to secret shows, with small pieces of information gradually making their way to the press. First, the title was unveiled through the cryptographic symbol that the band continuously emblazoned on their posters or in their chalking campaigns; later, pre-order bundles on the band’s website revealed that the new record would be a double-album release; and eventually, song titles and lengths—most of them long—were revealed on iTunes and other digital music vendors.
There was also a single—the dance-oriented title track, which “leaked” to YouTube and began collecting buzz before the band even mentioned that iconic glam rock superstar David Bowie had contributed back-up vocals—as well as advance listening parties and reviews from major music publications that only fed the flames further. A euphoric write-up of the new album was published on Rolling Stone’s website a month prior to the album’s release, with the writer, veteran music journalist David Fricke, calling Reflektor “the best album Arcade Fire have ever made.”
As Michael Lallana notes, the band’s marketing campaign has managed to generate a huge amount of attention and anticipation for their new album, even though they have never had much of a presence on mainstream pop music radio.
Arcade Fire Campaign Showcases Less-Invasive Marketing Techniques, Michael Lallana Says
For Michael Lallana, the most ingenious part of the campaign for Reflektor is that Arcade Fire have managed to maintain the mystery of guerilla marketing forms while still sticking to the same advertising calendar that most major music releases follow. The band released a radio single, but did so in an unorthodox way; they also sent out promotional advances to key music publications to stir up anticipation, but have thus far done so without the album leaking to the public ahead of its highly-publicized release date.
Arcade Fire even appeared on Saturday Night Live, taking over NBC’s late-night programming slot for a half hour after the popular sketch TV show’s 39th season premiere to unveil a batch of news songs. However, Michael Lallana argues that even the SNL concert special was far from commonplace. The special, which was directed by filmmaker Roman Coppola and which featured cameos from the likes of Ben Stiller, James Franco, Bill Hader, Zach Galifianakis, and U2 front man Bono—as well as pseudo “host” work from Michael Cera, a fellow Canadian—balanced oddball comedy and a near-nightmarish visual aesthetic with the obviously-promotional premiere of several new songs from Arcade Fire’s new album.
The whole marketing campaign ultimately boils down to one thing: Arcade Fire have been able to keep their album in the public eye without resorting to invasive advertising.
Instead of irritating pop-up web browser ads or repetitive television commercials, the band has built up a perfect storm of anticipation for Reflektor by disguising their true motives—ostensibly, to sell their product—in layers of performance art, self-mockery, and shadowy guerilla marketing. In the words of Michael Lallana, the band has managed to forge a calculated marketing path while simultaneously making the whole thing look like an accidental mess, and that same kind of guerilla marketing model could be a refreshing substitute for the more in-your-face advertising strategies that most businesses use today.
Michael Lallana has been working in the business development and management consulting professions for the past 13 years. He currently serves as the CEO and president of the Mila Venture Group, a strategic business marketing firm, and as the COO and CMO for Health Matrix Direct LLC, a private health benefits company. Lallana lives in Los Angeles and frequents concerts and sporting events.