Haven’t you heard? Charli XCX is the pop star of the future.
So many publications have made this claim over the last few months, it’s almost becoming a joke. In fact, the claim became so prevalent that The Atlantic published an entire article refuting the idea. The Atlantic aside, everyone seems to agree that XCX is “the next big thing” in pop music, and there are lots of theories around why. While most articles cite her futuristic glitch-pop sound, others discuss her avant-garde fashion choices or sci-fi lite music videos. Those facets of XCX’s artistry are deserving of the attention they are getting, but the array of think pieces devoted to XCX’s supposed futurism are missing a key element: the forward-thinking nature of Charli XCX, the brand and business.
Art is subjective, but sales are not, and music marketing is a growing industry. According to Forbes, the music industry saw a more-than-10% increase in revenue from 2017 to 2018 and schools like Berklee and the University of Southern California have begun offering courses in music marketing.
It’s not just music marketing that has exploded recently, either.
“Music has changed more in the last five years than in the last 50,” wrote brand strategist Nidhi Dave in her article 22 Digital Marketing Trends You Can’t Ignore Going Into 2020. (2020 is the future, see? Dave’s article will be the primary source on current marketing trend analysis for this essay).
Charli XCX and her team took advantage of this trend and rolled out a thoroughly modern digital marketing campaign ahead of the release of her third studio album, Charli. In order to understand the progressive nature of the Charli release campaign, though, one first needs to take a moment to look backwards.
Charli XCX has a checkered history with promoting her music by traditional means, such as TV appearances and magazine ads. Promotional efforts for a now-cancelled album, including a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, was poorly received by the general public in 2016/2017.
This, paired with a security breach that leaked many of the unreleased songs online, resulted in the entire album being scrapped. With the exception of a few (frankly excellent) singles quietly published throughout 2017 and 2018, most of that album never saw the light of day. It hasn’t been all bad news, though. In 2017, Sandbox listed the release strategy for her single ‘Boys’ as one of the top music marketing campaigns of the year. With a history of mixed results, though, XCX and co. would need to try something different the next time around.
In early 2019, Charli XCX announced work on a new album, and immediately a huge, primarily web-based marketing campaign began. The majority of this campaign took place on Instagram and Twitter, with sponsored posts being shown to people who have engaged with her content before, or who fit the target demographics of her audience (primarily gen-z, Europeans and the LGBT community).
Personalized advertising, using AI-assisted ad targeting is becoming more and more commonplace. Nidhi Dave explains it like this: “AI can analyze consumer behavior and search patterns and use data from social media platforms and blog posts to help businesses understand how customers find their products and services”. She says that by 2020, 60% of businesses will be using artificial intelligence in increase profits. In addition, an Epsilon survey found that 90% of surveyed consumers said they find the idea of personalized ad targeting “appealing” as opposed to generic ad blasts.
Leading up the album, most of Charli XCX’s targeted ads focused on creating excitement for the new album, but following the record’s release in September, the focus of these promotional materials has switched to be about the following tour, new videos or merchandise options. There are now sponsored ads geotagged to specific areas, promoting those specific stops of her tour. Most of these ads (both for the album and the tour) featured video of her performing, or animated versions of the album artwork with clips of her songs playing in the background. A survey conducted by marketing software development company HubSpot found that over two-thirds of consumers preferred to discover new products or services via a short video than through any other source.
In addition to the sponsored content, XCX has been posting an almost nonstop stream of shareable content and live videos to her personal Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Most of the live videos are behind the scenes videos of her working on music videos or at concerts, or even just her in her hotel room talking about how excited she is about the album and tour. According to product designer and digital marketer Alexander Bickov, social media stories are one of the top tools for digital marketers due to their cost-effectiveness, ease of engagement with consumers, and access to a younger audience.
In terms of shareable content marketing, XCX is posting lots of memes about her and the album that fans send her to her own account, as well as funny outtakes from the album art photoshoots etc. According to Julia McCoy at the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing overall and is as much as three times as effective, and Cision PR Newswire reported on a study which claimed user-generated content may influence purchasing decisions for as much as 90% of consumers. Of course, all of these fun posts are fully shoppable, with users being able to click or swipe from the post to purchase pages for concert tickets, album sales, or links to her music on streaming services.
In addition to content marketing, XCX has been using a music-based form of influencer marketing. According to Dave, influencer marketing is a system of social media marketing that uses thought-leaders like celebrities or individuals with large social media followings to bring awareness of a brand to a larger audience. Charli XCX has brought this mentality not just to her marketing, but to her product itself. Her new album features collaborations with many other alt-pop and electronic artists, who then are also promoting the album on their social media pages. She also partnered with visual artist Ines Alpha on the artwork for the album and its associated singles.
XCX has resisted the idea that her collaborative efforts exist just for marketing purposes, though.
“For so long, collaboration has been a marketing tool to gain the benefit of both fanbases,” she said in an interview with Celebretainment. “My collaborations are genuine and personal.”
This ethos may be reflected in the music itself, but the marketing impact remains the same. Across fifteen tracks, there are thirteen featured artists, all of whom are doing cross-promotion on their own socials to their own fanbases.
This means that she is addressing her potential audience through the web, television, radio and print advertising simultaneously. Multi-channel marketing has been a staple of the marketing industry long before the rise of digital-first advertising, but now more than ever, it is necessary to be on the cutting edge of new trends, technologies and strategies to stay on top.
Charli XCX and her team have created a marketing campaign unlike anything they have done before, showing that they have learned from their mistakes and have found how to best reach her unique audience through multiple forms of digital marketing. The future of music marketing is here now, and she is ready for it.