Marketing Pop: Kerli

Kerli Has Merchandise for Sale. Allegedly.

A couple of weeks ago, I published a post titled “Charli XCX is ‘the pop star of the future’ – and she has the digital marketing strategy to prove it”. When I wrote that article, I was excited about the idea of filtering my love of pop music through my marketing and media training. The thing is, I’m still excited about that idea. So I thought, why don’t I, like, I don’t know, do it again?

So this is the second part, episode 2, The Empire Strikes Back, whatever, of what may or may not become a new series: Marketing Pop. Now, I’m not in the music industry, and I don’t know these artists. Basically, I have no idea what I’m talking about. But these posts will be my own take, written in my own voice and my voice alone, on what is happening in the world where art, music and imagery collide with marketing, e-commerce and brand management. So here it is.

Marketing Pop, Episode 2 – Kerli:
A tale of missing pop merchandise and UX buffoonery.

For those of you who don’t already know, Kerli is an Estonian pop singer who is known for dark, synth-heavy pop music and a gothic, satanist-lite aesthetic. Kerli has mainly operated outside of the pop mainstream, with the exception of one minor hit in 2008’s etherial Walking On Air.

While I have been aware of Kerli and her music for a while, I only recently started following her Instagram. Overall, her presence on the social media site is basically what I expected it to be: high-fashion and goth-inspired photoshoots, stark graphic design promoting her brand, and long insta-stories where she shares new-age wisdom stream-of-consciousness style to her fans, or Moon Babies. There was nothing here I found particularly brilliant nor notably alarming, mostly because it all felt very safe and on-brand. Today, however, I changed my mind.

The UX Honeycomb

Before I get into all that though, I need to talk about the boring stuff. As much fun as it would be for everyone to sit around and watch music videos from a time when dressing like a sexy babydoll was fashionable and not… distinctly awful, this series is about marketing too. So I need to introduce you to the UX Honeycomb.

The UX (short for User eXperience) Honeycomb was developed by Peter Morville, a leading voice in the worlds of user experience and design architecture. He says that in order for a site (or any element of branded process, but I will be focusing on a website) to have value for its user, it must be:

Usable: does it work? Is it simple to understand?

Useful: does it fulfill the needs or answer the questions of the user?

Desirable: Is it aesthetically pleasing? Do the visuals represent the brand?

Findable: Can users find what they need? Is the navigation functional?

Accessible: Are all potential customers able use the site?

Credible: Does the site inspire trust? Are potential problems addressed?

If all of these elements are in place, the site will deliver a good UX, and therefore be of value to the user. Good UX leads to a positive brand interactions which leads to a purchase.

But what does this have to do with semi-famous pop witch Kerli?

Good question. As I was scrolling through my feed, I found this post:

Reading the description, the purpose of the post was very clear. Shirts back in stock! Get them here! Here’s a link! I thought the post itself was visually appealing, even if the clothes aren’t to my personal taste.

Unfortunately, this is where things started to fall apart from a UX perspective. The first big roadblock I encountered was that the link in the description of the post was not clickable, I had to copy and paste it into my browser. Usable? No.

Buckle up, this article’s about Instagram too.

Now, in fairness to Kerli, I am aware that this is an ongoing issue for brands attempting to market on Instagram. The photo-sharing site notoriously doesn’t allow clickable links in the descriptions of images posted on its platform. In an article dedicated to this very subject, tech-advice website TechJunky explained the problem like this: “You can put any text you want in an Instagram post, but the service will not make the text display as a clickable link. Users are allowed one and only one clickable link, and that link has to be on their profile page.” This means no clickable links in photo captions. Instagram maintains that this is a spam-fighting rule that, conveniently enough, brands can pay for the right to sidestep. Brands who don’t want to pay for Instagram marketing packages often work around this by posting images or videos promoting specific products or content and then captioning with a phrase like “link in bio”. This method still requires potential customers to exit the post, click through to the brand’s profile and then click the “link in bio”. It’s a lot of extra steps, but its still easier than requiring your users to copy a dead link in the caption and then manually paste said link into their browser window to access your content, but that’s exactly the route Kerli has taken here.

Despite this, I was determined to do the damn thing, so I dutifully copied and pasted. After hitting ‘go’, I was taken to this landing page:

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 4.27.03 PM.png

Okay.  It’s not an unattractive page from a design perspective and its easy enough to read and everything, but this is a purchase page for Kerli’s album, and I clicked on an ad for Kerli-themed shirts.  At least there is a nav button up at the top for ‘Apparel’:

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 4.31.12 PM.png

Amazing.  The advertised products aren’t available.  After clicking around a bit, I discovered that the site I was on wasn’t owned by Kerli herself, but by a company called Ambient Inks. Ambient Inks is a company that creates branded apparel, posters, stickers and more for anyone willing to pay their fee. (I tried to make a fake order to get a quote, but I had to give them my contact information, and frankly, I don’t feel like spending the rest of my days fighting off a hoard of self-proclaimed ‘print-nerds’). This explains why the site is blue-and-gold even though Kerli’s brand is almost always presented in stark black-and-white, but it does not explain why the only products available at all were this CD and a vinyl album by a completely different artist. I would like to point out that, leaving the unrelated vinyl aside, the Kerli CD was both not what was advertised and also not manufactured by Ambient Inks, so the whole thing is confusing.

I do want to give credit where credit is due. The ‘Contact Us’ link led to a contact form I could fill out to contact Ambient Inks, and the ‘Terms’ page did clearly lay out shipping, returns, exchanges etc. The fact that there were no available products to ship, exchange or return makes that all pretty beside the point, though, doesn’t it?

I wondered what Kerli’s fans were saying about this mess, so I went back to the original Instagram post to look at the comments.  Most were either simple fan gushing (“You’re Beautiful! <3”) or suggestions of other merch possibilities, as requested in the post caption.  The fact that in 61 comments, I couldn’t find a single person saying “hey, these products aren’t actually available” tells me that the initial copy-and-paste link requirement was enough of an inconvenience to stop most potential customers from clicking through far enough to even realize.

Kerli and the Honeycomb

I couldn’t find a picture of Kerli with honeybees so I went with butterflies because, idk, they’re both bugs whatever. Photo by Brian Ziff.

Let’s recap. Is Kerli’s site…

Usable? No. Usability was already a miss even before I realized the product wasn’t available.  The included link isn’t clickable. Even if that is a known obstacle when marketing on Instagram, don’t include it.  If I wasn’t working on this article, I wouldn’t have gone any further.

Useful? No. If we are defining usefulness as fulfilling the needs of users, definitely not. The Instagram ad created a need for a shirt, the site did nothing to fulfill that need.  At that point, a call to action to buy a CD is irrelevant.  It Is highly unlikely anyone is going to think “ooh, I want this shirt, let me go to the trouble of copying and pasting this link to get it.  Oh, there’s no shirt, BUT while I’m here…”

Desirable? Sure. The ad was nice enough looking, showcased the (alleged) products, and had a clear design aesthetic that represented Kerli’s brand well.  The site was a bit odd since Kerli’s aesthetic is almost always stark black and white and the site was blue and gold. However, misbranding aside, it looked nice enough, I guess.

Findable? Both yes and no. Obviously, finding the product in the ad is a joke.  But in fairness, I was able to find shipping options and the returns and exchanges policy very easily.

Accessible? I think so. The text was large enough, and high contrast. I have to admit that website accessibility is not an area of expertise for me, but from what I could see, it seemed up to standard. If anyone with more accessibility experience wanted to chime in and educate me further, that would be amazing. Aside from that, the navigation was easy to use, and all the links worked, so that’s fine I guess.

Credible? Hell no. In the end, I find Kerli and her brand to be less credible than I did before.  I never really thought about it before, because I never planned to buy anything from her, but if (for whatever reason) I was considering it in the future, I would think twice because of this experience.

But I’m not a real customer. 

I like Kerli, but I don’t realistically have enough love for her to want to purchase her branded merchandise regardless of her site’s UX.  However, putting myself in the shoes of someone who did, I can imagine the frustration and disappointment I would feel.  A mistake like this not only loses potential future customers like myself, but damages relationships with existing customers and fans.  It’s not a good look.

EDIT: Someone has pointed out to me that the clothes in question ARE available at this link. But that’s a completely different website, so I’m standing my ground on this one. I genuinely hope Kerli fixes her ads, but my experience (2 hours after the ad was published) wasn’t great.

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