Word Crimes and Tacky Foil

The Marketing Genius of “Weird Al” Yankovic

Matthew Carlin
Jul 17, 2014 · 3 min read

As a gentleman of a certain age who never played sports, “Weird Al” Yankovic looms large in my pre-adolescent psyche. My friend Dave first introduced me to the song parody king with “Another One Rides The Bus” and I was immediately smitten with the symphony of fart sounds that filled the bridge. When “In 3-D” was released, it was as if “Weird Al” tapped into my brain and created an album just for me.

Al kind of lost me by the late-90s and early-2000s. Partially, this was because I had become an even bigger nerd and was out of touch with popular music. But more significantly, MTV had shifted its programming to a bizarro dumping ground of weird shows and YouTube didn’t even exist yet, so music videos just weren’t as culturally relevant. Regardless, Al kept on chugging along, releasing the same spot-on song spoofs and genre goofs.

Fast-forward to 2014 and “Weird Al” hasn’t reinvented himself or changed his style — he’s still creating the same funny videos and skewering the pop stars of the day. Except now we call videos “content” and he’s quietly become the mastermind of one of the most sophisticated marketing campaigns of the year, rivaling brands spending millions on content campaigns that garner a fraction of the views. (The phenomenon is so common now it’s garnered its own parody video.)

The first indication that Al was up to something clever — besides his lyrics — was the announcement that he’d be doing eight videos in eight days for his new album “Mandatory Fun.” Ambitious, yes. Groundbreaking, not entirely. Weird Al actually released a video for every track on his “Alpocalpyse” album in 2011. And more recently Beyonce released 17 videos for her self-titled “visual album.”

However, when “Tacky” premiered on The Nerdist this past Monday, it was clear Al was up to something different. This was definitely on brand, but a highly unorthodox choice for a music video. Things returned to normal for “Word Crimes” which premiered on Vevo the next day, but on Wednesday “Foil” was released in partnership with College Humor. The lightbulb went off — Al was not only releasing eight videos in eight days, he was doing this with eight different media partners. All of them footing the production bills and promoting the album for free.

Today saw the release of “Handy” on Yahoo!. A lesser track than “Foil” in my opinion, and it has been mired by servers that apparently can’t handle the massive amounts of traffic it’s generating (unless the buffering video is another meta joke by Al), but the marketing strategy is clear. And pure genius. Adam Levine looks just a little bit less handsome, Kanye’s rants can’t compete and I still don’t know who Ariana Grande is. “Weird Al” I’m you’re number one fan again.

Matthew Carlin works with agency and brand clients to turn ambitious business goals into actionable strategies and creative executions. Read more at helloluckycat.com.

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