Go Radiohead on Your Marketing (Seriously Serious This Time)

It’s probably prudent of me to preface this post by stating that it was written in all earnestness and not in jest like the uber ridiculous post that was Go Nickelback on Your Social Media (Seriously).

Indeed, this post is not intended to make you laugh – not even a little bit. So should you find yourself at any point during the ensuing paragraphs even so much as giggling, just understand that you will be doing so entirely at my expense.

This is seriously serious this time.

Now, to say you should go Radiohead on your marketing is not to say you should write copy that, like the majority of Radiohead’s lyrics, almost nobody understands. Nor is it to say your jingle should evoke wild images of government oppression or personal resignation or lost innocence or any of the other ominous themes that drive many of Radiohead’s songs.


Deciphering Radiohead lyrics.

No, to say you should go Radiohead on your marketing is to encourage you to find extraordinary ways to market products or services that – to your company at least – are exceptionally ordinary.

Because while the British alternative rock band has certainly cemented a permanent and well-deserved place in the “Bands that Don’t Suck but, rather, Totally Rocked” history books, it isn’t just their mesmerizing melodies, terse lyrics and the reclusive nature of lead singer Thom Yorke that are worthy of recording in permanent ink.

So too is the manner in which the band markets its music worthy of exploration by future generations of both music fans and marketing professionals. This because Radiohead, when marketing a new album, so vehemently rejects the status quo that public discourse centers not on singles or album themes – but just how the band intends to release the album.

Radiohead did something utterly unimaginable in 2007 for the release of “In Rainbows” – they told consumers to name the price. In a digital age plagued by piracy, when big-name bands sue college students over illegal downloads, Radiohead put their new album on their website and allowed fans to buy it for however much they felt like paying.


Thom Yorke refuses payment for “In Rainbows”

As could be expected, many downloaded the album for free. And yet, conversely, many were compelled to pay regular retail prices ($8-12). Furthermore, the buzz encompassing the album fueled its ascent to the chart tops, leading to more than three million digital and physical copies sold in the first year. Because of this, “In Rainbows” proved to be more profitable than either of Radiohead’s previous two records, this according to the New York Times.

And now Radiohead is back at it again, this time for the release of “The King of Limbs.” Considering the astonishing success of the pay-what-you-want model, it should be assumed the band would employ the same strategy once again, right?

Hardly – for there is nothing groundbreaking about copying your own groundbreaking idea.

Instead, the band is pushing the envelope in the exact opposite direction, releasing one of the most expensive non box sets of the digital era. For the economical cost of $48 (MP3) or $53 (WAV), the “world’s first newspaper album” will feature:

Two clear 10-inch vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve. A compact disc. Many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-color piece of oxo-degradeable plastic to hold it all together. A digital download that is compatible with all good digital media players.

It’s almost entirely too much to comprehend and way too early to predict whether this model will enjoy the same success as the pay-what-you-want model. But what’s clear is that Radiohead is once again generating considerable buzz not for creating ingenious music, but for identifying ingenious ways to market ingenious music.

For that the record is already a success even before the purchase date (February 19) or the shipping date of the elaborate package (May 9). And whether or not you enjoy Radiohead’s music, you at least have to agree they have matured considerably in regards to marketing since the release of their first major studio album.

So how about you? Do you seek extraordinary ways to market exceptionally ordinary products and services, or are you content with merely blending in with the status quo?