Smashing Coldplay strategy kept new EMI from being DOA
With EMI losing Paul McCartney, Radiohead and The Rolling Stones in quick succession, and with other acts on the label, such as Robbie Williams, threatening to go on strike, it wasn’t looking good for the famous imprint earlier this year. Throw in the fact that EMI has been hoovered up by a private equity firm, and that a lot of the “music” people at the label had either jumped or been pushed, and there was speculation about its continuing existence.
Terra Firma (the new owner of EMI) had its first real test with the release of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album two months ago. McCartney had left the label because he was dissatisfied with how it had marketed his last few albums. Williams was openly questioning if the downsized label could still “work” an album. Terra Firma’s other big signing, Sigur Rós, were looking on from the sidelines.
Could Terra Firma hack it in the music world? A lot would depend on how Viva La Vida was handled and how it performed. Launching a full price album into a market where the very concept of paying for music has become so debased was always going to be difficult. But, through a series of clever initiatives, the campaign behind Viva La Vida is now being hailed as one of the most successful of the last decade, and it will likely to pick up every PR/marketing/advertising award going at the end of the year.
Coldplay’s last album, X&Y, shifted 10 million units. In a little over two months, Viva La Vida has shifted five million. This for an album which most agree is not as radio-friendly as X&Y.
The first thing the band did was to meet the free music movement halfway. Violet Hill, the first single, was given away as a free download – the first time a major band have released new material in this way. It was downloaded two million times over seven days before going on sale. The song was already a top 10 hit before it was even heard on radio.
Coldplay then played three major free gigs in New York, London and Barcelona. Bands that do this normally cover their expenses by wallpapering the venue with advertising. But Coldplay didn’t allow any branding – they underwrote the cost of the concerts
themselves. In effect, they paid to play.
A free song, free concerts: Coldplay were embracing the changes. But their most remarkable coup was getting iTunes to promote Viva La Vida for them. Knowing that, U2 aside, this was the biggest music release of the year and with the band being a perfect demographic fit for iTunes consumers, the company featured Coldplay and the album on an iTunes commercial that was broadcast in the US during ad breaks of the massively popular American Idol.
The ad was later shown all around the world and prompted consumers to visit iTunes to preorder the album. Net result? Viva La Vida has become the most preordered album in iTunes history. And all of this in just over two months. Most countries are now reporting that the figures for Viva La Vida have exceeded the total sales of X&Y.
The two biggest changes in the music industry over the past few years have been the advance of iTunes as the world’s biggest music provider, and the amount of music which is now given away free as a lossleader. Coldplay engaged with both in their campaign and are now reaping the dividends. Meanwhile, Robbie Williams is shaping up to release his first new album in years, Paul McCartney is looking again at his recording contract with a coffee shop, and Radiohead have said they will never release another free album. Viva La Vida has a significance that far outweighs the songs on it.
Five million reasons to smile: Jonny Buckland, Chris Martin