Rock ‘n’ roll and pop music have long been associated with drugs, infidelity and controversy in general. Musical artists have played the role not only of entertainers, but of outspoken pot-stirrers—and it’s often assumed that this is simply indicative of their rebellious personalities, and that the relationship between controversy and massive success was happenstance, or the by-product of being a brilliant artist…
but what if it’s something else?
What if that controversy is deliberately cultivated, as a business strategy?
If any of us could have been in the board room with the Beyoncé team over the past year, we would have the answer; however, I don’t think we needed to be there to know the truth:
Beyoncé has chosen controversy as an avenue for brand growth.
Beyoncé + Controversy = Uber-Growth
Until recently, Beyoncé was everyone’s artist. She was beautiful, talented…her music held wide audience appeal and her brand held broad popularity. The biggest argument surrounding her brand was “Will she live up to the hype?”
Something was missing. Too many people were half-hearted about her brand. There wasn’t enough passion.
And so, controversies were born.
Beyoncé releases the video for Formation, which takes on police brutality.
She performs at the Super Bowl, with back-up dancers dressed like Black Panthers.
Her new album, Lemonade, is released on Tidal before iTunes.
Album trailers hint that an answer to infidelity rumours would be found in the yet-to-be-released Lemonade.
Lyrics on the new album talk openly about infidelity that listeners attribute to Jay-Z.
Boycott Beyoncé shirts and phone cases hit the market.
Not only did she stir up a lot of controversy with these moves in a short amount of time, she’s profiting through the back door. Her husband, Jay-Z, owns Tidal, the platform through which Lemonade was initially released, and Beyoncé herself created the #BoycottBeyoncé movement and is pocketing profits from those sales.
If anyone questions whether or not this upsurge in controversy is intentional, they need only look at the timing and the number of events that occurred within a short amount of time to know that this is a splendidly orchestrated and executed brand-building plan.
The grand plan is brilliant for a number of reasons:
- Profits are coming in from both sides of the controversy—album sales from fans and #BoycottBeyoncé sales from critics.
- Even critics are listening to the album—they are eager to fuel their aversion and gather new material for the #BoycottBeyoncé movement.
- Large, influential entities are generally the subject of widespread boycotts. By building on the beginning of a boycott movement (essentially fuelling it herself), Beyoncé has categorised her brand as even bigger than it was believed to be.
- Beyoncé has carefully compared what she has to offer with current events and controversies going on the in the U.S. and the world, and has married her brand with feminism, racism and police brutality—all causes that are already getting a lot of attention—and she’s profiting from it.
- She has turned her brand from one with wide appeal into one that serves a niche in only a year’s time. The shock of the move attracts attention to her brand (from both sides). Her fans are now more loyal and impassioned, as are most niche consumers.
- Beyoncé understand that the acquisition of haters is a profitable move, and she’s got them. The more she angers them, the more they talk…and the longer her name is in the news.
- Much like Johnny Cash did in Nashville, Beyoncé waited until her fan base was significant enough to risk the loss of half of it and still beat the competition. In other words, even if this controversy-based business plan didn’t balloon into something spectacular, her remaining fan base would still be extraordinary.
In short, Beyoncé has carefully planned and expertly executed this storm of controversy to build a brand that’s bigger than it could ever be without the love/hate decision she’s created.
She saw it work for Madonna, for Miley Cyrus, for Billy Idol, for Prince…and now she’s making it work in an even bigger way.
So, just when you thought Beyoncé couldn’t be any more significant, she’s proven that her business acumen is just as sharp as her musical talent.
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