the business of hype
From Apple to Beyoncé to limited edition fashion collaborations, how do you make people think they want something?
For me the 'drop' was always the moment in a song where, "a switch of rhythm or bass line occurs and usually follows a recognisable build section and break." Essentially: when the bass kicks in and the crowd goes wild. But in the world of commerce the term 'drop' is more commonly used to describe the moment when a product hits the shop floor or is launched online, much to the excitement of consumers gagging to give over their hard-earned cash in exchange for a piece of the pie.
For marketers across the world, this presents a challenge: to find an innovative and ingenious method for a product to be released that captures the attention of the world media, encourages queueing along the street, an Instagram frenzy, general social media shutdown and ultimately, a huge surge in sales.
If queues around the block are a measure of success, you only have to look at Supreme or London's own Palace skate store, which has a trail of teenage pilgrims lined up along Brewer Street every morning. With Supreme, the cynics have suggested that the small production runs are the amplifier of 'hype' and work to skew supply and demand to fever-pitch levels. In an interview with 032c, Supreme founder James Jebbia answered 'not', stating, "The main reason behind the short runs is that we don't want to get stuck with stuff that nobody wants." Palace's Lev Tanju expressed a similar sentiment to Style.com's Noah Johnson in an interview earlier this year, "Expect product runs to be limited, but Tanju has quality on his mind, not hype. 'Real low numbers and really well made,' he says.'"
The most common form of communication in the fashion industry to announce news is a press release. As everyone is used to this format, it's refreshing when news is delivered in a less conventional format. For his collaboration with H&M, international man of mystery Alexander Wang organised a party at Coachella. Guests either received an invitation for the 'H&M Loves Music after party' or for an 'Alexander Wang Coachella party', but upon arrival, the signage at the event revealed that the two brands were uniting for a collaboration that would debut in November 2014. "I loved the idea of revealing the announcement by arrival," Wang said on the night. Just hours before the party was set to begin, he posted a teaser on Instagram that showed a mini boxing gloves keyring with dumbbells in the background, allowing him to set the tone for the collaboration - spoiler - it was sporty. H&M also dressed Rihanna in a full look two months before it even hit stores to continue the drip-feeding of marketing to an eager audience.
Or there's the Céline way. Since Phoebe Philo joined in 2008, the brand's revenue has quadrupled whilst maintaining their staunch no social media or e-commerce policy. In Chief Executive Marco Gobbetti's words, "Being quiet gives more value to what we do."
The brand most known for successfully launching new product is Apple. Whilst they do not seed out a limited run of niche goods, quite the opposite, they have mastered a unique formula in creating a buzz for their new, must have invention. According to the analytics blog Kissmetrics, this involves getting opinion formers, bloggers and press on side early doors, by seeding out specific information, delivering an amazing launch event and then allowing their customer to make 'Pre-Orders'. It's a resourceful tactic for connecting with your consumers directly, prior to the product hitting the stores. These pre-orders add up, allowing Apple to share gigantic sales figures with the press building further momentum around the product: "Within three days, the iPhone 4 sold 1.7 million units." Pow.
So the hype has changed and it's not just fashion and technology observing this intense yearning to be able to buy a product immediately. Last week Harper Lee fans queued through the night around the world for the midnight release of Go Set a Watchman. This was a special occasion as the book is set 20 years after the events of Lee's 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, but was actually written beforehand. The original story of racism and injustice in the fictional town of Maycomb sold 40 million copies and was stacked in every classroom around the world. The reports and reviews about the book have sparked controversy as the honourable lawyer Atticus Finch is portrayed, controversially, as racist. Still it's refreshing to see people caring about getting a physical copy of a book into their hands. A hard copy still has currency in youth culture. When i-D dropped their limited edition cover wraps for the 35th Birthday Issue (notably with covers designed by both Supreme and Palace, clever), kids queued down Dover Street to get their copy. Once the wraps had sold out, they started cold-calling i-D HQ.
Now for Beyoncé, and her own invention of anti-hype. In 2013 with no warning, the pop star released her long-overdue fifth album, accompanied by no less than 17 music videos. In an era when most popstars leak teasers of their videos, Beyoncé pulled off a modern miracle by privately shooting 17. This strategy also meant she had zero airplay, TV interviews to promote her album, music reviews and although the release was covered by the mainstream media, it was perceived as a brave, forward-thinking move. Her press statement stated that, "stripped of gimmicks, teasers and marketing campaigns, this project is truly about art before hype". It worked; her album sold 430,000 copies in one day in the US.
It's hard to ignore hype, it fights for our attention through the social media we surround ourselves with on a daily basis. Beyoncé's album release is the perfect example of a key player changing the game. By keeping tight control of her music and loosening her grip on the traditional technique of releasing music she managed to create something for her fans that felt fresh, inventive and brave. Free of clutter.
Do you believe in hype?
Text Laura Hinson
Photography Lucius Kwok