YouTube & Video

OK STOP: Marketing and Music Videos

Since the launch of MTV in 1981, the music video has played a central role in music marketing. So much in fact, that even back then there was large cache of artists, ranging from Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran
image from and Madonna, who owed a great portion of their commercial success to the rapid-fire editing and sexual nature of their videos.  However, over the years, the music video has evolved.

In 1985, Dire Straits released the video for "Money for Nothing."  Though the song went on to become an international hit; it’s quite likely that their pioneering use of computer animation in the video had more to do with its success than the actual song playing in the background.  The same argument could be made about the music video for “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel.  What's interesting to me is that the novelty of these videos is reminiscent of the lengths that artists will go to today in order to ensure that the videos they upload to YouTube will go viral.

From Art Form To Viral Engine

From 1992-2004, the music video became increasingly embraced by the up-and-coming directors of the time – Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, and Hype Williams – and it further evolved into more of an art form than a marketing medium. But, with the decline in revenues at major labels in recent years and the fall of the MTV giant, no one has had access to the funding necessary to produce art-driven music videos. With the onset of the digital age though, we’ve seen the music video increasingly evolve back to its roots as a pure marketing medium.
After all, doing whatever it takes to get your video viewed as many times as possible can only be a good thing – right?  With the posting of the “Behind the Machine” TED talk yesterday; where Adam Sadowsky sheds light into how he helped OK Go engineer another viral music video; it got me thinking. At what point do you take something which has always been a marketing medium and turn it into nothing but marketing?  To me, that’s exactly the problem that OK GO’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass” represents; it feels a bit too much like the time-suck equivalent of Charlie Bit My Finger or The Laughing Baby.  

As the tagline for the video on College Humor reads, “If OK Go broke up; I'd be more disappointed that they were no longer making music videos than I'd be that they were done making music.”  This is not to decry to loss of the music video as an art-form either, because that’s not the point; especially since it was only an “art” for a very short period of time.  The problem that I foresee though is the underlying aspect of too much marketing and not nearly enough music.

Yes, I imagine that the OK GO video was extremely successful and got them lots of press.  In terms of any video getting 13,766,406 views—like they have—it’s still a rather impressive feat.  The music video served its core purpose of going viral, reaching a wide audience, and re-energizing enthusiasm for the band; it likely even boosted sales of the song.  But, I think we’re getting close to the point where the marketing of the music video overrides the song in it to the point where the only thing that it motivates is more views, leaving fans with little interest in actually acquiring the song playing.  Since, after all, the song itself is boring once you take away the flashy effects, machine contraptions, and the marketing hype. 

What are other examples of a case where an artist's music videos have become more marketing and not enough music?   — Kyle Bylin, (@kbylin)

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  1. Lady Gaga’s clearly the perfect example. She’s living off a two year old album which she re-released a year later with half a dosen bonus tracks that she’s currently still releasing every three or so months as singles.
    She’s just about hit the point where she’s tipped the scale and people are realising the lack of music vs style, which is bizarre because she’s almost lived an entire career in 80’s music in about 18 months. How the world has changed.

  2. When we tweeted a question about this yesterday, some people had similar feelings.  I would access those tweets, but it appears as though Twitter is down–again.  Though I think you brought up some great points.

  3. I don’t agree with you that OK GO’s video is for “nothing but marketing”. That rube-goldberg video is an amazing feat of engineering, physics, and concept. For the amount of work that was put in by the amount of people it took, I think that the response was fair: they set out to do something great and accomplished it. Sure, it markets the band, but I think people were more intrigued by the sheer scale and technical virtuosity it took to pull that off. It was a feat of human ingenuity, and people can always appreciate that. I agree with your assessment of how the music video has changed, but I think using OK GO as an example was a poor choice. You should have focused this critique on Lady Gaga’s newest video for “Alejandro” which is nothing but a mish-mash of her image and shock value with no concern for conceptualization. That video should have been vetoed by her creative staff, but I’m sure was allowed to go through because of it’s ability to spark controversy.

  4. I find that when I watch a great music video and the music itself isn’t so good, it only highlights the mediocrity of the music all the more. I’m not sure that is the intended result, but if there is a mismatch between the quality of the video and the quality of the music, for me personally it works against the music. I don’t think to myself, “I want to see these guys because they make clever videos.” Rather, I think, “These guys don’t write good music. The video is all they have to offer.”
    I have the same reaction when I see great graphic art paired with mediocre music. The music just seems all that much weaker when paired with a good product.

  5. I was thinking about this a bit more and here’s why I think a great video makes mediocre music seem worse.
    A very elaborate video usually takes a lot of time and possibly money to put together. Therefore whoever authorized the video isn’t cutting corners. So if the band can’t turn out equally good music, it isn’t for lack of resources. Maybe it’s lack of musical talent.

  6. Nice article Kyle and congrats on the full time gig with Hypebot! The points you addressed are some that seem to be overlooked in today’s YouTube-enabled culture. Nowadays music videos are consumed and forgotten in mere minutes, however it is those that contain great music that I actually remember. I feel that sometimes videos can take the attention away from the music – especially if the song isn’t particularly strong. The above mentioned OK Go video is one example of this. I just watched the video and if you asked me what the name was or what the chorus sounded like, I would not be able to answer. Yes the video’s technical manipulation of physics and everyday objects was impressive but it’s the music I’m interested in.

  7. I don’t agree at all. Whatever you personally think of OK Go’s music, it’s well known that most people think their music is crap. Their record sales arguably reflect that point rather than a more complicated argument that music video has somehow robbed them of sales.
    Music videos are another way to touch people’s souls, or funny bones or whichever way you use them to connect with people. They’re another way to make a band sticky with their fans. All good stuff. And if your music isn’t actually that attractive, clever music videos can bring you the fame your music never would.

  8. Music Videos now are just a novelty that are consumed in 3-5 days on blogs then never mentioned again. It’s not worth the cost of production anymore to make a big budget Hype Williams video anymore when it will be forgotten in a week after release.

  9. @Richard I’m not saying that the video isn’t an amazing feat. If I didn’t think it was then I would’ve never posted the “behind the machine” TED talk.
    “people were more intrigued by the sheer scale and technical virtuosity it took to pull that off.” You do realize that’s the point I’m making, right? That people are more intrigued by the novelty of the video–the viral marketing–than the music that’s playing.

  10. You make a great point there. I too can think of a few times where the quality of the video overpowered the quality of the song that it was intended to promote.

  11. Thanks for the congrats. Glad to see that other readers do see the point I’m trying to make here. Music videos like this are just brain candy; we like to consume them, thoughtlessly. Granted there are plenty of so-called viral videos that come out everyday and never make an impact; I just think its misleading to only praise OK Go for what they’ve done. Rather than taking a moment to step back and question what’s really happening as music videos evolve into viral media.

  12. I think you might be right. The obsolescence is much, much higher in the net world. Not only is the hype cycle faster, but so is the rate that they can be watched, which leads to over exposure quite quickly. Until the time comes where there’s nothing left that’s interesting about the video and your left searching for the next throwaway video to consume and favorite.

  13. I’m not saying that the music video is robbing them of sales. That’s not the point at all. I made the argument that the music video–as a marketing medium–is made to drive sales. In this case, its a viral video and likely won’t drive up sales as much as it will views.

  14. Yeah, and I’m saying in this particular case, who cares about the music? In this case the video is so brilliant that the music fades into irrelevance. The point I’m making, is that there are better examples, where neither are particularly strong. And also, that I don’t think this, at the heart of it, is an attempt at viral marketing, but rather an artistic statement- an extension of the band’s expression, a band saying “let’s do something really cool”. Also, this is the second video to surface for this song. If you want a video that actually does the song justice, find it here:

  15. I think OK Go would be better calling themselves video producers than musicians. It’s their videos that they are known for.
    In comparison, there is the Flight of the Conchords. They are primarily known as a comedy group that creates well-received music. By stressing the comedy first, anything they do with the music is a bonus. People are there to laugh and then notice that the songs are good at capturing certain genres.
    If OK Go stressed they were video creators first and everyone based their expectations on that, then if the band did better music than expected, they would get some brownie points.
    And maybe they should start doing videos for other bands, so they can couple clever videos with the best music they can find. Or, more likely, they’ll end up doing videos for corporate clients (State Farm paid for the “This Too Shall Pass” video) and carve out a career that way. The corporate client can even supply the music that they want and OK Go can just develop videos to go along with it.

  16. Can you all stop crucifying todays music.
    Fact people like different things amd all people dont like the same music.
    What you consider music or not music is subjective and is just an your option. Some treating it as something more.
    Just because you dont like something dont try to force your views on others. If someone likes todays music so be it it is between them and the artist not you.

  17. I have to disagree with your premise Kyle. And if I were a marketing cynic, I would say that your thesis would be a worthy PR placement for the OK GO group. I personally got a kick out of the OK GO video, but as performance art that it seems to be. Thinking a little deeper, it is a commentary about the idea of connectedness that is becoming dismally apparent in things like the oil spill (see video beginning “car”.) The song itself, which has the kind of repetition that drives me out of stores, but seems not to bother most young folks. The “letting go” is perhaps one healthy choice in a world where our lack of awareness has led to circumstances that are so out of control that it would drive us insane to think of ways to control it. As some cultural articles suggest, the “younger generation” seems to have a ‘sanguinity’ about current events that if not ganJa driven, may appear even buddhist. If you are suggesting that scarcity of money is degrading the quality of art, I would also disagree. I think imperfection and inventiveness will win out. But I think your article ultimately is a good way to start discussions about art, music and philosophy. Then maybe people will think it’s a good thing to learn them more deeply. And I think that the multimedia aspect enriches any experience/discussion.

  18. I think this discussion is a little silly. OK Go is an exception to the rule. Only a handful of artists pull off videos that make a mark. Hundreds of music videos come out every week and many of them are a waste time. Most videos follow a stale format that doesn’t really add anything to music. You get some shots of the band playing mixed with some scenery and some random objects, maybe you through in some video effects. A lot of the time the video doesn’t even go with the feel of the song.
    The majority of music videos are just marketing products that are just slopped into a bland mix of images. These are the videos you should be complaining about.
    You should be thankful that bands like OK Go are innovative and bring something new to music video. If you want to point a marketing finger, point it at all the mediocre videos that serve no purpose other than to fulfill contracts.

  19. When the band does the video itself and it looks homemade, that probably isn’t a bad thing. Little money has been spent, and it is a way for the band to connect to their fans. I know artists/bands who put up videos on a weekly basis.
    I think what we are talking about here are videos which are meant to be the buzz that drives the marketing. So I don’t think the issue is mediocre videos, but rather videos that end up upstaging the music.
    As I mentioned, if the video is better than the music, I tend to think less of the music. If, on the other hand, the music was never meant to be anything more than an adjunct to the video and the entire package is successful, then I suppose the goal has been accomplished if our focus is on the video.

  20. Think about a movie star who decides to start a band. Our expectations are often pretty low and we’re pleasantly surprised if the music is good. We may go to the shows anyway, because we like the movie star as a movie star, and any decent music is a plus.
    Similarly, if we promote someone as a video star who happens to play music, then any decent music is a plus.
    But if we label someone a musician, we tend to go into the experience expecting some decent music. If music isn’t your strength, and making videos is, from a marketing point of view I think you’d be better off calling yourself a video artist.

  21. Very interesting article. It is important to keep in mind that the best marketing video will always be composed of a good music & a good video, that’s the most unforgettable.
    A good exemple of would be this band who buzzed in Europe with quite a low cost video :

  22. I see where you’re coming from, Kyle, but I don’t agree because I think the OK Go song (‘This Too Shall Pass’) stands alone as a good pop song. It stayed in my head after watching the video only once, and having seen it played live, it’s certainly earned the right to shake any allegations of marketing style over songwriting substance.
    I’m on your side when it comes to ‘Here It Goes Again’, though. That song never pushed my buttons. And while reading this article, I kept thinking of the most recent M.I.A. video (‘Born Free’). Awesome video, but damned if I can remember what the song sounds like.

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