What does Taylor Swift do right?

On April 2nd 2024 Taylor Swift officially became the 2545th richest billionaire on the planet.  (There are apparently a lot of billionaires these days).  According to Forbes she is the first musician to achieve this from talent alone (not needing side hustles).  A new concept has been named for her.  Swiftonomics, coined by Bloomberg, originally was conceived as a way of explaining how her 2022 tour bucked the overall economic trends in the US.  Advance sales of her tickets sold out and huge premiums were paid for resale.  And the trend has only continued to accelerate.  Apparently profits from her Era tour make her as rich as the 36th biggest nation in the world.  Recently the tourism minister of Indonesia, Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno, said: “We need Swiftonomics for Indonesian tourism” and created a fund to bid for events like a Swift concert in order to boost the travel industry.

The supply of an unmissable product or event can create truly significant revenue.  The Federal Reserve even mentioned Swift in its June 2023 Beige Book, its regular analysis of recent economic conditions, stating that “May was the strongest month for hotel revenue in Philadelphia since the onset of the pandemic, in large part due to an influx of guests for the Taylor Swift concerts in the city.” It’s not just the Swift product.  Barbieheimer, Beyonce and Abba Voyage (of course not actually in real life), women’s football, new formats of cricket, have all created new revenue streams. And a bit of comfort for people who are worried about AI is that according to The Economist “even if AI surpasses humans in art, intellect, music and sport, humans will probably continue to derive value from surpassing their fellow humans, for example by having tickets to the hottest events.”

What can brands and advertisers learn from this?

The first clear lesson is make it live.  The latest IPA Bellwether Report pointed to a boom in events.  A prestige occasion that was unmissable, you had to be there where marketing can deliver brand equity and create new memory structures outside of advertising alone.  The report indicates that “main media budgets” might decline, but events show unprecedented growth.  Paul Samuels, evp AEG Global Partnerships, is quoted in Campaign saying: “While an advert lasts just seconds, an event lasts for hours – and the memories, a lifetime – giving brands longer to engage with consumers and enhance their experiences.”  You clearly cannot reach as many people with an event as you can with a paid media campaign, even with an artist who is working as hard as Taylor Swift, but you can create lasting impact in the hearts and minds of those who are there.

Lesson two, you do not have to reinvent everything.  Too much revolution in communications can be overrated in terms of commercial success.  Ditching the slogan, changing the logo, creating a completely different ad campaign might be exciting, but might not deliver the outcomes that have been planned for.  Thinking about Swift herself, her longevity is important.  Her multitude of fans can count on a gentle evolution of content that sounds familiar and yet is refreshed.  This sometimes goes against common advertising practices of calling wear out long before the audience is weary of the ad, and of abandoning strong brand equity with a full makeover of comms.  Dominic Twose, the former head of knowledge management at Millward Brown,  explains that advertising wear out is rare, the response to an ad shown over months or even years is consistent, and if people enjoy the ad, then this doesn’t diminish through repetition.   A new Channel 4 study on sponsorship shows that effectiveness in driving purchase intent improves as time goes on, (even if people claim that they are fed up with the idents).  As Taylor herself puts it: “I never want to change so much that people can’t recognise me”. 

Diversification of revenue might not be how Taylor became a billionaire, but it hasn’t hurt her bank balance.  The sales of vinyl have stepchanged because of her and she’s sold lots of friendship bracelets and movie tickets too.  The Eras tour reportedly broke all records for event cinema within 3 days of opening in UK and Ireland.

Above all the lesson from Swiftonomics remains that real talent, dedication, hard work and passion are what drives success. Leaving the last words to Taylor: “Just be yourself, there is no-one better”.

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