Positioning is an essential component of any marketing campaign. Searing the image of a brand into the consciousness of potential consumers is a must if said marketing is meant to succeed.
The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.Al Reis, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
Late 2019, Canadian crooner The Weeknd dropped 2 singles of his upcoming album After Hours – “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights”. The former instantly topped charts worldwide (though its fall off was steep), while the latter eventually parked itself atop both global iTunes and Spotify rankings as well, and for multiple weeks in a row.
“Heartless” was propelled solely through the hype of a new Weekend era, thus its descent from the top was to be expected; while “Blinding Lights” (easily the superior song) took its time to hook listeners and slow burn its way to the top. Both are top quality songs that could hold their own among Weeknd’s best, but they are also the opening chapters into what is shaping up to be the After Hours narrative.
Re-branding himself as a drug-laced mess that walked straight out of a 80s Scarface parody, The Weeknd doubled down on the persona he’s set up for the album. From each of his music videos to his live performances, the consistency in his image preps listeners for a record that will most likely be dark, psychedelic and drenched in a drug-induced haze.
His marketing campaign becomes an extension to the After Hours plot line. The music will still be doing the heavy lifting, but the material he’s put out so far are busy world building, readying listeners for the whole album experience.
Across the other side of the pond, UK superstar Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia rollout is the antithesis to After Hours‘. Instead of banking solely on controlled media like music videos and TV performances, she employs a maximalist approach that ranges from festival performances to sketches (as seen above).
Her 3 singles so far – “Don’t Start Now”, “Future Nostalgia” and “Physical” all have multiple music videos to their name respectively, which is an obvious aim at Billboard’s new rules regarding video streams. Still, exposure wasn’t the only thing her team focused on. The dance-heavy tunes also paved the way for Dua to silence her detractors when it came to her once “middling stage presence“.
Less like a re-branding and more of an absolute tonal shift, the Future Nostalgia era can already be defined by eye-popping outfit aesthetics, heavy 80s/90s nostalgia baiting and killer live performances.
Her debut performance for “Don’t Start Now” at EMAs was a declaration by a new-and-improved artist, commanding attention towards the transfixing product that is her new era.
The unshakable confidence exuded by Dua Lipa set the tone for everything that followed, as each subsequent single felt more formidable than the last. It began setting the expectation that Future Nostalgia will be a career-defining era for one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
It’s impossible to improve a bad product with good marketing, but effective marketing can turn a great product into one that’s seemingly untouchable relative to the competition.
The Weeknd and Dua Lipa are very talented artists that have dropped one incredible single after the other. Even with minimal marketing, either artists would have easily topped charts worldwide. But as After Hours nears its Friday release date and Future Nostalgia‘s 3 weeks from now, both are expected to make tsunami-esque splashes in sales.
Choosing to commit to a single narrative/aesthetic will pay off handsomely, given that expectations for the record are firmly set in place and consumers become confident that the artists will very likely to deliver on the final product.
By keeping things consistent, not only are the expectations set high, they will also be realistic. Hope for their album to be great and blow audiences away will be high, while at the same time whatever product that is delivered will be kept within the boundaries of their own expectations.
Through this, the artists themselves have allowed for fans to expect nothing but brilliance from them.