Why Drake succeeded at manufacturing viral marketing (and Justin Bieber couldn’t)

Drake is a cultural juggernaut and a major reason for his decade-long dominance has been his meticulous marketing strategies. Always seemingly ahead of the curve, his latest release cycle for last Friday’s “Toosie Slide” was a simple yet ingenious tactic that manufactured an “organic” viral trend.

The song first gained public exposure through an Instagram post from dancer Toosie, who the song is also named after, where he and his buddies performed an original short choreographed dance to snippet of the track’s hook – ‘Right foot up, left foot, slide / Left foot up, right foot, slide’. If you’ve been anywhere on the internet recently, you would know that Toosie’s post follows in the footsteps of many viral dance trends on TikTok, such as Doja Cat’s “Say So” or The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights“.

However, what separates Toosie’s post from the rest was that “Toosie Slide” had not been released to the public at the time. In an interview with GQ, he states that Drake ‘had a record idea and needed [him] to come up with a dance to it’. Then a week before the song’s release, Drake told Toosie to ‘post the video on [his] page. I want to see what it does.’; and thus the Toosie Slide dance was born.

Throughout that same week, the song’s 15-second snippet (the length of an average TikTok) begun circulating among social media influencers, each of them doing the dance on their own profiles. The trend took on a life of its own as fans began pulling sound clips off these posts and danced over grainy versions of the snippet. Drake had kickstarted a movement for a song that hadn’t even seen the light of day.

There are 3 reasons for the song’s early bump in popularity. Firstly (and also most obviously), Drake is one of the biggest stars on the planet. A loosie drop from the man himself is enough to make most people stop and pay attention. So the discovery of an official Drizzy snippet that only exists on TikTok and Instagram is more than enough to drum up anticipation of a new single. Fans and detractors alike would need to know what the next big move in his career might be.

Secondly, the exclusivity of the snippet among influencers only further drives up the song’s stock value. A calculated measure to get people to hop onto the dance trend, Drake fans jumped at the opportunity to insert themselves into this select group; to be part of the guerrilla marketing and becoming early adopters of “Toosie Slide”.

This then leads to the final reason of its success: an organic build-up. All Toosie did was upload an Instagram clip with an easily copy-able dance, and that was more than enough for people to hop on. In our TikTok saturated society, users are always on the lookout for the next craze to incite. Looking at the multiple instances of influencers growing into actual celebrities through their dances, it’s only natural that clout chasing off the hype of a new Drake track becomes a no-brainer for those looking to score.

However, a surefire way of ensuring your TikTok-bait song doesn’t end up going viral? Begging for your fans to help it succeed. Both “Toosie Slide” and Justin Bieber’s “Yummy” are clearly engineered songs that appeal to the platform’s user base. Plus neither of them are even close to each artist’s best work, so the difference between their success then lies in the subtlety of their promotions.

Bieber’s disastrous push will eventually end up as a future high school marketing case study but summed up, his unabashed attempts at pleading for fan assistance only backfired as the singer’s many call-to-action attempts only exacerbated his desperation for a #1 single. Of course, artists have used similar tactics to ensure chart success, but asking for the general public to turn a mediocre song into a worldwide trend is recipe for failure.

No customer wants to be forced to enjoy a product. Free will is the one factor that no marketing strategy should infringe on, as customer autonomy is what determines if they remain a passive user or an active advocate of said product. In Bieber’s case, the overt soliciting for fans to listen only turned into jokes made at his expense. Drake, on the other hand, seemingly had no hand in its promotion. He was nowhere to be seen when dance clips began circulating across social media. His only presence was the grainy voice that boomed throughout videos that fans and trend-chasers alike uploaded without needing any incentive from Drake himself.

“Toosie Slide” is a prime example of ‘less is more’ and allowing an existing reputation to do the heavy lifting when it came to mass exposure. Could another artist have done what Drake did? Probably not. His masterful grasp over the public’s perception of him is unparalleled and most likely will be the key element to Drake’s success into the new decade.

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Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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