You may not be a fan of Taylor Swift’s music. I’m not particularly. In fact I’ve been working on a comedy bit about being subjected to a week of radio in a cheap rental car and forced to hear “Shake It Off” so many times I could put a railroad spike through my head.
But as someone trying to expose your work to more people, you have to be a fan of Taylor Swift’s fan development prowess. Case in point… “Swiftmas”.
If you haven’t seen this yet, watch the video below to see Taylor Swift’s project of giving Christmas gifts to some of her most ardent fans.
Is it a contrived publicity stunt? Of course it is. But so is every email you send to your mailing list and every flyer you hand someone who’s going to just throw it away. The difference is a stunt like this creates a lasting memory in the fan and actually improves their lives and their relationship with Taylor.
There is so much right about this whole project….
– It looks like she picks maybe a dozen fans to do this with. Totally doable for any artist to cyber stalk those fans a little and fight out what they’re up to and, in this case, what they might like for Xmas.
– She’s real. Sitting on her bedroom floor in pajamas and wrapping presents for her fans? Come on… You’re never going to see Madonna doing that. Taylor has always had the “girl next door” vibe, which really connects her to her fanbase. But she does it in a way where they can still look up to her. On the Grammys she’s fully decked out in designer-wear, but this kind of thing brings her back down to Earth in the eyes of her fans.
– It’s personalized. She obviously personalized the gifts and cards to the person. Even the video is personalized. When she tells the cat, “That is Sophie’s blanket…” You can bet that Sophie was even more excited to have a gift from Taylor Swift with Taylor’s cat’s hair on it. Not to mention, every single time those people use or look at their gifts, they’re going to think of Taylor Swift and how nice she is. And of course, “Where’d you get that bracelet?” “Oh, Taylor Swift gave it to me for Christmas…” How many discussions is that going to create?
– Getting video reactions. This is the real publicity gem here. I don’t know how she managed to tell them to film themselves opening the box when they didn’t even seem to know who it was from at first. But having those reaction videos is priceless. The rest of her fan base watches that and thinks, “I wish that were me.”
– There was no “pre-strike”. None of this was announced beforehand. It wasn’t done as a contest. Everything was a complete surprise. I guarantee more people will remember this a year from now than the fact that Beyonce released an album without telling anyone even though Taylor personally affected fewer people.
– It wasn’t just a promo for her latest release. We often get into a habit of only talking to our fans when we have something to promote. In the video, there are a couple passing references to her latest album, but this is nearly independent of that. Not to mention it was the #1 album of 2014. It hardly needs the help. It was a little bit of news jacking though by tying into a holiday season when press outlets are looking for positive stories (for once…)
– The insider jargon. “Swiftmas” “Tay-Lurking”. The little Santa emojii sent fans on Twitter. That’s fuel for the club fire. Fans love insider stuff and jargon is a big part of that.
– The background music in the video. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that’s the next single. Either way, good move to connect that song with good feelings.
– Showing the press quotes at the end of the video. The beginning would have been too Hollywood. But if you get to the end of the video, it’s more just showing the aftermath. Obviously those outlets are looking for celebrity news to print and that’s a “duh” kind of story to run. But then, that’s the kind of story we all want to create, right?
I also think it’s interesting that this wouldn’t have worked nearly as well in the pre-social media era. If I got a Christmas present from Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1989 I would have been super excited and told the 20 people around me about it. Maybe a pen pal. But it would have been super localized. With online video and social media, millions of people know about this.
So let’s talk about how you and I can apply this stuff.
– Pick out a few of your top fans. Look for the people that share your stuff online or regularly reply to your email newsletters. Get the most involved people you’ve got. If 12 is too much, do 5. Do whatever you can handle.
– Make special lists of those people on Facebook, Twitter, Tumble, Instagram, and whatever else you use. Your goal is to get to know these few fans in depth. Take notes. You could have an assistant do this as I’m sure Taylor had some help on it. Of course, doing it yourself will be a stronger connection.
– Maintain the same amount of communication with those fans as usual. If you all the sudden are chatting these people up regularly, they’ll wonder why, even if they are excited. You want the surprise to be a surprise. As lower level artists, we communicate directly with our fans much more regularly. We’re more accessible because we need to be to maintain momentum. Even so, the surprise factor will go a long way.
– Don’t do exactly the same thing as Taylor. It’s been done now. Even she’ll have to come up with something new unless it turns into a tradition. Do a spin on it. Do it at a different time of year. News jack a different holiday. Send your top fans a bonzai tree on Arbor Day or a personalized birthday gift.
– “But I’m a dude in a metal band and we don’t have screamy girly fans…” Doesn’t matter. Your fans will be excited to get something from you anyway. The real magic here is access and connection. They may not break down crying, but I’ll tell you what, if I got a Christmas present in the mail from Butch Walker, I’d be pretty floored.
Heck, one night James Hetfield walked into the San Jose Improv to see a show. (Of course, it had to be a night I wasn’t there….) The comics on the shows flipped the hell out and it was talked about for weeks. Connection, but not too much. If Taylor did this every month, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
– You’re not going to get the same response. It’s impossible. But that shouldn’t be your goal anyway. You’re not Taylor Swift. Figure out what would be fun and meaningful for your fans and keep developing those relationships until someone breaks down in tears because they got a gift from you.
My two big questions: How did she get them to film themselves opening the gift without giving away the surprise? And how did she get their mailing addresses? There’s no option for mailing address on her email list form. I have to assume those people have bought physical items from her web store. Something to keep in mind. What do you think?