From the East Coast to the West Coast, to international territory, and soon to be in theaters, Taylor Swift is an unstoppable force of grace and glitter.
Since Taylor’s first single hit airwaves at just 16 years old, Swifties have been faithful, and at times wildly intense, superfans.
As one of these shameless Swifties who also happens to be in PR, Marla Rose Clendenin, a Creative Partner for 212 Communications and co-host of Not Your Parents’ PR, had to investigate the deeper marketing meaning behind her longevity. And so, the three-part Taylor Swift Series was born. Below is a rundown on each episode where she examines one album promotion and compares it to a campaign from a notable brand.
As Swift’s stardom climbed, so did her criticism. As any leader of a household brand will tell you, there will absolutely be adversity as you grow.
Grasping at straws to nitpick Swift, tabloids and talk show hosts often mocked her love life, labeling her as a serial dater.
Instead of ignoring the noise, she embraced it. A key example of this in action is her music video for ‘Blank Space’ off her first pop album, 1989, where she delightfully plays into the media’s assumptions.
The song and chaotic music video tell the tale of a deranged woman that keeps men lined up one after the next. Her lyrics are pointed, one being, “Got a long-list of ex lovers, they’ll tell you I’m insane, but I got a Blank Space baby, and I’ll write your name.”
In the video, she goes on a crazy jealous rampage. Like throwing a vase at her suitor’s head, dropping his phone in the pool and even poisoning him. Needless to say, it’s worth a watch.
In a People Magazine interview, she explained why she decided to take the misleading rhetoric and turn it into art. As she’s quoted, “At first it was hurtful and then I kind of found a little comedy in it.”
By leaning into the narrative, she took back the control. It would’ve been easy to dismiss the dialogue. But what’s more interesting, and a better story, is how she made true purpose out of false perceptions.
Swift Case Study #1 | Domino’s Pizza
Thirteen years ago, Swift’s lucky number by the way, Domino’s Pizza’s service was falling flat. So, they switched their recipe for success.
The team launched the campaign, “The Domino’s Pizza Turnaround.” Overall, it’s a hilarious commercial highlighting bad reviews to show customers they were ready to change. And, it garnered more than two million views on YouTube alone.
Domino’s honest approach worked. They owned up to their flaws, poked fun at themselves, and made a public statement to change their ways. As a pizza company, you just can’t take yourself too seriously, so humor was the right road.
Unlike Swift, Domino’s reviews were not speculation. Still, the lesson remains.
You must find creative ways to show your audience you’re listening. They will tell you exactly how they feel, and it’s your job to tell them the truth. Face feedback head-on, use it to your advantage, and let that be your legacy.
In the aftermath of Swift’s public feud with an A-list celebrity, Swift wiped her social media accounts clean in 2016.
Not to dive too into the weeds on the scandal itself, but it’s important to note that Kim Kardashian basically called her a snake, and Swift’s social media feeds were bombarded with snake emojis.
Ah, let’s take a moment to appreciate the fascinating age of celebrity smackdowns on social media.
Some might call it crazy, but Swift’s decision to delete her posts was genius. It was risky, but aren’t all the best campaigns? She built an immediate sense of curiosity, panic, and excitement for her fans and haters alike.
These emotions are powerful. If you can hook your audience, you win. Swift had all eyes on her, all because there was nothing to see.
She wasn’t gone for long, resurfacing a few days later. Yes, I was one of many Swifties sharing in the collective sigh of relief heard around the world.
And what did she return to post? A cryptic video of a snake.
And what was the last lesson? Take what your audience is saying, and make it work for you.
And so she began her triumphant promotion for Reputation, with the hit song, “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Through direct lyrics and tons of snakes in the pairing music video, she left clues to tell her side of the feud with Kardashian, generating even more buzz. Swift proved you can stay true to yourself without your audience’s forgiveness. And you can gain back their trust by delivering on your promise. Your best work.
Swift Case Study #2 | Lush Cosmetics
Swift isn’t the only one that’s disappeared on social media to make a point. Known for its looks-good-enough-to-eat colorful bath bombs, Lush Cosmetics took a similar step in 2021.
Why? The brand decided to go inactive on a few social accounts after a Facebook whistleblower revealed executives were aware of the negative mental health effects caused by the platform.
This decision reiterated Lush’s deep commitment to their community’s well-being, which is far more impressive than collecting a million ‘likes’ on a post.
The announcement on their website is titled, “We’re Logging Off Until Social Media is Safe for All.”
And it reads:
“As of November 26th, 2021, we’re saying goodbye to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok until these platforms can provide a safer environment for their users. The serious effects of social media on mental health are being ignored by these platforms. It’s time to stop scrolling and be somewhere else.”
Vogue Business covered the story, with a quote by Chief Digital Officer, Jack Constantine, “I could be risking my career by doing this. And you can’t deny there’s a commercial risk, but we’re prioritizing people over profit. It is counter-intuitive for us to use platforms that keep you hyper-tense, engaged, and anxious.”
As marketers, we need to do a better job of using social media platforms strategically. Each should be viewed as a silo. If a certain platform makes sense to use, that’s great. If not, drop it.
For social media, strong content works, but careful execution is everything. Think of each platform like a piece of silverware. Maybe a fork. Do you need it if you’re selling soup? Do you need Twitter if you don’t have something meaningful to tweet several times a day?
For Swift, she used her social media presence, or lack of it, to make a statement.
And while Swift came back to social media, she did it in a way that made sense for her brand, and candidly, her sanity. For instance, she no longer allows comments on Instagram posts.
For Lush, if they choose to stay off Meta platforms, they are sending the statement that your mental health is important. And that is an outstanding impression to leave on your customer.
Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid to go silent if you need time to rethink your strategy.
Swift’s strength is her ability to keep her audience consistently curious and lean into what they respond well to. She does this through “Easter eggs” which are hidden messages that link to the future or the past.
Early on in her career, she started planting Easter eggs in her album pamphlets with her lyrics to each song. Like a pirate hiding a secret treasure, she would capitalize random letters, which would spell out a secret code that hinted to what the message of each song was.
Seeing how delighted and engaged her audience was, she continued using this method. Her gestures through each of her evolutions have gotten more grand, and sometimes, out of hand. Lucky me.
The most shining Easter egg examples can be found through the intricate promotion of her album, Lover.
When she launched the first single off the album, “ME!” she packed her music video with incredible amounts of clues that hinted at collaborations, song titles, and even the album name, which hadn’t been revealed yet. She turned to Twitter to ask fans to guess the name of the album, so naturally, she sent the internet into a tizzy.
This is not only a fun game, but a winning marketing tactic. This led to repeat watches of the video, endless social media comments, and bloggers writing multiple articles trying to piece together all of the Easter eggs.
To this day, Easter eggs remain a core strategy for Swift. She switches up her medium almost every time. Sometimes it’s in a social media post, sometimes it’s a word scramble, and sometimes she wears specific clothing items in interviews to wink at what’s to come.
Heck, she even hid lyrics for her most recent album, Midnights, in her commencement speech for NYU in 2022.
As of recent, she’s been hinting at her re-recorded albums on her Eras tour, like wearing blue outfits to the show where she announced the launch date for 1989 (Taylor’s Version), which has blue cover art.
The result of all this effort? A growing force of fans tweeting, making TikToks and podcasts to speculate what’s next. Swift has created a marketing machine that runs without her having to lift a finger.
Swift Case Study #3 | Mountain Dew
Another brand that took a page out of Swift’s book was Mountain Dew in their 2021 Super Bowl spot. They asked the audience to head to Twitter to guess how many bottles were in the commercial. The low-key prize? One million dollars.
Much like Swift’s approach, this move generated thousands of repeat video views and soaring engagement. And, it gave consumers an accessible chance to play a game. One that could require as much or as little effort as you would like.
Consumers understand you want to sell them something, but why not sell them on your brand personality while you’re at it? Show them your fun side.
And don’t be intimidated by Swift’s sizable audience. You don’t need it to try a playful promotion strategy. Craft your own Easter eggs by capitalizing on a funny meme, pop culture moment, or nostalgic reference.
Take thoughtful, simple steps. Test a few options to see what resonates. And don’t be afraid to go old school. Try a branded crossword puzzle. Custom Wordle game. Swift trivia. The options are endless!
Whether you like her music or not, we must pay close attention to Swift’s ability to captivate us with her creativity and character.
In the crowded world of marketing and communications, it’s easy to get discouraged when our ideas don’t have the impact we expect. We can make brilliant campaigns that miss the mark, or don’t result in the reaction our clients anticipate.
Swift shows us that’s not the point and there’s always another path.
She gets down but doesn’t stay there for long. She makes songs that flop but keeps writing. She says something strange to the media and laughs it off. She scribbles sad things in her diary and shows us the pages. If you keep trying to build genuine connections with your audience, someday, it will resonate.
Swift inspires us to fail, turn it into something beautiful, and get back up again. And that attitude will never go out of style.