HOW DID SLOWTHAI, A RELATIVE UNKNOWN, MASTERMIND THE MOST DISRUPTIVE ALBUM LAUNCH OF 2019? THANDI MBIRE, STRATEGIST AT BBH LONDON, EXPLORES THE POWER OF PRINCIPLES

Innovative music launches can hit you any time anywhere. Remember when you picked up the Mail on Sunday and found a copy of the new Prince album glued on to Camilla Parker Bowles’ face? Classic. 

Labels and artist management teams tend to rely on a ‘crucial moment of public concentration’ to strike gold. Sometimes this happens by chance. Most of the time it’s the result of innovative approaches to amassing the attention of the masses. 

In April of last year, a 24 year old rapper from Northampton decided to prioritise an OOH campaign to launch his debut album, ‘Nothing Great About Britain’. Tyron Frampton, more commonly known as Slowthai, hired 7 billboards and plastered them with stats that hammer home the social friction in Britain today.

The ‘Nothing Great About Britain’ campaign saw a young artist use his platform to highlight issues that have nothing to do with album sales. The campaign didn’t fight for as many Gen Z eyeballs as possible by inserting itself on TikTok with a new dance move. Instead, it used Slowthai’s stake in the attention economy to encourage conversations on social issues while building his reputation in an honest way. It’s a great example of an artist (or brand) introducing themselves to the world by shouting about the things they believe in the most. It’s Patagonia telling us not to buy that jacket.

If you work at a brand or an agency with an organising principle that goes beyond selling more products or winning more clients then, tell people. If you’re worried about how to do that, here are a few tips: 

  1. SHOUT. If you’re using your brand platform and corporate cash flow to help a cause that needs it, then make a point of it. I don’t mean making a point of patting yourself on the back for parting with a tiny percentage of your income to do something good. I mean make a point of your investment or support to encourage others to do the same.
  2. Use your humanity. We know that 76% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand over a competitor if they feel that there is a connection between themselves and the brand (Brands Get Real, 2019). Consumers aren’t just looking at products and prices anymore. They’re looking for brands that understand them and reflect their beliefs. 
  3. Zag. If you work in advertising you’ve probably heard the word ‘bravery’ at least 22 times today. Unfortunately, in some circles, prioritising long term brand building over short term gains is brave. Be brave and put your principles first. Move past trends and category conventions and find some middle ground between the things that matter to your organisation and the things that matter to your audience. Use this as an excuse to go bigger or better or …braver. 

I couldn’t get this far into an article about Slowthai without touching on his disastrous night at the NME awards a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t be totally out of line to argue that his achievements to date are now totally undermined by his appalling behaviour. I’m not going to explicitly argue for or against his actions (though, for the record, he was acting like a bellend). I do think it’ll be interesting to see whether the Slowthai brand weathers this storm. 

Having a clear organising principle is important and can play a significant role in building or repositioning your brand in the public eye but…it can’t fix everything.