Bands being marketed to the masses like soda pop or sneakers is really nothing new. From action figures to clothing lines to brands of booze to syndicated television shows (rest in peace, Davy Jones), record labels have tried just about everything to get their artists in front of the masses and move records off the shelves. But consumers have grown both savvier and more jaded in recent years, especially those in the demographics that might be targeted by labels pimping rock ‘n’ roll bands, and the entire game keeps shifting as ad agencies try to stay one step ahead of their increasingly cynical audience.
Which brings us to Minneapolis-based, U.K.-adored buzz band Howler. Yesterday, the band launched a new site called AmericaGiveUp.com, which is the same name of their debut full-length album that came out this year. When I first checked it out, I had a good chuckle and assumed it was just some goofy project the band had thrown together between trips overseas, thinking perhaps that the curmudgeonly, grumbling man featured in the videos was someone they knew, maybe one of their parent’s friends. After learning that it was a meticulously crafted promotional campaign by Minneapolis ad powerhouse Mono, however, I’ll admit to feeling a little duped. I fell for it! But that’s kind of the point; modern-day marketers have figured out that part of the trick to winning over younger consumers–ones who were taught early on that “selling out” is bad and shills are everywhere–is to market a product to them in such a sly and subtle way that they don’t even realize it’s happening. Think of it as subliminal advertising for the YouTube generation.
Even more ominous is that Howler’s new site is apparently the first in a series of increasingly intensified promotional pushes that will occur throughout the next month. As one representative of Mono has said, the band’s label, Rough Trade, “hired us to blow them up on the U.S. music scene during SXSW,” and the goal is to hone the personality of the band into an easy-to-digest brand. The ironic part, of course, is that the marketing team has interpreted the meaning of Howler’s album title, America Give Up, to be “an intentionally ambiguous statement about the decline Western civilization at the hands of Kardashian-drenched, teen-mom-fueled, YouTube-ready, viral culture,” meaning that the whole internet-driven endeavor is so cyclical and reverse-psychological that it eats its own tail several times over. But it will still be interesting to see how this campaign progresses as we head into the music industry feeding frenzy down in Austin, Texas later this month, and how fans–and potential fans–will respond.
In addition to the 160 snippets filmed for the campaign’s site, Mono also produced roughly 200 clips geared toward specific “tastemaker” media outlets. No wonder they had to cast a paid actor! Here’s one they made for The Current, complete with a customized shout out to Mark Wheat: