Kanye West’s self-fulfilling prophecy of musical messiah-hood reached new heights on May 17th with the announcement of Yeezus, his sixth studio album. I imagine that a mix of shock and awe resonated throughout the offices of Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam when Yeezy shared his intention to release his album a mere 30 days following it’s first major promotion. Having interned at a record label, I can assure you that 1-month marketing plans are hardly the norm; typical album releases follow a 6-month to 1-year marketing plan.
This begs the question: Is Kanye West crazy or genius?

Let’s examine one definition of genius:

A genius…is really just a person that took the time to learn the patterns needed to skip the logical processing steps that others would normally take. If u know the pattern you can jump to the answer faster and skip the logic. Most geniuses don’t just know one or two patterns, they are experts in the basic and advanced patterns of their fields which allow them to process information to solve problems not in steps (like the rest of us) but chunks. So if they are given a problem they look first for the cognitive jumps.

I’m going to have to go with genius. Although in full disclosure, I am a bit of a Kanye stan.
But don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at the facts. Here’s Ye’s history of moving album projects from announcement to release:

  • College Dropout: 6 Months (September 2003 – February 2004)
  • Late Registration: 4 Months (May 2005 – August 2005)
  • Graduation: 5 Months (May 2007 – September 2007)
  • 808’s & Heartbreaks: 3 Months (September 2008 – November 2008)
  • My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: 5 Months (July 2010 – November 2010)
  • Watch The Throne: 2 Months (July 2011 – August 201)
  • Cruel Summer: 6 Months (April 2012 – September 2012)
  • Yeezus: 1 Month (June 2013 – June 2013)

Every other project, beginning with Late Registration, follows a trend of tightening promotion schedules. And now we find ourselves on the eve of Yeezus with less than 30 days between the release of his first single, New Slaves, to the release of his album. In just a decade, how did Kanye go from adhering to the status quo of marketing plans to this ballsy new strategy? I believe It has everything to do with learning patterns – Kanye spent the last decade perfecting his craft, rehearsing multiple album promotion and release scenarios. He has the ability – and luxury – to skip some of the steps that the rest of us are tied to. But…

Can anyone pull off a 1-month marketing plan?

Not unless they’ve put in the work like Mr. West has. Say what you will about his personal antics, Kanye always delivers when it comes to the music (haters, kindly revisit Flashing Lights and Gold Digger). What we have here is a man who has easily put in way more than his requisite 10,000 hours; someone whose commercial and critical success can’t be denied; someone at the top of the game who has a certain omniscience that few others have. Artists in the lower echelons of the rap game – such as A$AP Rocky – who are hinged on gimmicks and with no extensive body of work or staying power, cannot easily pull off 1-month marketing plans. But other artists in the genius bracket can: Daft Punk announced Random Access Memories at Coachella this past April, and their album went on sale this past Tuesday; 1-month marketing plan. Let’s look beyond music, to technology: the iPhone 4 was announced at the beginning of June 2010 and was in stores by the end of the month; 1 month marketing plan.
Is Daft Punk crazy? Was Steve Jobs crazy? Let’s agree with Oscar Levant for a second and say that there is indeed a fine line between genius and insanity. Even then, there’s no denying that at the end of the day, the two have given us timeless pieces of critically and commercially successful art.

Alright, but why work towards it?

  1. Outpace The Market  Trying to reach consumers in a time of constant change is becoming increasingly difficult. Marketers face channel fragmentation, micro segmentation of audiences and the decline of attention spans. Successful brands aren’t thinking in terms of drawn out campaigns anymore. Like Oreo, they are shifting to real-time marketing and like Red Bull, they are dialling up the riskiness.  Take the Red Bull Stratos event for example; the Red Bull brand embodies the idea that their product “gives you wings.” Now if they were focused purely on traditional campaigns, they would never have spent years planning to send a man to jump from space. They look at their lighthouse – their theme – and if an activation makes sense in its light, they do it. Oreo, RedBull and Kanye plan form the core, focusing on themes that can be expressed through dynamic and agile content strategies.
  2. Dominate Share Of Voice – Share of voice doesn’t simply stagnate between promotions, it decays; the millions of marketing dollars that Paramount Pictures and MGM sank into the marketing of G.I. Joe: Retaliation didn’t sustain it’s share of voice over the 9 months between its announcement and release – a second second costly marketing push was required to reactivate audiences. Share of voice has a short half-life and the thousands of touch points in the average consumer’s day conspire to erode it faster and faster. In the tight 30-day window he’s given himself, Kanye can rapidly play off the momentum of each moment as he did with his back-to-back global projections and his SNL performance, and in turn offset the rapid exponential share of voice decay. Competitors will have to get fiercer and more inventive to capture mind share while Kanye is flexin’ on the market. J Cole knows this and is trying to get some shine. Also, having no shortage of earned media will help offset the decline of buzz between whatever Kanye has planned next.
  3. Inspire Innovation – Parkinson’s Law states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” A corollary concerning attention span underscores concerns underlying the aforementioned two points: share of mind fragments and decreases when marketing campaigns are long and drawn out. It’s all too easy for marketers to fill that time with tired tactics. Why not instead deliver a volley of tightly spaced, high quality moments over a short period of time? Faced with the challenge of a tighter timeline, you’re forced to become more inventive. You’re more apt to conjure simultaneous global video projections than a cringeworthy flashmob, because the margins are tighter. As 50th Law author Robert Greene writes about having your back up against the wall: “This venture has to succeed and so it will.”

Art influences culture, which in turn influences art. Kanye West has effectively catalyzed our hurtle towards tighter marketing plans for major releases. Sooner than later we might find ourselves in a time of 1-week or 1-day marketing plans. But for now, expect to see brands across industries take their cue from Yeezus and shrink their marketing plans down to 1-month.