3 Mystery Marketing Secrets of Bob Dylan, Beyoncé and Daft Punk


How can marketers like you survive – and even thrive – in an era of relentless transparency, zero privacy and unlimited exposure of our most personal and business secrets? During this time of global leaks of military and corporate intelligence by Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange and the hacking of cell phones by News of the World editors in the UK, has the ubiquity of hidden smart phone videos and revelations through social media shredded the illusion of privacy and thrown open the most intimate corners of your company and its consumers’ lives?  

Marketers know that every flaw in their company’s products and every misquote and misdeed committed by their CEO can now go viral on Twitter and Facebook in seconds – just as we’ve seen public exposure of private answering machine messages (hello, Alec Baldwin), private speeches (Exhibit A: Mitt Romney’s "47% of Americans" fundraising video), workplace rants (witness Christian Bale’s rage on the set of "Terminator Salvation"), privately-delivered anti-gay sermons (ala Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson) and privately-whispered words of bigotry (food diva Paula Deen).

So in this age of enforced transparency and way  Too Much Information, it’s even more astonishing that several of the most successful, recent marketing campaigns have been shrouded in mystery, stealth and enigma. Consider that in recent weeks:

Singer Beyoncé shocked the recording industry by unexpectedly releasing a 14-song, 17-video surprise CD, Beyoncé, with no warning, advertising, press kits or advance promotion. The stealth campaign, unveiled at the stroke of midnight when the album was not available in any brick and mortar store in America, helped Beyoncé sell 1,000,000 copies in six days.

Beyonce 'Visual Album'

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling secretly released her crime novel "The Cuckoo’s Calling," under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. When her authorship was exposed, the revelation helped propel the million-selling book to #1 on the New York Times Bestsellers lists and e-books list.

J.K. Rowling "The Cuckoo&squot;s Calling"Twitter co-founder Biz Stone mysteriously announced the launch of his new company, "jelly." All that was revealed about the San Francisco firm was "it is named after the jellyfish" and will "be for everybody." It’s website home page simply said: "Let’s help each other. Coming soon," accompanied by a jellyfish cartoon: http://jelly.co/

Its Twitter profile says only, "Let’s help each other." The website promises that Stone’s crew is building "something we think is meaningful." That Zen-like crypticness didn’t stop investors from U2’s Bono to former Vice President Al Gore stepping aboard to finance it, or the Twitterverse from exploding about what they did not know about Jelly.


JellyIt’s hardly a surprise that the most enigmatic cipher in popular music history, Bob Dylan, is enjoying a resurgence, after unveiling a jaw-dropping, 16-channel interactive videogame for his song, "Like a Rolling Stone." The tune is hilariously lip-synched by a parade of celebrities and cable TV archetypes during which, naturally, Dylan barely appears. (What’s the Return on Investment for Dylan’s Mystery project? The Dylan videos generated 1,000,000 views in the first day. And sales will likely be brisk for Dylan’s new 47-disc "Complete Album Collection").

Bob Dylan "Like a Rolling Stone"
But no one has pulled off what we’d term "Mystery Marketing" with the elan of Daft Punk, the electronic music duo whose song "Get Lucky" hit #1 on the digital charts in 55 countries.

In contrast to the marketing blitzkriegs preceding CD releases by the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry (or movie marketing for, say, Anchorman 2), Daft Punk was only slightly less secretive than Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Their faces are hidden behind masks, covered with black cloth bags and digitally cloaked in press materials, while Daft Punk performs its rare interviews with faces turned away from cameras. No official YouTube video exists for "Get Lucky." The billboard ads display Daft Punk’s two helmets - with no text except for their record label’s logo. Daft Punk’s idea of a broadcast campaign was a single 15-second instrumental spot on ‘Saturday Night Live’ that refused to reveal the name of the song. They did not perform live once last year. Yet when DaftPunk posted an image of a helmet on their website, millions of fans crashed the servers for the site within minutes.

Daft Punk
One half of Daft Punk referred to its embrace of mystery as a "seduction," in place of traditional marketing. "You cannot make people excited by giving them everything," said Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter to BusinessWeek, echoing centuries of wisdom that belly dancers and ecdysiasts already know. "It’s a process of tempting, of teasing, of creating desire."

Much of this Mystery Marketing feels like a throwback to the 1968 release of the influential rock album, 'Music From Big Pink,' by Bob Dylan’s one-time back-up band, The Band. That debut was referred to by Uncut magazine last year as having a "sense of mystery, even confusion...The cover art was an oblique painting by Dylan...the black and white band photo was not captioned, the brief notes provided no information about what each band member did."

So, what can your company learn from the "Mystery Marketing" successes of Daft Punk, Beyonce, J.K. Rowling, Jelly and Bob Dylan?

Lesson #1 - Nature May Abhor a Vacuum, But Fans Fill Them

Now that social media empowers every consumer to become a publisher and comment upon your company’s products, you can use the psychological impact of mystery to inspire social media engagement.  For example, in the absence of official promotional videos for Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky," fans filled the void by posting Daft Punk covers of their own, which generated millions of views on YouTube. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert -- unable to get Daft Punk to appear on his "The Colbert Report" – responded by producing a clip of himself dancing to "Get Lucky," accompanied by celebrities from Matt Damon to Jeff Bridges. "With so little information about Get Lucky available," marveled Businessweek, "fans and curiousity seekers had to create their own content for a song that existed only in fragments."  

So what are you doing to equip your consumers to become online evangelists for your products? Can you create online venues that welcome candid reviews from your product user base? Will you provide high-res images, video clips and sound files that your customers can manipulate and repurpose to express their satisfaction with your product? Do you dare let your Beta-testers and advance users set the tone for a subsequent push marketing campaign, holding off on your company’s own push until consumers have the honor of weighing in in first? In 2014, these seven words may be core of your next marketing campaign  – Let Your Consumer Fill In The Blanks.

Lesson #2 – Really Surprise Your Consumer

Magicians from Harry Houdini in the 1920s to David Copperfield, Cris Angel and David Blaine today are master manipulators of 'mystery,' but it’s the elemental joy of surprise that often causes audience members' mouths to gape.  You’re pulling a rabbit out of a hat? Not that powerful. But when Penn and Teller magically produced hundreds of hissing Madagascar cockroaches out of a hat on "Late Night With David Letterman"? That was both mysterious and surprising, even shocking. Beyoncé proved it’s not enough to be secretive (no one was aware that she was spending hundreds of hours in the studio with Justin Timberlake, Jay Z and other superstars). What caused a Twitterverse Meltdown was the surprise of her "visual album," with videos accompanying every single song on her album. "Whoever can surprise well, will conquer," said Scottish sailor John Paul Jones, and who can forget him?

Lesson #3 - Make Your Marketing Mystery Worth The Suspense

The more mystery that obscures your marketing campaign, the higher the bar to deliver a truly electrifying revelation. Don’t disappoint, or that mystery will back fire.

Before Beyonce issued her midnight album surprise, other acts had released unexpected "surprise" CDs this year - David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine among them – but the excitement fizzled when the actual music was revealed. As marketers, don’t be like newsman Geraldo Rivera, who infamously built up anticipation for what he might find upon opening up Chicago mobster Al Capone’s vaults for a TV special titled, inevitably, "The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults." Ultimately, Rivera disappointed the 30 million viewers who tuned in, by finding...nothing but debris in Capone’s empty tomb.  

If as a marketer you’re going to tease your consumers with the equivalent of the Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, make sure there’s something satisfying behind the last veil you pull aside.

Image Source: Business Insider / InStyle Vanity Fair Jelly / Bob Dylan / GQ proudm3x1 / davidgideon

About the Author

Paul Maccabee

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  Brand Strategy

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