Insight Story: Rage Against the X-Factor

 

How important REALLY is online word of mouth? How could an online community of consumers use social networks to oppose an international franchise and make British history?

‘Rage against the X-Factor’: it was real; it happened in real time, and it had a real impact!

CASE Insights reviews the music campaign launched by Jon and Tracey Morter from Essex who showed Simon Cowell that they, their friends and their friends-friends certainly have much more than the X-Factor.

The X-Factor is a franchise originating in the UK in 2004, devised as a replacement of Pop Idol. Produced by executive producer Simon Cowell and his company Syco TV, X-Factor is franchise spanning 24 European countries.

The format sees aspiring pop artists and performers drawn from public auditions compete, with finalists being voted for by the viewing public for a recording contract and publicity. Despite, being highly criticised as exploiting aspiring music artists and for it’s lack of artistic integrity, it has been a hugely popular reality TV show watched by millions.

The UK Christmas Number 1 selling single is Britain’s most hotly-contested music chart of the year. Compiled by the Official UK Charts Company, for the past 4 years Simon Cowell‘s X-Factor winners, from Shayne Warne, Leonia Lewis, Alexandra Burke and JLS, have dominated the Christmas charts. However, this came to an end in 2009 with one of the most exciting and anticipated music chart battles ever in the UK. The British public sick of the manufactured artists widely supported and promoted a campaign to ‘Rage against the X-Factor’.

Fed up with the possibility of yet another X-Factor Christmas No. 1., Jon and Tracey Morter from Essex, started a protest campaign through a Group. They promoted the sale of their favourite single ‘Killing in the Name’ by artists Rage Against the Machine (RATM) as a possible contender for the 2009 No. 1 Christmas chart position.

‘Rage against the X-Factor’: Through over 1 million Facebook fans, over 50,000 YouTube search results and endless Twitter chatter, individuals encouraged their friends, followers and fans to buy a download of the single by rock band, RATM by the end of Saturday 19th December (23:59pm).

The aim: to firmly contest conventional marketing techniques by publicly bringing down a major players mass media campaign through online social networks and word of mouth (). Jon and Tracey felt passionately and wanted to stop the domination of the Christmas music charts by X-Factor manufactured artists and in that make a statement about the power of online WOM and marketing ethics.

The results: ‘Killing in the Name’, the single by RATM, officially released over 15 years ago, spent very little on it’s marketing activities, yet in December 2009, in one week, they sold over 502,672 copies of it’s single, beating X-Factor winner Joe McElderry by approximately 50,000, making it the 2009 Christmas No.1 in the UK.

In taking the title for 2009, ‘Killing in the Name’ also set two new landmarks for the music industry. It became the UK’s first download-only Christmas number one and notching up the biggest one-week download sales total in British chart history.

This has been matched with numerous fake websites, dozen of mock twitter accounts, hundreds of new blog posts, and thousands of YouTube entries for the single – Killing in the Name. The No. 1 search result on YouTube has received over 12 million views and been rated by 40,000 visitors. HMV’s Gennaro Castaldo said “This is a truly remarkable outcome and possibly the greatest chart upset ever”.

Shelter

The campaign also raised through Just Giving over £93, 000 for the charity, Shelter.

In response: RATM announced on 19th December 2009, that they will be holding a FREE concert, a massive ‘Thank You Gig’ in the UK in Spring 2010 to celebrate the victory of the people’s campaign.

Marketers (and Simon Cowell) can learn a great deal from this social web campaign and how reality TV shows, audience voting systems and mass media ratings are not necessarily reflective of wider societal opinion and consumer choice.

WOM has always been a very important channel in marketing, but now coupled with increased reach and awareness because of digital social channels, it is by far the most powerful channel in marketing today.

For the digital immigrant or newcomer and the marketing traditionalist, take note: “The RATM campaign shows that marketing through the social web is about being real, in real time and having a real impact!”

7 comments

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caseinsights (4 years ago)

Rage against the X-Factor: it was real; in real time, and had a real impact! Another CASE Insight for marketers http://bit.ly/6Scatm

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Facebook User (4 years ago)

Kelly, I think you're right in pointing out how much of a landmark this was. 19 MILLION people watched the X-factor final, but the TV media was unable to leverage this interest into enough sales to beat the million people who had joined the Facebook group. This says a LOT about the degree to which the different media channels are able to engage with their audience.

X-factor is entertaining, and it dominates Saturday night TV viewing for a lot of people. It's an incredibly polished PR machine for the eventual winner, and no one involved in the TV industry saw this coming – how could it? But it did. HOWEVER, let's look at what was being sold…

RATM's “Killing in the name” is a classic rebel song – “Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me” is a great lyric for sticking it to the man. It wasn't the song, but the sentiment that was being sold – a way of saying something we could all agree with – we DON'T like our culture being overwhelming schmaltzy sentimentalism synthetically created on a production line – it lacks authenticity. The same thing happened in 1976 when punk destroyed glam rock, the early 80's when Joy Division and the Smiths ploughed the future of indie music in the face of dire happy-happy pop and in 1990 when acid house gave a whole new meaning to the idea of a party. It's a reaction to dreadful, industry dominated periods in music history when shallow marketing execs dominate – bringing grass roots creativity, raw nerves, chaos and raw emotion back into the room.

Only now, there's no (musical) movement behind this – just a new form of media, that enables people to talk to each other – and a good idea can take off virally. So we all wanted to buy our own middle finger to stick up to the industry that dominates the charts. The choice of song was genius – it was a Ronseal promise – buy this and the can say “fuck you” directly to Simon Cowell. It was also interesting to see how almost all of the mainstream broadcast media saw this as a hostile attack and completely failed to understand the popularity and grass roots nature of the campaign.

How does this translate into the marketing futures of music – not sure, but it's not a classic case study of selling music online – it wasn't the music that was being sold – it was the attitude and the statement. I'm not sure how often people will be able to do this using social networks, and I'm sure that the average artist trying to sell their song wouldn't be able to replicate it.

But: 19 million vs 1 million – and the 1 million won – through using much smarter many to many communications technology. It certainly represents a moment in the history of media when the internet proved it's power in the face of old one way broadcast technology. And that is really very significant.

    drkellypage (4 years ago)

    Thanks for the great comment. Be great if I knew who you are, takes me back to the element and importance of 'being real' in the social media/web space. I like to know who I am conversing with. But thanks for taking the time, this is a really interesting topic.

    I totally agree in that this wasn't a 'musical' movement in that the core product – a music single – and how it is marketed has been altered or changed by this campaign (in a traditional marketing sense), or that it can be replicated for other singles or artists in the future … It's evident that this would be very hard to do and is dependent on so many other factors. Most importantly it happened in real time and was about being real.

    In essence the implications for marketing of music (or any product offering for that matter) begs the very question you raise – what is it that is in fact being purchased, consumed, endorsed or promoted through e-WOM. It's not just about a tangible product like a CD, or even a digital product like a music single, as you say, it's the idea, attitude or position that is being purchased, consumed and/or promoted. This is something marketers have for years based many marketing campaigns on. You don't just buy Nike shoes – you also buy what they represent – an attitude or representation of your sporting prowess. Or sponsoring a child through World Vision – you are not just helping a child through a monthly financial transaction, you are buying the feeling/emotion of being selfless and giving. Or the Apple MacBook – is it a computer you are purchasing, or an innovative, creative and trendy attitude towards information processing and networked communications.

    In essence the RATM campaign has implications for how the music industry see's the nature of what it is in fact selling and how it produces, manufactures and positions it's product offering. For too long consumers have been at the hands of music executives and music labels – be it Sony, Virgin, and how they control the music industry – what we hear, buy, how we buy it and what is and isn't ranked in the charts. For upcoming artists, it poses a difficult road.

    As such this campaign has implications for how key players and executives in the music industry regard what consumers value and want from them, therefore what they produce and market. In essence, it is about being 'REAL' – not manufactured, controlled or mass produced.

    Hence, 1 million active and interested people who placed increased value on 'Being Real' and a music single that represented this (it might not have been as successful if the single chosen didn't represent these values), WON against a staggering 19 million passive TV viewers who while being entertained, didn't place enough value on what in fact the music being played represented.

    Thanks again for posting and raising one of the core marketing implications of these campaign – evolution in what is valued and how we, consumers, like to be treated!

    Smiles
    Kelly
    :-)

    drkellypage (4 years ago)

    Thanks for the great comment. Be great if I knew who you are, takes me back to the element and importance of 'being real' in the social media/web space. I like to know who I am conversing with. But thanks for taking the time, this is a really interesting topic.

    I totally agree in that this wasn't a 'musical' movement in that the core product – a music single – and how it is marketed has been altered or changed by this campaign (in a traditional marketing sense), or that it can be replicated for other singles or artists in the future … It's evident that this would be very hard to do and is dependent on so many other factors. Most importantly it happened in real time and was about being real.

    In essence the implications for marketing of music (or any product offering for that matter) begs the very question you raise – what is it that is in fact being purchased, consumed, endorsed or promoted through e-WOM. It's not just about a tangible product like a CD, or even a digital product like a music single, as you say, it's the idea, attitude or position that is being purchased, consumed and/or promoted. This is something marketers have for years based many marketing campaigns on. You don't just buy Nike shoes – you also buy what they represent – an attitude or representation of your sporting prowess. Or sponsoring a child through World Vision – you are not just helping a child through a monthly financial transaction, you are buying the feeling/emotion of being selfless and giving. Or the Apple MacBook – is it a computer you are purchasing, or an innovative, creative and trendy attitude towards information processing and networked communications.

    In essence the RATM campaign has implications for how the music industry see's the nature of what it is in fact selling and how it produces, manufactures and positions it's product offering. For too long consumers have been at the hands of music executives and music labels – be it Sony, Virgin, and how they control the music industry – what we hear, buy, how we buy it and what is and isn't ranked in the charts. For upcoming artists, it poses a difficult road.

    As such this campaign has implications for how key players and executives in the music industry regard what consumers value and want from them, therefore what they produce and market. In essence, it is about being 'REAL' – not manufactured, controlled or mass produced.

    Hence, 1 million active and interested people who placed increased value on 'Being Real' and a music single that represented this (it might not have been as successful if the single chosen didn't represent these values), WON against a staggering 19 million passive TV viewers who while being entertained, didn't place enough value on what in fact the music being played represented.

    Thanks again for posting and raising one of the core marketing implications of these campaign – evolution in what is valued and how we, consumers, like to be treated!

    Smiles
    Kelly
    :-)

drkellypage (4 years ago)

Thanks for the great comment. Be great if I knew who you are, takes me back to the element and importance of 'being real' in the social media/web space. I like to know who I am conversing with. But thanks for taking the time, this is a really interesting topic.

I totally agree in that this wasn't a 'musical' movement in that the core product – a music single – and how it is marketed has been altered or changed by this campaign (in a traditional marketing sense), or that it can be replicated for other singles or artists in the future … It's evident that this would be very hard to do and is dependent on so many other factors. Most importantly it happened in real time and was about being real.

In essence the implications for marketing of music (or any product offering for that matter) begs the very question you raise – what is it that is in fact being purchased, consumed, endorsed or promoted through e-WOM. It's not just about a tangible product like a CD, or even a digital product like a music single, as you say, it's the idea, attitude or position that is being purchased, consumed and/or promoted. This is something marketers have for years based many marketing campaigns on. You don't just buy Nike shoes – you also buy what they represent – an attitude or representation of your sporting prowess. Or sponsoring a child through World Vision – you are not just helping a child through a monthly financial transaction, you are buying the feeling/emotion of being selfless and giving. Or the Apple MacBook – is it a computer you are purchasing, or an innovative, creative and trendy attitude towards information processing and networked communications.

In essence the RATM campaign has implications for how the music industry see's the nature of what it is in fact selling and how it produces, manufactures and positions it's product offering. For too long consumers have been at the hands of music executives and music labels – be it Sony, Virgin, and how they control the music industry – what we hear, buy, how we buy it and what is and isn't ranked in the charts. For upcoming artists, it poses a difficult road.

As such this campaign has implications for how key players and executives in the music industry regard what consumers value and want from them, therefore what they produce and market. In essence, it is about being 'REAL' – not manufactured, controlled or mass produced.

Hence, 1 million active and interested people who placed increased value on 'Being Real' and a music single that represented this (it might not have been as successful if the single chosen didn't represent these values), WON against a staggering 19 million passive TV viewers who while being entertained, didn't place enough value on what in fact the music being played represented.

Thanks again for posting and raising one of the core marketing implications of these campaign – evolution in what is valued and how we, consumers, like to be treated!

Smiles
Kelly
:-)

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