Metallica thrive on innovation. For the best part of four decades they’ve been ahead of the pack with regard to writing crunching riffs and putting on astonishing stage shows, but when it comes to marketing and self-promotion, they’re also in a league of their own.
I’m going to kick this piece off by saying I absolutely love Metallica. They’re the band that made me appreciate the heavier side of the music industry; they convinced me to pick up a guitar, and have been a strong influence on pretty much every band I listen to to this day. They’re a big deal to me, but also to millions upon millions of rock fans around the world.
But Metallica are more than a band; they’re a brand. They’re as vital to metal as The Beatles are to rock and Ice Cube is to rap. They’ve shifted over 110 million records, which puts them ahead of Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Prince, Bob Dylan, Cher, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie on the list of all-time best-selling artists. For an act that receives little to no radio exposure, and plays a style of music that many simply dismiss as being ‘just noise’, that’s a pretty remarkable achievement.
Metallica are more than a band; they’re a brand
To mark the release of their tenth studio album, Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, the band made the decision to embark on an extensive and altogether impressive multi-pronged marketing campaign. Videos went viral – most notably their appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – songs quickly racked up YouTube views and interest across the globe was piqued.
Metallica are arguably the greatest metal act in existence, but their enduring popularity perhaps owes as much to the band’s ability to market, promote and advertise as it does their capacity to write songs that can induce whiplash.
The initial announcement of a new album was greeted by many fans with a mixture of delight, trepidation and curiosity. Each member of the band is now in his early 50s, and some fans were quick to question whether they could still perform with the kind of ferocity that has been integral to their sound for 35 years.
After months of speculation and rumour Metallica moved to placate their baying audience by releasing lead single and video Hardwired; a loud, thrashy and altogether frantic assault to prove that not only can Metallica still play metal, but they still reign supreme in the scene.
The single was the moment that sparked into life their robust three-month marketing campaign, ensuring anyone with even the tiniest bit of love for Metallica or metal in general was champing at the bit to get their paws on the record.
7,538 views every minute
The memory remains
The vast majority of Metallica’s fans have a serious passion for the band’s first three full-length albums, Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, all of which were written over 30 years ago. This trio of releases is widely regarded as the band’s finest work, and though they have experimented with various sounds and styles during the intervening years, these three records continue to define them.
As such, the new album’s second single, Moth Into Flame, a six-minute musical pummelling, was greeted with slack jaws and clenched fists; the slick riffs, breakneck drum beats and catchy chorus hark back to an era of metal that is rarely catered for anymore. Fans were pleased. Fans were excited. Fans shared the video. Again and again and again.
It may seem a simple tactic, but by releasing two singles that at once appealed to Metallica fans old and new, expectation and anticipation increased. To put that into some context, at the time of writing Moth Into Flame has accumulated over 14 million views on YouTube in the 25 days since it was released. The Day That Never Comes, the lead single from previous album Death Magnetic, has amassed 22 million in eight and a half years.
Nothing else matters
The band is well known for praising its loyal and dedicated fanbase, but the build-up to this particular release saw that level of appreciation go into overdrive. They released an unprecedented three singles prior to release day – each of which was accompanied by an official video – and also did the rounds on a number of TV talk shows, during which they decided to have fun rather than blatantly push hard for sales. They enjoyed themselves, and in doing so gave fans something new; a fresh perspective of musicians that have been performing for a third of a century, but still clearly love what they do.
However, what was perhaps their boldest – and most unexpected – move during the whole campaign was the decision to release a dedicated video to accompany each of the album’s songs the day before the record’s release. Speaking on Twitter, the band announced that a new video would be published every two hours on YouTube, with the album then officially released once all nine new videos had gone live.
They enjoyed themselves, and in doing so gave fans something new
This piece of promotional mastery took fans by surprise, and it didn’t take long for news to spread like social media wildfire. I have to admit, I was personally swept up in the fervour; I set my alarm to go off at two-hour intervals, and was as excited as a kid at Christmas each time it went off.
And it seems I wasn’t the only one; after 26 minutes of the video for ‘Now That We’re Dead’ being published, it had accumulated a colossal 196,000 views. That’s 7,538 views every minute, or 126 a second. And that’s just for one of the nine videos released that day.
At the time of writing, the twelve videos – including the three released separately – have been viewed a grand total of 57,935,126 times; not too shabby when you consider all but one of those was released within the last four weeks.
This bit of added value, which must have taken a lot of time and probably cost a small fortune, is exactly what Metallica is all about; they do the unpredictable because they want to ensure none of their fans feel short-changed. Not only that, but unpredictability is marketing gold.
… And justice for all
Metallica is not a band that does things by half measures. They thrive on innovation, being ahead of the game and doing things that nobody is expecting. This is a band that in 2003 recorded the video for single St. Anger in the heart of San Quentin State Prison, one of America’s most notoriously penal institutions, simply because lead vocalist James Hetfield wanted to perform for people that would never get a chance to see them play live.
Unpredictability is marketing gold
Another piece of marketing inspiration only came to light on the day of the album’s release. Hitting shop shelves as it did exactly a week before the day now commonly known as ‘Black Friday’, the band decided to hark back to one of their most enduring songs – 1988’s Blackened – by ending every tweet with #BlackenedFriday. The hashtag soon went viral, and was trending across Twitter for pretty much the entire day. The band very cleverly took ownership of a thing that, to all intents and purposes, cannot be owned.
#BlackenedFriday culminated in a gig at London’s tiny House of Vans venue, tickets for which were given away free on the band’s website. Only a lucky 500 or so managed to attend the gig in person, but luckily for everyone else the whole two-hour show was streamed on YouTube. And that particular video has done pretty well; in the two days after it was put up, over 650,000 people had viewed it.
In the two days after it was put up, over 650,000 people had viewed it
The end of the line
However, the proof is always in the pudding. Have the band’s efforts resulted in album sales? Can the overall campaign be regarded as a success? Well, early estimates suggest the album is set to dominate the Billboard 200 charts, with industry experts suggesting that over a quarter of a million hard copies will be sold during the first week in the US alone.
The band very cleverly took ownership of a thing that, to all intents and purposes, cannot be owned
So the simple answer is ‘yes’. Metallica’s hard work on the campaign trail, which was boosted by the release of a very solid album, has shown that not only are they still able to produce music that gets fans banging their heads, but they are way ahead of their rivals when it comes to promotion, marketing and publicity.
So what lessons can we take from Metallica’s efforts? Firstly, unpredictability and constant innovation make your message fresh and energetic, even if your services have been more or less the same for decades. Also, giving people additional value is incredibly effective; by offering your audience content they will appreciate you’re standing out from the crowd and, subsequently, positioning yourself ahead of your competitors.