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May 8, 2009 / jasonpinto

Campaigns in the Top 40

When I was younger, I used to make mix-tapes of some of my favorite songs from the radio. (Here comes a confession.) I listened to a lot of “pop” songs, and a lot of top 40 countdowns. Casey Kasem was not a stranger to me on Saturday nights.

Fortunately, my music taste has grown quite a bit since then.

But during that period of my musical life, I was obsessed with trying to figure out what exactly made a song become so popular. (Primarily, I did this because I was (and still am!!) very confident that once I figure out the formula, I too will have my own Top 40 hit)

In my youth and inexperience, I had pretty much boiled the formula down to two things:

 – Use the word “baby” in the chorus: This always amazed me. Of course, millions of songs said the word “baby” in the chorus. Then Amy Grant came around and said it twice, “Baby Baby”. Then, TLC added one more to the chorus and said “Baby Baby Baby”!! I confess, I thought that was genius. And then R. Kelly went ahead and did the unthinkable – he said it five times in a row “Baby baby baby baby baby”. Wow.

Use a very popular phrase in the chorus: I truly believed that this was another sure-fire way to deliver a hit. I felt that there were so many songs that had useless lyrics during the verses, but once the chorus came around, they simply sung a very popular catch phrase… one that you couldn’t help but sing along to. Maybe it was something like, “that’s the story of my life”.

Well, of course, those two things may be qualities of some hit records, but there really are so many other factors that come into play. Maybe it’s the “loud/soft dynamic of the music”, or the pulsating bass, or the way the singer’s voice cracks halfway through the song, or the drummer’s use of the high-hat at the 2-minute mark. (Or the fact that the song is under 3-minutes long, and they paid the radio station :-))

I think this is also why I love marketing. Sure, there absolutely are core fundamentals that we have in mind when building a campaign. But once we execute it, we really don’t know what will happen. There are a lot of variables that come into play. One of those variables could push us to the heights of marketing fame, or they could push us into a depressingly low response rate.

The key is, never stop trying… Never stop testing. Artists write a lot of songs that fall flat. But the next time their heart is broken, they write a whole new album.

Eventually, the right creative idea, the right offer, the right message, the right person, the right everything will hit — and we’ll enjoy the success of having the marketing version of Casey Kasem declare our campaigns “#1”.


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