Marketing Lessons from “Weird Al”

by Ian Doescher


A couple years ago, I rediscovered “Weird Al” Yankovic’s music.  The man whose music I had laughed at as a kid, it turned out, had never stopped making his hilarious parodies.  I reveled in his newer songs, including those from his 2011 album Alpocalypse.  For two years, “Weird Al” has been on my iTunes playlist, with me in the car, on my morning jogs, while I do dishes at home.

You can imagine, then, how happy I was to hear that “Weird Al” was coming out with a new album in July 2014.  And it turned out that this new album, Mandatory Fun, wouldn’t just be a great album (I love it and highly recommend it) but would also be a music phenomenon, a marketing phenomenon, and a music marketing phenomenon.

Articles have sprung up all over the place in the last few weeks (The Atlantic, The Guardian, NPR, Forbes, and The New Yorker, to name just a few) about the success of Mandatory Fun, which debuted as #1 on the U.S. Billboard charts.  What has caught people off guard is the fact that “Weird Al” is a product of the 1980s and its traditional media, but has successfully made the leap into the digital world.  (The article in The Atlantic makes this point especially well.)  Part of the genius of his marketing for Mandatory Fun was releasing eight videos on eight consecutive days.  But these weren’t just put out on his YouTube channel or debuting on MTV (remember that channel?).  Instead, “Weird Al” worked with eight popular purveyors of online content—including College Humor, FunnyOrDie, Yahoo!, and others—to fund and record the videos his record company would not pay for.  The result?  Huge sales for Mandatory Fun and the world’s recognition that not only is “Weird Al” still super talented, he is also a savvy businessman.

What can marketers learn from “Weird Al’s” success with Mandatory Fun?  Here are three lessons I’ve taken away:

1. Mix the traditional with the new.  Despite its digital success, Mandatory Fun is still a traditional studio album.  Released by RCA, it came out on a Tuesday and yes, you can order it on CD.  This isn’t a digital-only release, it’s not put out by an independent company—it has a huge marketing machine behind it.  However, “Weird Al” called on more modern digital tools, especially these sites that are so good and creating and putting out viral content, to make Mandatory Fun a hit.  What blend of traditional and new marketing or advertising can you employ to tell your story?

2. Consider making the digital splash.  Even with a mix of traditional and digital, it’s clear that Mandatory Fun has made history—the first comedy album to hit the Billboard #1 spot in several decades—because “Weird Al” took it into the digital space with such force.  For eight days, as the eight videos were released, it seemed everyone was talking about “Weird Al” on social media, all of us coming out about our love of the parody-maker who never really left our hearts.  Using the sites we all love and browse for our daily dose of humor, “Weird Al” created a digital conversation that quickly became a digital sensation.  How can you make a digital splash and get people talking the next time you release a product or service?

Pivot Group - Weird Al Yankovic

3. Think strategically about your partnerships.  “Weird Al” knew what he was doing when he approached the eight websites about producing and exclusively releasing his videos.  These sites are known for releasing hilarious digital content, and all of them welcome the sort of exclusive, viral-ready content that a new “Weird Al” song could give them.  The partnership was hugely beneficial for both sides: “Weird Al” had his music and his videos promoted and each site had a viral hit on their hands (to say nothing of being part of the story of Mandatory Fun’s success).  What partnerships can you create or strengthen to make your next product release an event instead of business as usual?

The best part about the success of Mandatory Fun?  “Weird Al” has us all excited about the next album, not even a month after this one was released.  That, my friends, is marketing to which we can all aspire.

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