Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Whole Bunch of Smoke and No Fire

We have all heard the old adage that "No publicity is bad publicity."  Is that true?  A recent chain of events seems to suggest that, maybe, it is not.

Kanye West's recent interruption of Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for the Best Female Video Award at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards has generated a tremendous amount of publicity, but it might have blown up in his face.  As of September 29, 2009, fifteen days after the airing of the awards show, one particular YouTube video of West's outburst has been viewed about 5,200,000 times -- this is in addition to the nearly 11,000,000 viewers that tuned into the three networks airing the show, the largest television audience for the VMAs since 2004 (BizBash.com).  While he has taken a beating from traditional news media, the blogosphere, and Barack Obama, those who believe in the above axiom are drooling over the amount of attention Mr. West has received. 

Thanks for Kanye's most recent trip into the limelight is due in large part to the social media outlets Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  Twitter tracking utility Trendrr reports that there were 293,024 individual tweets relating to the Swift-West incident in the hour immediately following the event.

West has remained a hot topic thanks to numerous responses to the incident from the likes of President Obama, social commentators -- in all forms of media -- and the parties involved.  Immediately following the show, Kanye posted an apology to Swift, which was followed by another the next day.  TMZ.com later leaked an audio recording of President Obama calling West a "jackass" and expressing his displeasure with West's actions.  A YouTube video of Obama's reaction has been viewed over 530,000 times since it has been posted.  During an appearance on the Jay Leno Show on NBC, scheduled before the airing of the VMAs, West requested time to react to the controversy that had erupted around him in recent days before performing as one of the show's musical guests. 

Mr. West has not been the sole recipient of additional publicity due to the event.  Taylor Swift appeared on The View on ABC and discussed her feelings while she was being interrupted and this episode has been watched over 1,100,000 times on YouTube.  Some people speculate that the whole scenario was cooked up as a publicity stunt before hand.  We have no idea whether or not it is true.

Social media outlets were not the only venues for the discussion of West's outburst.  A Google search composed of the keywords Taylor Swift Kanye West returned 4,436 articles from news websites out of 18,100,000 hits.  MTV's own web article recapping the incident has been opened 1,250,000 times, and the article pertaining to West's appearance on Leno has been viewed 180,000 times.

So, with all the attention West and Swift have received, it would be safe to assume that their album sales have been affected in some way or another.  This is not the case.  According to the Billboard Top 100 Hip-hop/R&B charts, Kanye's most recent album has not experienced significant increases or decreases in sales.  Long-term effects are not yet known, and it will be interesting to see how his outburst and all attendant publicity will affect attendance on his upcoming tour and future record sales.  Similarly, Taylor Swift's 2009 release has remained in the top ten of the Billboard Top 200 album chart for 45 weeks, and has not experienced significant spikes resulting from her involvement with West nor from winning the Best Female Video Award.

While some marketing experts believe West has been the beneficiary of brilliant promotional strategy -- staging an event on a night when the VMAs were aired on three different networks and was viewed by the largest audience since 2004 that would be sure to thrust his name into the spotlight -- he has not reaped any short-term benefits, even though he has been one of the most talked-about people in mainstream and social media in recent weeks.  It appears that the manner in which he made himself relevant, nearly forcing the nineteen year-old Swift to tears on live television because he believed another performer was more deserving of Swift's award, has resulted in such a great backlash that he is unable to capitalize on his social relevance. 

**Update 10/8/2009

On October 1, 2009, Kanye West's "Fame Kills" tour with Lady Gaga was cancelled due to "creative differences."  Might his VMA outburst have something to do with this recent development?


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