The star power that Adele was able to bring together for her prime-time TV publicity juggernaut was truly something to see. In the US we saw Lizzo, Melissa McCarthy, Ellen Degeneres: the star-studded cast that went into the spectacle and its UK twin showcased the pulling power that Adele has to marshal old-school, highly engineered and choreographed (big-budget) entertainment publicity. However, it also served as a stark reminder of the old vs. the new ways of building brand fame and raised questions about whether Adele’s decidedly traditionalist PR push for her album ‘30’ can compete with the rivals who were born out of and are native to the new media which dominate the internet.
I certainly don’t scoff at the 10 million US viewers she attracted; however, in a nation of 350 million where the SuperBowl routinely attracts upwards of 115 million viewers, it is difficult to say just how effective such a TV play will be in sustaining pop legend. Hollywood’s biggest PR exercise, the Oscars, has seen numbers dwindling year after year, while artists like Travis Scott can draw 30m participants to a virtual event in Fortnite. It is easy to see why the entertainment establishment wants Adele to succeed. It is less easy to see whether exercises like ‘An Audience With’ will sustain interest in the Adele brand over time making her the purist saviour the industry so crave.
Adele is always positioned as a superstar, but compared to some of the big brand musicians like Drake, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj, others are much more adept at creating and owning their own cultural hemispheres. Lil Nas X celebrated getting 1 million dis-likes on his breakthrough video, ‘Montero’ on its first day on YouTube, an ironic testament to his power to game a cultural moment that his fans loved. No doubt, Adele’s song-writing, and persona is phenomenal, and—since live is everything these days—she will certainly deliver ticket sales that are now so crucial. But can she sustain using traditional media in a world where something else will be crashing in at all times, and where only the extremely fleet-footed and internet savvy, like Lil Nas, manage to stay afloat?
The industry will be watching to whether—and where—the marketing push behind Adele’s ‘30’ reverberates. Will the TV figures parlay into sales and translate into sustained interest and momentum across the board? If it does, it will be a (temporary) vindication of old-school, big-budget marketing for pop acts. If it doesn’t? Time to re-think the playbook?